Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Rock City Eat’s latest series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we have Chef Felicia Suzanne Willett of Felicia Suzanne’s Restaurant in Memphis.
For those around Little Rock who might be unfamiliar with your restaurant in Memphis, could you briefly describe what type of food you serve?
We serve American Cuisine with a southern, low-country, Creole flair . We change the menu seasonally in order to ensure using the freshest ingredients from local farmers.
What’s the décor and atmosphere like at Felicia Suzanne’s?
It’s located in the historic Lowenstein building at the corner of Main and Monroe in downtown Memphis. We offer three dining spaces: the Main Dining Room, which is the most elegant and formal, the Main Street Dining Room, which is a more causal and laid back place that’s great for cocktails and watching the game, and the Patio, which is the perfect mixture of both. We’re outside the box when it comes to the restaurant experience; we don’t just offer indoor and outdoor dining, but also do private events, cooking classes, and FSR to Go, our growing catering business.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that we’re a fine dining restaurant. We have white table cloths because it’s my way of honoring the memory of my Grandmother, Lovis, who always set a table with white linens. Our pricing is because I order the freshest, highest quality seafood and from sourcing seasonal ingredients from local farmers instead of buying factory-farmed produce and meats.
What are a few of your signature dishes?
1) House Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs w/ Kelley’s Catch Caviar
2) Oysters of Love: Crispy Gulf Oysters w/ New Orleans BBQ Sauce over Creamy Stone Ground Grits
3) The BLFGT: Benton Bacon, Fried Green Tomatoes, Baby Greens & TN Cheddar Spread
4) Shrimp & Grits: Wild Gulf Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, Classic Creole Sauce, Creamy Stone Ground Grits
5) Duck Three Ways: Panneed Duck Breast & Confit of Tennessee Duck, Earth Spring Rice, Rosemary Pancetta, Fried Rice, Crispy Duck Cracklins & Fried Egg
6) The Peppermint Patty: Old Fashioned Baked Fudge, Dark Chocolate Sauce, Peppermint Gelato
7) White Chocolate & Fresh Coconut Bread Pudding w/ Suzanne’s Praline Sauce, Bourbon Gelato
How long has the restaurant been open?
FSR just celebrated its 13th birthday on March 22nd.
Could you describe a little of your background…where you went to culinary school and when and where did you got your start?
First, I got a bachelor degree from the University of Memphis. I then attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Charleston. After graduating, I needed to complete an internship and chose Emeril’s in New Orleans. What was originally meant to be a one year internship turned into an eight year ordeal, first, as a line cook at Emeril’s, and then as a production assistant and food producer for Emeril Live and Essence of Emeril. I moved back to Memphis in 2001 and opened the restaurant in 2002. That’s how I got my start.
What is the key to running a successful restaurant in the highly competitive downtown Memphis food scene?
I wouldn’t say the downtown Memphis food scene is competitive–we’re all friends and neighbors! We’re very supportive of each other, and we’re always borrowing and lending things to each other when needed. Downtown Memphis needs lots of diverse restaurants to thrive, so I say the more the merrier.
As for the key to success, it all boils down to two things:
1. Be tenacious. Know what you want, and fight for it. Don’t give up or back down, but keep trying to achieve it in the face of challenges and adversity.
2. Be gracious. One of the first things I learned in the business was to count my blessings and repay them back to the community that gave it to me in the first place.
We’re excited to have you here in Little Rock for your Eggshell’s cooking class. What do you have planned for the class?
I’m going to demonstrate how to make simple and delicious recipes utilizing Flo’s products.
You have your own line of food products. Besides Eggshells, where would one be able to buy your wares?
In Little Rock, we also sell Flo’s products at the Hillcrest Artisan Market, or H.A.M. for short. Flo’s products are also available at The Everyday Chef in Jonesboro, Newcomb’s Gift Store in Osceola, Bread & Butter Co. in Oxford, MS, and five stores in Memphis: Buster’s Liquor & Wines, Social, Trolley Stop, Muddy’s Grind House, and Porcellino’s Craft Butcher, as well as at the restaurant and our online store.
You’re an Arkansas native…where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Jonesboro, and that’s also where I learned to cook. I started making cheesecakes when I was just a kid. I sold them to friends and family for some pocket money.
When you’re not in the kitchen, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love yoga, gardening, taking my dog Loula Belle to the park, hanging out with friends, trying new restaurants around town, and going to football games. Go Hogs!
As it pertains to your culinary career, who have been some of your greatest inspirations along the way?
My Grandmother Lovis, my mom, Julia Child, and Emeril.
What is one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
I cook on my days off. I love to make food for family and friends on Sundays. And I love cheeseburgers.