Executive Chef at Chandelier Restaurant
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Woody Woodard.
Jennifer Dickerson has been in the restaurant business for more than half of her life, all of it spent in Tennessee. Her career started in downtown Memphis at the Cajun restaurant, Café Roux, 23 years ago and it led her to Jackson, TN where she now co-owns a Southern fine dining restaurant—Chandelier, which won Best Fine Dining for two consecutive years in “The Jackson Sun’s” Reader’s Choice Awards.
Jennifer has worked in several iconic Memphis restaurants beginning with Café Roux and including Maxwell’s, Le Chardonnay, Paulette’s, Garland’s, and Erlin Jensen, The Restaurant (She credits the esteemed chef as being her most influential mentor.)
She has been Executive Chef of several celebrated restaurants including KOTO, where she was one of the few to earn a perfect 4-star rating from “The Commercial Appeal” during her tenure as the founding chef, McEwen’s on Monroe, and The Brushmark in the Brooks Museum of Art.
Jennifer also worked for a private family as their personal chef and shopper for six years, traveling around the country with the family.
Chandelier, named for Dickerson’s fascination with the beautiful crystal lights (and is adorned with her personal collection of chandelier photographs she has taken over the years) is located in the historic Neely House in downtown Jackson. Jennifer fell in love with the 100-year-old former train hotel on sight, and the rest is history. Jennifer designed and decorated the gorgeous lower floor herself, and it truly reflects her taste and sensibility of everyday luxury with food that has been dubbed “Sexy Southern Cuisine” and upscale, yet down-to-earth service.
Jennifer has three children and three dogs, and she splits her time between Memphis and Jackson. When she’s not cooking you may find her reading, doing photography, antiquing, or spending quality time with her friends and family.
VIP: When and why did you decide to become a chef? Did you enjoy being in the kitchen with your mother when you were a child?
Jennifer Dickerson: My mother is a wonderful cook. So I absorbed it just by being around good cooking. But I did not cook a lot growing up. It wasn’t until I got out on my own in Memphis that I found out how much I enjoyed it. In my early 20s I decided that I was going to pursue cooking. I went out and got a job. That was a bold move! I thought so, but I was struggling with what to do with my life. I was trying to channel my creativity until I discovered being in the kitchen.
VIP: Talk about your culinary background. Where did you attend culinary school?
JC: I am self-taught. I had no desire to attend culinary schools. I talked to several people and asked them if they taught it was necessary to go to culinary school to become a good chef, and the advice of everyone with whom I spoke was to go try out an entry level position and see if it felt right for me and it did. I liked it immediately!
VIP: Tell me about your training and where did you work and in what cities.
JC: It was hands-on training. I credit my time with Erling Jensen at Erling Jensen, The Restaurant as being my formative period and my culinary education. Besides Memphis, I traveled a bit as a personal chef, but all of my executive chef positions have been in Memphis. I was born in Rhode Island. My father was in the Navy.
VIP: What is one of your favorite dishes to prepare and why?
JC: I love to do things with seafood because it is a challenge. You have to really enhance and not overpower the seafood. But my favorite thing to prepare is my smoked fried chicken because it is so unique.
VIP: What is your favorite foodie city?
JC: I love Asheville, NC. It’s a great city for food lovers. I also like to visit the great food scene in my own backyard of Nashville and Memphis.
VIP: Why did you choose Jackson, TN to open a restaurant?
JC: I was doing some consulting for the coffee shop called Alba in downtown Jackson, and it was during that time that I fell in love with the Neely House. I told Hal Crocker that it would be wonderful to work on my recipes in a nearby kitchen in Jackson. “I think you can use the kitchen at the Neely House,” said Hal. The manager drove me there and the rest is history. I believe it was meant to be!
VIP: Describe your favorite meal—one you would create for yourself.
JC: A really interesting salad. I eat a lot of salads. In terms of ethnic foods I love Indian and Thai, Ethiopian and Mediterranean foods. Those are my comfort foods.
VIP: What does your tagline or slogan “Sexy Southern Cuisine” mean?
JC: Southern cuisine can be a little heavy and rich. I like to lighten it up, give it a feminine sensual touch and a more elegant touch. “Sexy Southern Cuisine” is my take on rich Southern cuisine. I use a lot of bright flavors.
VIP: Describe your autumn menu and Sunday brunch dishes.
JC: I change the menu seasonally. I usually put a duck confit on in the cooler months. The smoked fried chicken and waffles and the always changing Eggs Benedict of the day are brunch favorites.
What to Know
575 S. Royal St., Jackson, TN 38301
Open Wednesday through Friday for lunch and dinner and open for Sunday Brunch. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Hours: 11am-2 pm for lunch and 5:30-9:00 pm for dinner. Bar open from 5-10 pm every night except Monday and Tuesday when the restaurant is closed.
Call for catering needs.