Thursday, August 5, 7:00 pm
Members $90, guests $115
“The essence of Southern cooking lies in its simplicity.
That, and its ability to transport you ‘home’ no matter
how far from there you may wander.” That’s Madidi’s
executive chef Lee Craven speaking, and he knows. A Florence, Alabama,
native who traveled north for his culinary training, Craven presides
over a restaurant co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, who also left
his native Mississippi as a teenager and traveled the world for
decades before returning to make the Delta his permanent home some
15 years ago.
Located in Clarksdale—home of the fabled crossroads where
the devil is said to lurk looking to exchange blues guitar skills
for the souls of the hopeful—Madidi is named for a nature
reserve in Bolivia that’s been noted for its stunning biodiversity.
Freeman and his co-owner Bill Luckett, a local attorney, originally
opened the place to save themselves a long drive to Memphis or Oxford
when hit with the urge for fine cuisine. Now going on its fifth
successful year, Madidi thrills Delta dwellers and visiting blues
pilgrims alike with its upscale Southern fare, tinged with classical
French and restrained Mediterranean influences.
Tim Sampson, of Memphis magazine, praised Madidi’s
cuisine under former chef David Krog, promising, “The food
is worth the hour-and-ten minute drive through the Delta.”
More recently, Jim Harris noted in the Arkansas Times, “The
kitchen, under the guidance of Chef Lee Craven…obviously put
much effort and attention to detail into each [dish]…Along
with the exquisitely tender pen-raised duck, some of our highlights
included a ravishingly rich shrimp bisque with a balsamic vinegar
drizzle, cornmeal fried oysters with a brandy cream sauce, a large
top-of-the-line filet of beef…Even the cole slaw that came
with the fried oyster appetizer was different and delicious.”
Craven, who was the last to interview for the chef job at Madidi,
beat out some of the region’s top culinary talents, no small
feat for a chef who is still in his mid-20s. Before he arrived in
Clarksdale, Craven spent three years at Memphis’ Chez Philippe
under the direct tutelage of chef Jose Gutierrez, one of only 52
American chefs certified as a Maîtres Cuisiniers de France.
Craven graduated with honors from the CIA in 2000, and has been
cooking professionally since his early teenage years.