Originally from East Los Angeles CA, Levon Wallace is executive chef at Gray & Dudley, the newly-opened restaurant within 21c Museum Hotel Nashville. Wallace previously worked with 21c Museum Hotels in Louisville, when he joined Proof on Main in 2012. During his time at Proof on Main, 21c Louisville was selected among Bon Appetit’s “10 Best Hotels for Food Lovers” and he was selected as the 2014 Rising Star Chef from Star Chefs. Wallace returned to 21c Museum Hotels after serving as the opening executive chef of Cochon Butcher Nashville.
What are three things you wish people knew about you?
Outside of the kitchen, I’m an artist. Before becoming a cook, art was (and in many ways still is) my preferred method of self-expression. For me, there's nothing like the act of and the emotion behind creating… pair that with creating for others, and you’ve made true magic. Despite having grown up in urban Los Angeles, I am a passionate amateur sportsman. I hunt, fish and forage whenever I can and obsessively think about doing so when I’m not. I can also play the spoons like nobody's business, real talk.
My family. Of the many things I am grateful for, nothing fills my cup more than time spent with my wife and two kids.
What was the best gift you’ve ever received?
A St. Christopher necklace that belonged to my father.
What is your favorite thing to splurge on?
Going out to eat with friends and family.
When traveling, what do you never leave home without?
I always carry a sketchbook in my pack, traveling or not.
Where is your all-time favorite travel destination?
Anywhere near the ocean. I have fond memories of the Baja, California Coast as a kid, eating freshly caught spiny lobster alongside warm tortillas, pork laced refried beans and cumin scented rice.
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Describe the perfect weekend in Nashville.
There's no shortage of world class restaurants in Nashville for you to choose from before you head to your concert at "the Mother Church,” The Ryman Auditorium. After your show, stay up late, stomping your boots at Robert's Western World. Work up an appetite by dancing the night away to some high energy, rocking country music, courtesy of the incredible house band and order yourself a “recession special” (the highest expression of a fried bologna sandwich, paired with a domestic beer and a bag of chips) for $5. If craft cocktails are more your thing, Bastion in Wedgwood-Houston or Patterson House near Music Row are both excellent.
The next day, fuel up at Biscuit Love in Hillsboro Village before heading to the massively impressive Country Music Hall of Fame and nearby Hatch Show Print where they’ve been making iconic concert posters the old fashioned way for over 130 years. Don’t forget to save room for local (and tourist) favorites like Hattie B’s Hot chicken, Peg Leg Porker or Martins BBQ.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation of hopping on a pedal tavern.
What makes someone a local in Nashville?
I’m convinced “southern hospitality” was drawn up in Nashville. People here are genuine, kind and contagiously friendly.
Tell us about your favorite eating experience in Nashville.
City House in Germantown on any given Sunday is really tough to beat.
What is the most unique/out-of-the-box thing visitors can do in Nashville?
15 minutes outside of downtown is the Little Harpeth River. When you get there, rent a kayak or take a small hike towards the waterfall at Montgomery Bell Tunnel. This scenic waterway was built in the early 19th century to take advantage of the drop in river elevations in a bend in the Harpeth River, to operate an iron forge. It was blasted out of the limestone using black powder and slave labor, and is now a straight cut through the earth.
What is the perfect souvenir from Nashville?
Take a quick tour and load up on the finest bean-to-bar chocolate made in the south by visiting Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Co.Their bourbon barrel nib brittle is the best!
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