Only hours after Chef Brian Thurmond of 148 North in Collierville, Tennessee wakes up each morning does he realize he’s not having a dream, rather he’s living one – owing a fine dining restaurant built on a foundation for the love of food, family and cooking.
“The little mistakes I’ve made in my life turned out to be big blessings,” the 28 year-old Chef told me as we sat at the bar in his new restaurant located at 148 North Street on Collierville’s historic town square. “I attended the University of Memphis for two semesters right out of high school before I realized I would never succeed if my future was sitting in a cubicle or behind a desk. All I knew is I wanted to create great Southern cuisine.”
Thurmond’s fascination with food was a constant presence throughout this young life. He admits his parents were not great cooks but that didn’t stop him from shadowing his mom as she prepared family meals. Around the age of 11 he started making simple breakfast dishes for his parents. “I quickly discovered I could provide something for someone. I guess you could say it was my way to give back to others.”
In the early 2000’s some of nations top chefs were being featured on the Food Network. It was then the future chef began watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats program. When he saw dishes he wanted to cook, his mom would take him to grocery stores where they would purchase the recipe ingredients and prepare them together.
Armed with a passion for cooking but unsure where is life was headed, fate took hold in 2008 when he learned a young chef named Kelly English had moved to Memphis and opened Restaurant Iris. He needed to make some money so Thurmond applied for and accepted a job washing dishes in English’s kitchen.
“It was slow in those early days, real slow,” noted Thurmond. “I got to do other things in the kitchen that no one else liked doing. I embraced those tasks because it gave me the chance to touch food.”
Soon after he was promoted to the salad station and with the encouragement of English, Thurmond enrolled at L’Ecole Culinaire in Memphis, attending classes from 6 am until noon and working in the restaurant from mid-afternoon until closing.
“Rick Farmer, Cullen Kent and other great chefs in Memphis were instructing and I felt lucky to learn their skills,” Thurmond said. Having actual kitchen experience and some formal training, he moved to the hotline, then to the sauté station and later running the kitchen as Restaurant Iris’ sous chef at ripe age of 22. And mastering the art of cooking wasn’t all he had to learn. He became a quick study in how to manage the different personalities found in a high-level kitchen and he admits it was tough. He also appreciated the opportunity to grow.
“I will forever give Kelly the credit for everything,” he said with sense of pride. “We had and still have a nurturing relationship and he allowed me some flexibility in the kitchen. Now I knew cooking and being a chef would be how I would make a living.”
By now English was juggling several business ventures so when he heard a building on the historic town square in Collierville was available, he suggested his protégé investigate the opportunity to branch out on his own.
“My wife and I were already living in Collierville and our first child had just been born. It may not have been the ideal time to start a new venture, but with the great location, a vested owner and the support of my family, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It’s a really cool time to own a restaurant on the Collierville town square.”
Thurmond says the goal of 148 North is to bring a unique twist of French and Southern cuisine together. From the seared yellowtail tuna appetizer to the fried chicken potpie or the classic shrimp and grits, customers searching for fine dining food in a casual, upscale environment will be pleased.
He envisions a place where people can savior both the food and the atmosphere. It was a gorgeous, sunny day on the square and people had been enjoying the restaurant’s ample, street side patio tables.
“I want people to come in and just relax. We’re all stressed and constantly worrying about everything,” he said.
While the restaurant has no formal policy on the use of mobile devices, Chef Brian encourages everyone to leave them in their pockets. “To fully enjoy a fine dining experience, you need great atmosphere, food and friends. We can provide two-thirds but to fully enjoy all three require your full attention and that’s what we strive to give each customer.”
Toward the end of our conversation I asked Brian a couple of questions off the cuff.
First, what is his favorite go-to comfort food? “That’s easy; Pancho’s cheese dip and cold pizza. “My wife always ask me why I don’t warm it up but that’s how I love it.”
The second question was a little tougher. If he could prepare his finest dish for anyone, who would it be? Some top chef, the president, maybe a childhood friend?
Pausing for a moment, I could sense emotions beginning to surface. He didn’t have to think long. Collecting himself a few seconds later, he mentioned his grandmother, Illa Carpenter. “She passed away before we opened and I would have loved to have served her at 148 North,” he said wiping away a tear while smiling. “She was so influential and supportive. She told he I could do anything I wanted in life. Now I am.”
148 North is easy to find on the historic Collierville town square. They’re open daily from 11am – 2pm for lunch and for dinner from 5pm – 9:30 pm Wednesday through Saturday. (901) 610-3094 or [email protected]