Hats off to my friend Gay Lyons.
Sometime this summer when Gay and her friend Laura Cole were having dinner at the chef’s counter at the downtown eatery J.C. Holdway, chef owner Joseph Lenn came over to chat with them. Talk turned to a dinner party someone was having and Chef Lenn quipped, “Nobody ever invites a chef to dinner.”
Gay didn’t miss a beat. “Consider yourself invited!” she exclaimed.
That dinner occurred last night. Alan and I were lucky enough to also be invited, as were Laura, who brought the wine; her friend, Jason Drotar, who is a sommelier at Blackberry Farm; and David Butler, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, who made pasta for the dinner.
If I were cooking for a James Beard Award-winning chef, which Joseph Lenn is, I’d be scared to death. Gay was cool as a cucumber. The evening was a blast.
When Gay first started planning the dinner, it was the middle of summer and her menu featured the variety of tomatoes that were flooding into the Market Square Farmers’ Market. She was going to make a peach pie for dessert.
But it was difficult to find a date that worked for everyone, so the dinner was pushed into this month when local tomatoes and peaches are in short supply. But not to worry. The new menu showed off pears and butternut squash and a tiramisu trifle. And David’s pasta, of course.
The dinner was a huge success. Gay’s husband, Bill, said he was embarrassed this morning by the number of empty wine bottles he had to haul to the trash can! But as good as the food and wine were, they were surpassed by the warm camaraderie of a group of friends having supper together on a Sunday night. Even if one of them was a superstar chef.
After bagging groceries for a while, he was moved to working in the store’s butcher shop. The butcher asked him if he’d ever had veal loin. Lenn said no, and the butcher sold him a veal loin that was about to go on sale. “Take it home and grill it,” the butcher said. Lenn did. And loved it.
Shortly after, the butcher asked him if he’d every had a lamb loin. Lenn said no and went home and grilled one of those!
After that, whenever a cut of meat was about to go on sale, Lenn would put one aside for himself and go home and grill it. Soon, he was hooked. He decided to drop his plans to study engineering and go to culinary school — Johnson & Wales University in Charleston.
Stints at Peninsula Grill in Charleston, the Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grill in Nashville and Blackberry Farm followed. It was during his 10 years at Blackberry that he won the James Beard Award in 2013. He opened J.C. Holdway in 2016.
For his part, Chef Lenn said folks shouldn’t be nervous about cooking for a chef. “You could bring out Kraft macaroni and cheese and I’d be grateful!” he said. (Not a chance. But maybe Velveeta.)
Jennifer: You know Gay! It was amazing!
Wow! I love it! Gay is the boss! Any leftovers?!
We gotta move downtown!
Allyn: Gay IS the boss! But I bet you would do it, too!
Steven: Heck yeah you should move downtown!!
I can totally relate. While no James Beard Award winner, during all my years of catering, people would say they would never be able to cook for me. 🙁 I’m easy to please so a hot dog would have been glorious. It’s just the thought of someone else doing the work. Way to go, Gay! Looked a-mazing!
This was one of the best times ever. Thank you, David Butler, for that amazing pasta & thank you, Jason, Laura, & Joseph for those incredible wines.
Jason, you had me at Sancerre…
From the get-go, for me, it was about friends who showed up in our kitchen for supper last night. It was such a pleasure for Bill & me to host everyone & serve some of our favorites to some of our favorite people.
Joseph: As if you needed another thing, but those doughnuts…Oh my!
Janet: How about getting together for my favorite hot dog combo: chili & slaw?
The meal looks amazing; send leftovers by Bill. I’m glad you had a great time.
Gay, invite me for hot dog combo!!!! My favorite thing. Mmm, mmm, good.
Looked like a fun evening! I need a pasta lesson from David!
Gay: That was the best homemade meal I’ve ever had downtown! Bill and you really know how to entertain.
Cynthia: Knoxville is lucky to have a storyteller like yourself, and a dessert eater like Alan.
David: I have a pasta making position waiting for you at JCH.
Laura: I loved the wines you brought, and the dog dress.
Jason: Thanks for explaining the wines and showing Cynthia that not all chardonnays drink equally.
Yes, Jason: I appreciate that lesson! Maybe I need to practice it more!
Gay, that tiramisu was so rich it should have a trophy wife. I enjoyed the conversation as much as the food–what a great discussion!
Cynthia, thanks for documenting such a fun night. I don’t know how you kept up with all the details with all that wine we had–what an ace!
Laura: I was afraid to ask Bill how much wine we actually had!
OK . Best comment goes to Laura Cole: tiramisu so rich it should have a trophy wife. Um..wow.
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