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VOL. 128 | NO. 216 | Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Simple Plan

New chef at Bleu focuses on fresh, local food and eclectic menu

By Andy Meek

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A new chapter has begun at a premier Downtown restaurant – Bleu Restaurant & Lounge, whose new executive chef took a circuitous professional route to his current career destination.

Bleu’s executive chef, Kevin Rains, has rewritten the Downtown restaurant’s dinner menu, with items such as his peppered ahi tuna. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Kevin Rains arrived in the kitchen at Bleu, inside The Westin Memphis Beale Street hotel, a few weeks ago. He’s already rewritten the dinner menu, been pushing for the use of as many local vendors as possible and has been talking about his long-term interest in securing and catering to a loyal customer base that includes Downtown professionals.

It was a phone call from Westin general manager Patrick Jordan, and an invitation to coffee, that started the process of luring Rains away from his previous job, which was in the kitchen at the Marriott at Interstate 240 and Poplar Avenue.

“He told me about Bleu, his thoughts, and where they currently were standing here,” recalled Rains, whose appointment roughly coincides with the two-year anniversary of Bleu. “It sounded great to me. I’m from a restaurant background. I worked with Ritz Carlton some 17, 18 years ago, I had my own restaurant here in town and worked in private restaurants throughout my career. Being able to cook a la carte restaurant food again was a really big plus. It was the best of both worlds – to be attached, affiliated with the hotel, and to be able to cook in a real restaurant again that’s high volume. That’s where my passion is.

“As far as my passion on food, my standpoint is fresh is always best. We make everything from scratch here, and we take pride in doing it. And where we’re going with the place is we’re somewhat of an eclectic menu, but we’re really doing new spins on some old favorites. We’re just trying to put out a good product. Nothing too fancy about the plan.”

While Bleu will focus on flying in fresh fish and other seafood items regularly for its dishes, Rains stressed the restaurant is using plenty of farmers in town for other items. Some of the local vendors used include Dickey Farms Mushrooms, Oxford’s “Original Grit-Girl” and the Memphis Farmers Market in Downtown.

At a media day in October at which Bleu’s new dinner menu was unveiled, items presented included black pepper encrusted seared ahi tuna and a grilled half rack of herb encrusted lamb, among other things.

Rains is a Georgia native, and prior to serving as the executive chef at the Marriott, he spent more than three years as chef instructor at L’Ecole Culinaire. Before that, he was an owner and executive chef at the restaurant Roustica and had served as executive chef at Equestria Restaurant and Lounge.

He also served as chef de cuisine at Erling Jensen’s Brasserie in Memphis and sous chef at Strings Restaurant in Denver. He began his career in Denver, working as sous chef at The Ritz Carlton there.

Bleu general manager Lance Morton said the addition of Rains is critical to keeping up the restaurant’s standard of excellence and to presenting customers with a memorable experience.

“I’m from the West Coast and spent a lot of time out in Colorado – that’s where I picked up my line-cooking abilities,” Rains said. “One problem I’d heard Bleu was having is, from what I’ve been told, on these large game nights and event nights they were getting 300 people and not able to service them as fast as possible. We’re trying to streamline that so we can meet the demand of larger groups coming in.

“There’s definitely a large Downtown group audience we’re trying to please. They’ve kept the place going, with their loyalty. Where I’ve been cooking most of my career I’ve been in Memphis is out East, so we’re also trying to get some of those groups back down here.”

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