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STREETSEEN  | Chef Cullen Kent

Photo by Steve Roberts

Chef Cullen Kent: Showcasing Modern French Cuisine

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Originally from Beaumont, Texas, Cullen Kent first made his way to Memphis when he enrolled in Rhodes College in 1994 to major in Political Science. Prior to coming to the Bluff City, he thought he wanted to be a lawyer and practice as a litigator. After graduating from Rhodes, he stayed in Memphis for about a year, then moved to the Texas Hill Country and ultimately spent time in southern California. It was there that he first articulated a desire to work in the restaurant industry, and subsequently moved to Houston for his first restaurant job.

“I worked a salad station at an upscale restaurant called Brennan’s of Houston,” explained Kent. “I fell in love with being in a kitchen and realized that was what I wanted to do. So I packed up my stuff and moved to Paris, France to go to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Paris.”

After completing the program, Kent spent another year working at Apicius, a Michelin two-star restaurant. 

“I began at the lowest staff level and rose to be the Commis I (assistant to the chef on one side of the kitchen),” recalled Kent. “Then I moved back to the States, to my hometown of Beaumont, and came to Memphis for a wedding. As the saying goes — I met a girl.”

After making numerous trips from Beaumont to Memphis for the sake of romance, Kent starting looking for a job in Memphis. José Gutierrez, then chef of Chez Philippe, offered Kent a position. That was in the summer of 2001. The girl (Katharine) became his wife and Kent has been in Memphis ever since. Kent stayed at Chez Philippe for two and a half years, then accepted the head chef position at La Tourelle. After one year, Michel Leny contacted Kent about coming to Cafe Society to run the kitchen and take over general operations of the restaurant. Now Kent has been there almost 14 years. During that time he says he has seen tremendous changes in the Memphis restaurant scene. 

“I came to Cafe Society in 2005 and bought the restaurant from Leny in 2007,” said Kent. “The changes I’ve seen are inherent in both people and food. The number of people trying to enter the culinary field has increased exponentially, More people are going to culinary school and choosing a culinary profession. Also, I’ve noticed that the clientele who appreciate fine food has become younger and younger. There’s a whole generation of young foodies who have been raised to enjoy good food. They have moved past the fast food scene and now view foods like lamb lollipops, Caprese skewers and smaller versions of classic fine dining foods as the norm.”

Kent described his preferred style of cooking as very simple and straight forward.

“I like to use minimal ingredients that get the point across,” said Kent. “A perfect example would be a beautifully oven-roasted chicken with roasted potatoes tossed with fresh herbs and a natural jus to go along with it.”

Kent is adamant that all good cooking starts with quality ingredients and locally sources most of his ingredients, including meats, vegetables and herbs. Bacon-wrapped shrimp with horseradish sauce, seafood bisque, and classic crème brûlée are among the signature dishes of Cafe Society. 

When asked what’s in store for his future, Kent said that he would like to continue his culinary education by taking some refresher courses in pastry-making for his own “amazement and amusement.” Additionally, along with his dedication to the kitchen at Cafe Society, Kent is spreading his culinary talent around Midtown. He has partnered with Tony and Stephanie Westmoreland to reopen the original Zinnie’s, at the corner of Madison and Belvedere. Kent is developing the menu to reflect the authenticity of Zinnie’s and anticipates the bar will reopen sometime this month. Also, he has become involved in in the reopening of Mardi Gras, a Cajun cuisine eatery located across Cleveland from Crosstown Concourse.  

 

STREETSEEN  |  Carol Buchman

Photo by Steve Roberts

Carol Buchman: Dual Identity as Artist and Teacher

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Growing up in Roslyn, Long Island meant it was only a short train ride for Carol Buchman to access the art world of New York City. It was a trip she made numerous times and that exposure is what she credits as her earliest influences in art.

“I was a child artist,” recalled Buchman. “Even as early as nursery school and kindergarten I would make drawings for other children.”

Buchman continued, ”My father was a psychologist, and also a potter. He loved art and often took me to places like the Guggenheim Museum. In the 1960s in SoHo there were ‘Art Happenings.’  To me it was absolutely magical  — art you could interact with and touch. Seeing those installations created such awe in me and cemented my belief that art is fun and special.”

After high school, Buchman attended Hamilton Kirkland School in upstate New York where her focus was on writing and art. After some soul searching, she said that she realized that she should do what had always been her love — art. She enrolled in the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, the only purely art school in the country that was a state school. 

“We were not students of privilege,” said Buchman. “Rather we were a motley crew of commuters, people working their way through school.”

After earning a BFA in painting, Buchman said she tried to make a living as an artist and found out just how hard the path was that she had chosen. So, she went back to school at Boston University School for the Arts to get her MFA and a teacher’s certificate. Subsequently she worked in schools in the Boston area.

“At the time there was a stigma about being an art teacher — sort of a ‘those who can do and those who can’t teach’ mentality,” said Buchman. “I always thought that was a lot of baloney. I found that working in arts administration was not my thing; however, teaching really immersed me in creativity and was its own art form. My classroom was like being in a studio all day long, engaging every minute, making artistic decisions every day.”

In 1992, Buchman decided to leave the New England area and conducted a nation-wide job search. Through a professional connection she made at a national art educators conference, she was introduced to the head of the Memphis City School Art Department, Julia Russell. Buchman was interviewed and hired on the spot, and soon relocated to Memphis where she first taught at Manassas High School, then Rozelle Elementary.

“It really opened my eyes to urban issues,” recalled Buchman. “The experience also made me realize that if I was going to continue my own work as an artist, public school was too exhausting. I interviewed at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School, got the job, and have been there for 22 years. I love being a part of the fabric of that community where I have known families for years.”

 Now after almost 28 years of teaching, Buchman has instructed over 7,500 students.

Buchman continued, “Teaching in lower school has afforded me enormous financial stability and I’ve been able to keep up my own art, usually producing one body of work a year. I fully embrace this dual identity.”

A self-described mixed media painter, Buchman said that she prefers oils and gouache, and sometimes incorporates fabrics. 

“My own art has been influenced by the children’s art,” explained Buchman. “My style is naturally sort of whimsical. It has some of the unedited and free quality of children’s work. As a teacher, my goal is to nurture creativity in young people.” 

Buchman continues her community outreach with recent talks/shows at Eclectic Eye and Beth Shalom, and a planned one-person exhibition this winter at the Shainberg Gallery at the Memphis Jewish Community Center. For more information about Carol Buchman and her art, visit www.carolbuchman.org.