by Robin Beaudoin
Born and raised in Memphis, Townsend (dubbed the “Sage of Sustenance” by good friend Floridia Jackson) has graced many local kitchens with his creativity and positive presence. He can be seen in the likes of the Memphis Flyer, and the January issue of Memphis Magazine, but is as down-to- earth as they come.
Tower Center catering is where he found his start (former home of the Summit Club) as the chef de cuisine. Townsend recalls his beginning, “Wade Hartsfield was probably the first person who trusted me and allowed me to have some creative freedom. He was definitely one of my mentors, and we still keep in touch.” From there, he was the interim executive chef for Hunt Phelan events, prior to their closing. After a brief hiatus to help his sister through college, he decided to move to Little Rock, Arkansas to attend Pulaski Tech for hospitality and tourism. “While I was there I worked for Community Bakery, a legend in Little Rock. I don’t like baking at all – it’s a science, and I’m a creative chef. The two are very different.” Townsend later received a call from a nonprofit. Caritas Village called me and Onie Johns had him on the phone for two hours, convincing him to come look at Caritas for an interview. Townsend recalls an instant connection, “Immediately I knew that’s what I should be doing. I didn’t want to just serve myself – I wanted to serve other people. The energy at Caritas told me this was what I was supposed to be doing.” He accepted the offer of chef and artist-in-residence. For two or three years, he learned the true impact of food as more than nourishment. Binghampton is a unique community, made up of more than 20 ethnicities, and food is their universal language. “I was able to break down some barriers through food and meet some great people along the way.”
That experience led to the Binghampton Development Corporation where Olivia Haslop is the program manager for Kaleidoscope Kitchen. Together she and Townsend developed a 22- week curriculum, inspired by the immigrant and refugee community members who
had interest in food and desired to become food entrepreneurs. She spearheads the Kaleidoscope Food Festival, annually in April. “I never thought I’d be teaching people, let along developing a culinary curriculum, but that again enforced the power of food – giving people an opportunity to provide a stable income for those with language barriers, giving them opportunities for employment. It feels great that three of my former students are a part of Global Café in Crosstown Concourse, with their own brick-and-mortar location. I went to the opening and the owner congratulated me for the chefs I trained. It was overwhelming to see them so happy to see them that was theirs – they’d worked so hard to accomplish that.”
Townsend’s most recent project, SAGE, is the collaborative brainchild of MBN enterprise, assembled with the concept of an upscale restaurant/lounge downtown, and Townsend was recommended to be executive chef by the previous owners of the space. A proper marriage between designers and chef resulted in a light, cozy space, filled with smells of home cooking, and service with a smile. Just the spot for a drink after work, a dinner date, or brunch with friends.
SAGE features a soul food fusion menu. “I used my experience learning from my diverse group of students, and fuse that with soul, taking our guests on a tour around the world through food. We’re a place where service is important. Serving a Great Experience – it’s one of our mantras. I love what I do and I am grateful that I’m on this particular journey with this group of people.” Some popular menu items include the Soul Roll (an eggroll stuffed with turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken), vegetarian option Fried Green Tomato and Kimchi Salad, Cauliflower Rice, (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, carrots, sautéed in a teriyaki) and Beyond Burger (you won’t believe it’s not meat). The specialty cocktail menu offers several signature drinks, Townsend’s favorite being the House of SAGE, made with Redemption Bourbon and mulled berries served with sage leaves.
“Brunch is kind of kickass. We have the Soul Waffle – imagine the Soul Roll ingredients between two fluffy waffles, batter dipped and deep fried, served with powdered sugar and sage-infused warm syrup. We also have traditional brunch dishes such as shrimp and grits, salmon and crab cake benedict, the Downtown Omelet, and notorious Cotton Candy Mimosas.”
94 South Main
Lunch Monday – Friday
10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Dinner Monday – Thursday
5 – 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday
5 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday
11 a.m. – 3 p.m.