On June 11, more than 30 award-winning chefs from Memphis and across the country will cook for a good cause.
Le Bon Appetit returns as an in-person gala for the first time in four years this Saturday night.
The signature fundraiser for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital takes place on the Crosstown Concourse. This tasting event always brings together some of the nation’s most celebrated talents in Memphis, all working to continue the mission of raising funds for Le Bonheur.
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The list of chefs reads like a Who’s Who of the culinary world. Many are James Beard Award-winning chefs. All are considered to be the best chefs in the cities where they have restaurants.
Ryan Prewitt of Peche in New Orleans, Maneet Chauhan of Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville, Aaron Sanchez of Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans, and Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis are just a few of the award-winning chefs that the city comes for the event.
Expect to find chefs like Andrew Adams of Acre, Jose Gutierrez of River Oaks and David Krog of Dory in Memphis. Mixologists including Inkwell’s Ben Colar and Cameo’s McKenzie Nelson will create craft cocktails for the event.
And of course, Le Bon Appetit cannot be discussed without a mention of Kelly English, Chef/Owner of Restaurant Iris, Second Line, Fino’s, Pantá and Magnolia House.
English is not only the face of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital’s Le Bon Appetit event, but also one of its founders. He co-hosts the event with the centuries-old Le Bonheur Club. Le Bonheur Club President Lala Taylor and Le Bon Appetit Co-Chairs Kelly Bobo and Allison Prescott worked closely with English to bring the event together.
Le Bon Appetit, an event that takes place every two years, took place in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018. Due to COVID-19, the 2020 event has been adapted to Le Bon Appetit @ Home, featuring 11 virtual cooking classes with chefs from Memphis, New Orleans, New York, Oxford, Dallas, Houston and Louisville.
Over the course of its five iterations, Le Bon Appetit has raised more than $3 million in specialized medical equipment, child-specific programming and technology for the MidSouth’s first and only comprehensive hospital for children.
For English, this event is more than just an opportunity to give back to his community; it was also born from a childhood experience of one’s own. At the age of 6, English spent two months in an adult hospital in his hometown recovering from a life-threatening fall. He says it was his memory of daunting, sterile facilities that started his dream of supporting the work of a family-friendly hospital like Le Bonheur, dedicated to children.
His enthusiasm and commitment to the hospital is something he makes sure every participating chef shares.
“From a chef’s perspective, we don’t need to sell this event,” said English. “We make sure we care about our chefs and that they know why they are here.”
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Tours of the hospital and an interactive, chopped-style competition featuring chefs and patients residing at the FedEx FamilyHouse ensure everyone attending sees the difference donations made through Le Bon Appetit are making to the 500,000 children who serve hospital treated each year.
Chef Michael Gulotta has been coming from New Orleans for every Le Bon Appetit since 2014.
“I first toured the halls of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in 2014 and witnessed the incredible work they are doing,” said Gulotta. “I’ve attended every Le Bon Appetit since then and it’s always been an amazing experience. The team take such good care of us and make every aspect of the event easy and fun.”
The chefs at award-winning New Orleans restaurants like Mopho and Maypop prepare Cheesy Crawfish Lumache Pasta with shellfish butter, coconut and Thai chili.
Tsunami chef and owner Ben Smith has attended every Le Bon Appetit event.
“It’s for a good cause. The event highlights some of the Le Bonheur patients throughout the night, and it just feels good to know that our efforts as chefs can have more impact than just providing good food to people,” said Smith. “It is heartbreaking to see these children and their families going through what are probably the most difficult circumstances of their lives. The restaurant industry has always strived to help in any circumstance and I am proud to be part of a group doing positive things.”
Bala Tounkura, the chef and owner of Bala’s Bistro, will be attending for the first time as the owner of his own restaurant. (In years past, he was part of the Horseshoe Casino culinary team.)
“There are so many ways that Le Bon Appetit and Le Bonheur Hospital are helping the people and community of the city of Memphis,” Tounkura said. “They save lives and how they help those less fortunate – that’s why this event is a must for me.”
Tounkara serves a taste of African fare, including dishes like vegan saka saka, chicken maafe, fried plantains, and jollof rice.
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Muddy’s Bake Shop owner Kat Gordon has attended four Le Bon Appetit events.
“Le Bon Appetit is a wonderful event in every respect. Obviously it’s a fantastic cause – Le Bonheur is a jewel of Memphis and an honor to support them,” said Gordon. “But the event is also something special for chefs. It’s one of the few nonprofit galas that emphasizes connecting the chefs to the organization’s mission, rather than just providing food and manpower.”
This year, Muddy’s is bringing miniature cupcakes with “Lemon Zinger” – vanilla buttermilk cake, lemon cream cheese frosting with lots of zest, topped with lemon zest sugar crystals. “It’s my current favorite,” said Gordon. “We hope it will be a refreshing end to an evening of fabulous flavors.”
The full lineup of chefs is available at lebonappetit.org.
Tickets start at $250. An early entry VIP experience is also available.
Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining Reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.
When: 7 p.m. June 11
Where: Crosstown Concourse, 1350 Concourse Ave.
Tickets: $250 for general admission; $300 for VIP entry with early entry.