There might be several food options in and around the University of Memphis, but not many boast a European-trained chef.
The Medallion Restaurant, located inside the Holiday Inn at the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management on the U of M campus, is an exception.
Edward Nowakowski, born in Austria and raised in the neighboring country of Poland, is the executive chef and food and beverage director for the hotel. In addition to the hotel, Nowakowski’s responsibilities include catering for the Fogelman Executive Center and FedEx Institute of Technology. The seasoned chef also serves as the president for the American Culinary Federation Memphis chapter.
“We are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we are open seven days a week,” Nowakowski said. “So there is a lot of different things that I need to take care of. I am the food and beverage director over here as well as a chef, so practically I got two heads…we have three buildings and a lot of things happen in those buildings, so we just got to make the best of it.”
Nowakowski said in a single day there can be 15 different functions happening in the three buildings and estimated the restaurant yields roughly 10,000 meals a month.
Specializing in European cuisine and elaborate decorative carvings, Nowakowski has accumulated several accolades over the years for his food crafting abilities, including a gold medal at the 113th Annual Salon Culinary Art in New York in 1981.
Prior to opening the Medallion Restaurant in 2001, Nowakowski worked at the Hyatt in New York, the Four Seasons in Dallas and the Hilton Hotel in Virginia Beach, VA.
“I like very much, challenge,” he said. “I do a lot of different things, which I am not asked to do, but I am still doing. I love that stuff.”
While the U of M does not offer a culinary program to students, there is a hospitality and resort management major and Nowakowski said on several occasions he has been invited to speak to the food and beverage business classes.
“Always on the back of my mind and every employee’s over here we are thinking of the students,” he said. “When they come and when they are involved in the operation, meaning they might get some exercise or some training on the front desk. They might shadow us on the kitchen or they might even physically help us to do some prep to have the hands on training.”
Leslie Grills, a server at the Medallion Restaurant for almost nine years, said the favorite part of her job is meeting the customers, but said she wished students played a larger role in the restaurant.
“They (students) don’t work here,” she said. “They do come in once in a while and shadow Chef and he teaches them how to cook and stuff. I think it would be kind of nice to have a few of them in here once in awhile.”
Nick Crafton, a member of the Engineers’ Club of Memphis, said he and other members of the organization are regular customers at the restaurant.
Every Monday for the past several years, the group has held its professional development hour at the Medallion Restaurant lunch buffet.
“It has always been well done and we enjoy it,” he said. “It’s been a pretty good value for us too. It’s excellent, first rate, and we appreciate being able to do this.”
With one of the busiest days of the year in the food industry just a few weeks away, it will be more than just restaurant regulars piling into the Medallion Restaurant.
Nowakowski said prep for Thanksgiving will start one week in advance with around 900 to 1,100 people expected to attend the buffet service. Prices will be in the $30 range.
In a role that requires anywhere from nine to 11 hours of his day on average, the 71-year-old chef said you have to like food, and you must have a heart for it to be committed to the demanding nature of the work the restaurant business requires.
“I never did anything else in my life, just the cooking,” Nowakowski said. “I am still very much excited about this stuff what I do, and I am always creating something new.”