Chef Kelly English hyped for the Memphis Grizzlies playoff run
Chris Faulkner: Let's go to it! I'll Beat Yo Ass Shrimp (cornmeal-fried shrimp adorned with Duke's Mayo, Crystal Hot Sauce, ground chili, and sliced green onions.), we know the story behind the quote, what's your specific inspiration for creating this dish and how else does the unique attitude of Memphis play into your food at Restaurant Iris and the Second Line?
Chef Kelly English: So, I've been accused in my lifetime of getting emotionally intoxicated for the sports teams I pull for, and we went down one game and going to have the watch party for the Grizzlies at Iris and we were thinking about something that would get people fired up. And these shrimp are something I sometimes cook for myself as a snack and it didn't have a name, so we just went with it, "I'll Beat Yo Ass Shrimp." It's funny for me to watch a server say that to a table. One of the great things about The Second Line is that it's irreverent and I really like to mix my pleasure with my business there. It's just a fun little place.
I think one of the really cool thing about the Grizzlies is they really embody the town and the blue collar attitude that we have. We don't want anybody to give us anything; we want to earn it, and I look at the Grizzlies the same way. They go out there and if they want something, they earn it.
CF: Your business and passion is cooking and you do your fair share of it on the regular. Outside of the restaurants, let's say you have the day off and you're going to kick back at home and watch a Grizzlies game, what does Chef Kelly English put in front of him to eat and drink for that experience?
3SOB/GBB Watch Party for Game 5, 4/29/14
So much fun we had to do it again, and make it even bigger!
CKE: You know it's very rare that I get to do that since we've opened (food service) in the Forum, too, most of the home Grizzlies games I'm there for. But when I do get a chance to do it, I really enjoy an ice cold beer, a cheap beer, and I'm not a fussy guy. I love things like Rotel dip, the normal stuff that any sports fan would have at their house for a party. I love really cheap and really expensive Mexican food, too. I could go from Las Tortugas to Molly's La Casita easily.
CF: You've been in Memphis a while now, you were here for some of the very worst years before things turned around for the franchise. As a Memphian and a sports fan, how has this team changed along with the city in your time here?
CKE: I've been prepared for a long time for a struggling franchise to get better. I mean, I'm both a Saints fan and an Ole Miss fan. I'm familiar with the character it takes to be a fan of a franchise. One of the things that bothers me in the sports world: I hate it when I see people prance around from franchise to franchise that they're going to pull for. One of my favorite things that's happened to me is that I didn't really live in New Orleans long enough with the Hornets for me to grow to love them; I did that with the Grizzlies. So I'm really thankful to be a Grizzlies fan. I don't know what would happen if an NFL team moved to Memphis one day; I do not know what would happen (laughs).
I look at it like the restaurant. We've had people come in after we had just opened and we were trying to figure out who we were and some of those same people are still coming to us, which is great. Loyalty means a lot in Memphis. I think that Memphis is a genuine town full of genuine people that work hard and they want the best and want to make it happen for themselves. It's rare, I can probably think of only a few sports franchises that really represent their town and the attitude of their town; the Grizzlies have just nailed it.
CF: I was talking with someone earlier about how players are now coming here and feeling inspired, being motivated to play for us.
CKE: Yeah, just take James Johnson and Courtney Lee.
CF: And now Beno Udrih.
CKE: Oh man! That guy (laughs). Especially with Calathes out, if we can get some real production from our backup point guard we're going to be in good shape.
CF: He's been something special and was obviously a big factor for our win in Game 2, if you're like me you're still pretty fired up over that Game 2 win, talking about the Griz/Thunder series, what do you see working in the Grizzlies advantage, what do you think might be some of their pitfalls and which player do you think has the most impact going forward for the Grizzlies?
CKE: I think Conley's play is going to mean a lot. I see the Griz in six. I really think we're going to move on the next round. I don't think any of our players are going to become complacent or get excited about winning one game; there's not much that's going to go to their heads. I'm really, and as blasphemous as this sounds, I'm pulling for the Clippers - because I want to take the Clippers out. I want to get us on the court with them and see who's the better team.
CF: In addition to the "I'll Beat Yo ass Shrimp," you've also got some other treats in store for your patrons of The Second Line tonight. What's the special and what's the vibe like in The Second Line on game nights?
(The following responses are paraphrased from the interview as I encountered some tech issues.)
They've been playing around with a "Milk the Horse" cocktail (a top secret version of Bourbon milk punch) after the infamous quote from Tony Allen regarding his matchup with Kevin Durant. Chef English appreciates how the Grizzlies as players really speak from the heart and stay true to themselves; a sentiment that this writer knows he incorporates into his cooking as I have enjoyed mind-blowing meals at both Restaurant Iris and The Second Line. Kelly and I joked about the reality of actual milking a cow, and I pointed out that I had earlier found a supplier of "gourmet horse milk" online. We both agreed and had a good laugh about how it'd probably be too bold of a move to incorporate actual horse milk into his food. I know, you're all sad now #haha.
CF: I'm fascinated with your cuisine and I always try to encourage my readers to check out your restaurants, can you give us a sneak preview of some other Grizzlies-inspired dishes you might have in store for us?
With springtime approaching there's an exciting new array of ingredients coming into season. Chef English hopes for a long run into the playoffs that will give him and his crew at Restaurant Iris and The Second Line several weeks to look into new dishes to pair with everyone's affinity for the Memphis Grizzlies. Kelly also pointed out that he rarely talks about basketball without someone bringing up the Tony Parker thing, which I did not and for which he was very appreciative. Chef Kelly would love to see you for a watch party at one of those fine restaurants during the playoffs and genuinely appreciates the support and love from the city of Memphis.
I'd like to give a huge thanks to CKE for taking the time to talk to me today, as well as making me hungry as hell.
Chef Kelly English's food can be found at numerous concession areas inside the FedexForum - I highly suggest you track them down and give it a try. (Shrimp n Grits and Chicken n Waffles, squeee!!)