The Dixon Gallery and Gardens recently opened the doors of its cafe, Park + Cherry, under the guidance of native Memphian, Chef Phillip DeWayne. The cafe is part of the Dixon’s commitment to promoting spiritual, mental, and physical wellness. Currently, Dixon members can enjoy sunrise and sunset yoga, taijiquan classes, morning meditations, and downloadable meditative walks.
Park + Cherry focuses on healthy eating and physical well-being. Over a cup of turmeric tea, the enterprising and young chef shares his early influences, his impressive resume, and his path to the Dixon.
What inspired you to be a chef?
I was in college looking for work, which led me to Chez Phillipe at the Peabody where I was a dishwasher for about three months. One day they had a “plate up” where the kitchen staff puts different components of each thing on the plate. Chef Andreas Kisler said, “I like the way you laid the steak out.” He was my biggest inspiration; I call him my dad. As an African-American kid, a lot of people won’t step in and play that role for you, but he told me, “If you’ll listen to me, I’ll give you all the tools you need, and you’ll grow up to do exactly what I’m doing here.” To see all this coming to fruition is just amazing.
You offer many services including meal planning, catering, and personal chef classes. You have also cooked for celebrities and professional athletes. Have you ever been surprised by a client’s response to your food?
I cooked for one NBA superstar and made a really, really fancy dish for him. He poured ranch dressing and hot sauce all over it. But that’s how he ate.
Growing up in Memphis, what was your typical diet?
Soul food. Granny was the best cook to me and probably still is. Sweet potato pie was my favorite. One of the things I regret the most is not being in the kitchen with granny to learn that recipe.
How would you describe your approach to food now?
It’s French-American fusion. The majority of my teachings early on were French with Chez Phillipe, then Kelly English added a New Orleans Creole-type setting. San Diego gave me the southwestern flair. California changed the way I ate because the portions were smaller. You don’t have to eat so much, but you still get full.
What is the most exotic dish you have ever made?
Antelope. I have a client who’ s a hunter and gets his own game. This particular winter he had antelope, so I made antelope roast.
How did it taste?
It was different.
Assuming antelope is off the menu, what can patrons expect when they visit Park + Cherry?
A French concept that’s neat, sweet, cute, and light with vibrant flavors. The whole incentive is healthy with fresh salads and bowls.
Why is the Dixon important to you?
Art sometimes just overtakes me. I always find motivation walking through the galleries and the garden. As an artist, what I envision is bringing something totally new and exclusive to the Dixon. My confirming moment was in the gallery one night. I was walking by myself looking at the art when I pictured “Phillip’s Gallery” over a door. I had that moment when I was at Chez Phillipe. Moments like that get me inspired and keep me going.
These days, what is your go-to comfort food?
I’ve always been a breakfast guy. Frosted Flakes.
What is an ingredient you can’t live without?
To learn more about Chef Phillip, Park + Cherry, and the Dixon wellness program, visit Dixon.org.
By Pamela Poletti