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VOL. 127 | NO. 103 | Friday, May 25, 2012

Culinary Passion Began at Early Age for Doty

By Sarah Baker

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A usual day for Jason Doty starts at about 2:30 a.m. The 38-year-old pastry chef is due at Bluff City Coffee’s new commercial kitchen in Pembroke Square by 4 a.m. to begin “the load for the day.”


(Photo: Kristen Waddell)

While he’s used to odd hours, having worked in the restaurant and hospitality industry for 20 years, Doty admits his new position with the local coffee and snack shop takes some getting used to.

“It’s a little different than working on a line,” Doty said. “The only odd day is like a Friday night or Saturday night when I come in at 2:30 or 3 a.m. and everybody is just going home from Downtown and I’m coming in, so it’s a little strange, but I don’t mind it these days. I’ve been sober for five and a half years, so it’s a nice change. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle, so it keeps me out of trouble.”

Doty graduated culinary school at age 18 from La Maison Meridian/Memphis Culinary Academy – a school formerly located on Peabody Avenue and led by chef Joseph Carey. He had stints with various restaurants around town, around the country and internationally before spending some time in film school.

“It was about that time that I found that I had kind of hit bottom,” Doty said. “I was living here in Memphis and something really bad happened that was of my own hands and after that day, it was like, ‘I have to change my life or I’m going to die or somebody’s going to die and that’s not good.’ So I changed my life and I got sober, I got into a program and did what I was supposed to do. Here I am five and a half years later, happily married, father and running a great kitchen.”

Doty was raised between Memphis and Ripley, Tenn., where his grandparents owned a pick-your-own strawberry and tomato farm.

“People ask me all the time where I learned to cook and where I went to culinary school, but I tell them my first place I learned to cook was in my grandmother’s kitchen,” Doty said. “Even at 1 or 2 years old, there are pictures of me pretending to cook next to her. She taught me everything she knew.”

On his grandparents farm is also where Doty’s passion for locally grown ingredients was instilled.

“I saw the impact that it had when people came from all over during strawberry season to pick their own strawberries. That lifestyle means a lot to me,” Doty said.

“To help another farmer, it’s two-fold. Not only are you helping someone in your community, but you’re also helping other people in your community by providing a better nutritious product.”

David Adams, owner of Bluff City Coffee at 505 S. Main St., hired Doty earlier this year to expand the restaurant’s pastry and bread offerings.

“I was over at Grawemeyer’s for a little bit helping them get open, and David and I sat down and talked. He had a vision to bring Bluff City Coffee and Bluff City Bakery to the next level,” Doty said. “I had that same passion and desire to do something like that in Memphis; it was a perfect match. We’re like Frick and Frack. He wants to be a part of the community so much and give back and so do I.”

Doty is a classically trained French chef but only started self-teaching pastry within the last few years.

“I hated pastries because they’re delicate and they’re time consuming,” Doty said. “You’re talking about 20 years on the line of a line cook. That’s just rough and tumble and tossing pans and kicking out food in about five to 10 minutes on the line – that’s a whole other lifestyle. Pastries are delicate and they take time and you’ve got to be patient. I never wanted to do them but I always had this flare for them I guess you could say.”

Being a pastry chef and a recovering addict both require persistence, Doty said. He attributes much of what he’s learned along the way to Mac Edwards, owner of Elegant Farmer and Memphis Farmers Market board member.

“Mac Edwards is my mentor and hero,” Doty said. “Not only for what he does for local-sourced products, but what he does for the community as well as the sober community. He hires mostly people who are recovering and trying to make a second chance at life and he gave me a chance.”

Bluff City Coffee is “heavy in development on a lot of ends,” Doty said. The company launched its new bread line earlier this month at Project Green Fork’s Spring Supper and is currently seeking new retail locations in Downtown and Midtown.

“There are big plans to do some big things in Memphis,” Doty said. “Our priority is… simple but good offerings that people will love, utilizing as much local-sourced product that we can. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re getting there.”

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