Last year, Melissa and Kjeld Petersen were lured to Memphis by barbecue. This year, they are moving from Portland, Oregon, to the Bluff City to start Edible Memphis, a quarterly food magazine scheduled to hit stands later this month.
"My husband loves barbecue, and taking a trip to the barbecue festival in Memphis had long been on his list," says Melissa Petersen. The couple finally made it last May. And while they had fun at the cooking contest, they were also impressed by the then-weeks'-old Memphis Farmers Market downtown and a dinner at Wally Joe.
Because Kjeld had cooked at the James Beard House, he was interested in local chefs who had done the same and tracked down Wally Joe.
"We have eaten at many great places around the country, and you know how it is with chefs when they eat out. They are very hard to please," Melissa says. "Our dinner at Wally Joe is still one of our top three all-time favorites, and we would have never expected to find that in Memphis.
"We were strolling in front of The Peabody and just looked at each other and said, 'This feels really good. I think we could live here,'" Melissa recalls.
Food is the couple's passion, and food is the driving force behind their move to Memphis. They settled in Portland three years ago after meeting "on the job" in San Diego. Kjeld started his cooking career with a summer job in high school, which turned into a career that now spans 30 years, including stints at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and the California Culinary Academy. He is an advocate for using regional and local foods in restaurants and a strong supporter of farm-to-chef programs.
Melissa learned to cook because in her family the rule was that whoever cooks dinner didn't have to do the dishes. She went to culinary school after running the marketing departments for software companies for more than a decade. She has cooked for several top southern California food businesses, including the award-winning Waters Fine Catering in San Diego.
In Oregon, the couple started Wild Plum, a catering and fine-foods business, and became involved with Edible Oregon, a food magazine similar to the one they are bringing to Memphis and similar to the ones published on Cape Cod, and in Boston, Atlanta, and more than a dozen other U.S. cities.
The magazine was started as a quarterly newsletter in Ojai, California, five years ago. Food enthusiasts and co-founders Tracy Ryder and Carole Topalian set out to educate people about food in Ojai, a farming and artists' community in a coastal valley. More specifically, they wanted to create awareness of local foods by focusing on how people shop for, cook, eat, and relate to the food grown in their area. The newsletter included stories about farmers, produce, and markets.
When Saveur magazine included Edible Ojai in its annual "Saveur 100," a list of favorite restaurants, food, drink, people, places, and things in 2004, Ryder and Topalian received countless phone calls from like-minded people who wanted to start a similar newsletter. Ryder and Topalian established Edible Communities (www.ediblecommunities.com) within the year. Their goal was to help people set up similar publications. With the assistance of entrepreneur Steve Hock, whose father developed the Visa card, the two created a workable business model that allows them to support the start-up of new magazines while not interfering with the local focus.
"When we first visited Memphis, we had a feeling that something is happening here," Melissa says. "You have this rich history, the amazing Southern Foodways Alliance right at your door, and a community with many people who remember eating vegetables right out of their parents' or grandparents' backyard garden. And then there is this renewed awareness in locally grown and produced foods within the community and among local chefs -- it just seemed like the right time for Edible Memphis."
The first issue is scheduled to hit local bookstores, restaurants, coffee shops, and food outlets in late April. "We are working very hard to get this first issue out on Earth Day, which is April 22nd," Melissa says. Articles were written by local writers, farmers, chefs, and others. An annual subscription to the magazine (four issues) is $28. However, production costs are carried mostly by advertisers, who in turn agree to a certain number of magazines in their stores. Store owners can decide to sell those copies or make them available free of charge.