From art student to artist, designer to chef to restaurateur, Karen Carrier's been creating in different mediums for over 25 years. An energetic and vivacious woman, Carrier was born and raised in Memphis. Her first love was painting and glasswork and that, in a roundabout way is where she got her start in the culinary world. Apprenticing and studying under the brilliant artist, Dorothy Sturm, Carrier spent her early years at The Memphis Academy of Art gaining as much knowledge as Ms. Sturm would bestow.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Memphis Academy of Art and receiving a scholarship to Hunter College for her MFA in painting Carrier lit out to New York City in 1980. In an effort to support her self she enrolled in The New York Cooking School for a six-week intensive food course. Karen’s culinary journey in New York City during the 1980’s charged her creative juices and she eventually gave up her scholarship to Hunter College and chose to continue on her culinary journey.
“It was a chance encounter in the restroom of a trendy New York restaurant. A struggling art student mentioned her love of cooking and lack of money. The other woman, Chef Susan Trilling (one of New York’s top caterers) was a caterer in need of help. The two exchanged names, the student promised to start work the next day and Carrier never returned to graduate school. They worked together over the next several years riding the Tex Mex wave and helping to usher in the Cajun Creole craze at the acclaimed Tribeca restaurant Bon Ton Roule.
In 1983 Carrier launched Lunch Catering in New York City, to the fashion photography industry. She later celebrated Independence Day in 1986, with the birth of her first restaurant, Automatic Slims – One Bar Under a Groove; a Memphis meets Manhattan Juke Joint in Greenwich Village that melds soul food with Southern fried sensibilities.
Like all good Southerners, she eventually returned home to Memphis in 1987, to start a family and plant the seeds for a restaurant empire. While pregnant with her first child, Carrier’s first venture was creating Memphis’ premier catering company, Another Roadside Attraction Catering.
Upon arriving back in the South, Carrier reconnected with her mentor Dorothy Sturm. Believing the world needed to experience the genius of Sturm, Carrier produced a large scale retrospective on “The Art of Dorothy Sturm” at The University of Memphis Art Museum in conjunction with the book, : Cobalt ~ The Art of Dorothy Sturm.
Twenty years ago in 1991, Chef Karen B. Carrier sparked the stunning revival of downtown Memphis with her funky, Automatic Slims Tonga Club, a Caribbean cowboy café and sibling to the original. Critics have applied descriptors like daring, exuberant, eclectic and risk taking to Automatic Slims when it opened in 1991, words that apply equally well to the fusion food, the funky décor, and chef owner Karen B. Carrier. In 2008, after seventeen years in downtown Memphis, Carrier sold Automatic Slims.
In 1996 Carrier moved out of her 1886 Victorian home and transformed it into Cielo, a supper club set in a grand old Victorian home. She transformed the home into a campy wonderland, worthy of anything ever imagined by Lewis Carroll. In 2007 Carrier transformed Cielo to The Mollie Fontaine Lounge.
Carrier has been a personal chef to such Hollywood big shots as Tom Cruise, Francis Ford Coppola, Jim Jarmush and Susan Sarandon. But in Memphis this chef is a bona fide celebrity in her own right. As many natives know, the way to Memphis’ heart is through its stomach, and Carriers innovative restaurants and one of a kind cooking is what makes her a star.
The crown jewel in Carrier’s growing group of eateries is the glorious quirky Beauty Shop Restaurant, which opened in 2002 in the former Atkins Beauty Salon where Priscilla Presley had her beehives coiffed. It was included in Gourmet’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2002 and Conde’ Nast Traveler’s Hot Tables of 2003. Her other restaurants include, Do Sushi + Noodles and The Mollie Fontaine Lounge. Carrier closed Do Sushi in 2012 and opened Bar- DKDC in 2013.
Her ambitious cooking style pairs big Southern and International flavors in dishes like Grilled Tuna Pizzette, Pork & Peach, Watermelon & Wings and Voodoo Stew. It’s what Food & Wine described as “in your face” cooking and Memphis Magazine deemed “imaginative and full of surprises.”
Carrier’s menus read like album covers, listing lighting, Art and Design credits, as well as thank you to spiritual advisers. In the 25 years since her return to Memphis, Carrier has received numerous accolades in publications and television such as; Gourmet, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Travel and Leisure, Garden and Gun, National Geographic, Japanese Esquire, Southern Living, Taste, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Sun Times, Turner Network, CNN, The Food Network, Northwest in Flight Magazine, Delta in Flight Magazine, Memphis Magazine, Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Flyer.
One of the highlights of Carriers career was the invitation to cook at the acclaimed James Beard House in New York City in March 2001 and was asked to return in October 2006. In 2011 Carrier was included in The Memphis Magazine 35th Year Anniversary Issue “ The Memphis 35 ~ Movers and Shakers of the past Three Decades,” and in 2012 included in the first edition of the book "Memphians" ~ a Celebration of the Best, the Brightest and the Most Colorful.”
Carrier was one of nine chefs from the South included in the book ~ Wild Abundance ~ Ritual, Revelry and Recipes of the South’s Finest Hunting Clubs ~ A Cookbook Anthology. In 2014 Carrier was one of 10 chefs to be included in the book MEMPHIS- Sweet, Spicy & a Little Greasy. Carrier has received many accolades such as induction into The Tennessee Society of Entrepreneurs, The Restaurateur of the Year Award and The Memphis College of Art Alumni of the Year Award, Best Chef’s of America and the 2015 Memphis College of Art Commencement Speaker.
Over the last 20 years St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Le Bonhuer, March of Dimes, Friends for Life, Hope House, Share Our Strength, Ballet Memphis, The Memphis College of Art, Arts Memphis and numerous other non-profit organizations have felt Carrier’s generosity.
"I came back from New York City to give Memphis something a little different, something to be proud of ~ I wanted to shake things up a bit." It’s a role Karen relishes ~ and one she obviously has mastered.