Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Memphis Soul Stew

Memphis cookbook unites the Bluff City’s two great loves: music and food

Generally speaking, Nashville is as different from Memphis as, well, Venus is from Mars. Known as the Athens of the South, Nashville prides itself on civility and restraint, whereas Memphis, the gateway to the Delta, likes things a little hotter and a little spicier. You hear it in the music and you taste it in the food: two things Memphians take very seriously. From Isaac Hayes to Elvis Presley—and from the dry ribs at the Rendezvous to the Neely Brothers’s bar-b-que spaghetti—dining and dancing in the Bluff City are joined at the (swiveling) hip. It’s only right, then, that the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission would publish a cookbook, A Taste of Memphis Music—and it’s only right that its contents would come from Memphis’s legendary music community.

In recipes as varied and soulful as the Memphis Sound itself, A Taste of Memphis Music takes would-be chefs down Beale Street, across Main, and into the heart of one of the South’s great food cities.

Consider, for example, Larry Dodson’s recipe for Funky Spaghetti. Dodson, lead vocalist for legendary Memphis soul group The Bar-Kays, follows the Neelys in taking this Italian-American staple down a distinctly Southern path. Gone are the long-simmered tomato sauce, thinly sliced garlic, and Parmesan cheese, to be replaced by barbeque sauce, ketchup, and Cajun seasoning. Ground turkey makes Dodson’s bar-b-que spaghetti healthier, as well as funkier, than most.

Not all of A Taste of Memphis Music’s recipes are as downtown as Funky Spaghetti. Take Chef Claire Robinson’s Stuffed Chicken Breasts (with Bacon and Blue Compound Butter). Robinson, a Memphis music fan and host of the Food Network’s 5 Ingredient Fix, dresses up bone-in chicken breasts by forcing butter, bacon, chive, and blue cheese “disks” between the bird’s skin and white meat. She recommends that any leftover bacon and blue compound butter be reserved for “sinfully good” burgers or mashed potatoes.

Other Memphis musicians whose recipes appear are Keith Sykes, Reba Russell, and Susan Marshall, among others. A Taste of Memphis Music also includes recipes from Memphis music fans, including First Lady of Tennessee, Andrea Conte; City of Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton Jr.; and Congressman Steve Cohen.

“Food is a song,” Robinson writes in the book’s introduction, “a delicate dance of flavors, memories, scents and sounds.” To prove that point, A Taste of Memphis Music comes with a CD that showcases the city’s diverse music community. Tracks include rapper Al Kapone’s “The Music,” which reminds listeners of Memphis’s pre-eminent place in American musical history, and Nancy Apple’s country-fried weeper, “Table For Two (Dinner For One).” Gospel, funk, blues, and jazz artists are also featured.

As Memphis Minnie once sang, “Keep on a-eating, baby, ‘till you get enough.” From Sex In a Crust to Coca-Cola Cake to Pork Martini Olive Stew, A Taste of Memphis Music is a cookbook you can dance to.

The book and CD of A Taste of Memphis Music are available through the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission. Autographed copies of the cookbook are available at Burke’s Book Store. Proceeds from all sales support the Memphis Musicians Healthcare Fund.