How an Unforgettable Meal Prompted This Patron to Become a MemberJanae Butler
September 26, 2023
The James Beard Foundation (JBF) Patrons are a community of supporters that believe in our mission, including both food lovers and the people behind the plate. In this series, we’re highlighting members from across our Patron program who are working to improve our food system and who embody our mantra of Good Food for Good™.
Introducing Memorie White, our September member spotlight. White is an attorney and the owner of her firm, Providence Title, LLC based in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a true food enthusiast and has been a patron since 2019. We spoke with White about how her powerful life events paved the way to bring diversity to her industry and seek some of the world’s best culinary experiences.
JBF: What inspired you to get involved with the James Beard Foundation?
Memorie White: My first experience with the James Beard Foundation was attending a 2015 celebrity chef event in Nashville. One of the chefs that participated was Kelly English from Memphis. He has a restaurant called Iris, and it’s one of my favorites. I enjoyed that event, not only because of the food, but because of the conversation that was had at the table. Hearing other people speak so passionately about food and experiences in their lives that centered around food was very intriguing.
Then I attended a Southern Foodways Alliance Taste of the South weekend, where chef Cassidy Dabney of The Barn at Blackberry Farm prepared a ribeye cap. I’d never had a ribeye cap, but I remember not needing a knife to cut into that steak. It was just a fork, and it was the most tender and most flavorful piece of steak I’d ever had. When I saw that she was cooking at the Beard House and that ribeye cap was on the menu, I got a ticket to come to New York. The dinner was so nice and so were the people. Since then, I've met many more enthusiasts like me, but also award-winning chefs like JJ Johnson, Rodney Scott, and Lisa Donovan, whom I’ve gotten to know over the years through JBF events.
JBF: You recently attended the Taste America Nashville dinner this summer. What were some of the highlights of that dinner?
MW: It was very interesting because chef Anya El-Wattar specializes in Russian cuisine and chef Vivek Surti does Indian cuisine—and those are polar opposites. But to see how they were able to marry the two and create a menu that worked was a testament to their talent and how universal food is despite how different it may be. So, it was a wonderful evening with great pairings and great conversation as well.
JBF: Tell me about your earliest memories of food.
MW: Growing up, my mom was a principal, and she traveled a lot. When she’d come back, the treat for me was to go to a restaurant of my choosing. But I also have to pay homage to my grandparents because I would spend a lot of time at their house in Memphis gardening and hunting. I can remember being four or five years old on their kitchen floor skinning rabbits and deer or eating greens and corn bread at their table. So, at a young age, those experiences laid the foundation for my love of food.
JBF: What inspired your career choice as an attorney?
MW: I had a situation that occurred in high school where a police officer wrongfully detained me by taking my driver's license and riding off with it. I filed a complaint with Internal Affairs, and we went to court. I spoke up from myself when it was just me against the officer, and I walked out victorious. They waived my charge and the officer got reprimanded. I felt so empowered during that experience and thought “you know what, maybe I need to be a lawyer.” That was the beginning and it's been very rewarding ever since.
JBF: Congratulations on the recent Black Excellence in Real Estate award you received! Talk me through your entrepreneurial experience building your company as a trailblazing woman of color in your profession.
MW: I have to be honest; I am an accidental entrepreneur. When my first firm told me they were closing in March of 2017, I went into survival mode. I ended up [getting a new role] that placed the wheels in motion for the birth of [my company], Providence Title. Now, six years later, I'm definitely glad that it happened. It's been challenging in some respects, since title companies in middle Tennessee are not where you see many brown faces. I am maybe one of three African American owners in all of middle Tennessee, which encompasses several hundred title agencies. So, it's definitely a blessing to be here and to be making an impact in an industry where we are underrepresented.
JBF: Do you have any favorite Nashville restaurants that you’d like to put on the map?
MW: My home restaurant is Margot Café and Bar, a restaurant that’s nestled in the Five Points area of East Nashville and has been there for over 23 years now. Margot McCormack is the chef and owner, and she specializes in rustic French cuisine. I would say that a lot of my growth as it relates to my palette has taken place there. I applaud her not only for providing a wonderful place to dine but also being such an integral part of introducing me to so many other things that I enjoy now. There's also a new kid on the block called Iggy’s—a pasta concept owned by brothers Ryan and Matthew Poli. Matthew is the sommelier and Ryan is the chef. I think they are doing some awesome things with really good food and a great beverage program.
Janae Butler is manager of development operations at the James Beard Foundation.