Gray & Dudley at downtown Nashville’s 21c Museum Hotel has brought some very talented chefs to town since opening in 2017. The first chef running the kitchen at the modern elevated-Southern restaurant was Levon Wallace, who made the move to Strategic Hospitality to help oversee their culinary program. After that he recently moved back to Kentucky to be part of an exciting project with the team behind The Silver Dollar and El Camino in Louisville. Wallace was followed by Rob Newton, another extremely talented chef with experience fusing his native Ozarks cuisine with more straightforward upscale-Southern dishes and Newton’s love of Asian food. Newton also recently left Gray & Dudley to pursue a new opportunity that hasn’t yet been officially announced.
Those are two pretty big sets of chef clogs to fill in the G&D kitchen, but 21c has a history of placing great culinary experts in the restaurants at all of their properties, garnering numerous Beard nominations and other acclaim for their efforts. In fact, Wallace originally came to Nashville from Proof on Main, 21c’s Louisville outpost. For their latest contribution to the Music City dining scene, 21c management again reached out to Arkansas to bring in another renowned culinarian.
Matt Bell has been the chef-owner of South on Main in Little Rock since it opened in 2013. The restaurant has been known for a unique relationship with Oxford American magazine, the lauded journal of Southern literature, music and culture. The magazine and restaurant lease space in the same building. The two parties worked together to program the space with art, music and other cultural presentations curated by Oxford American. For his part, Bell presented a consistently praised menu of what the chef calls “refined Southern food.”
A native of Missoula, Mont., Bell attended culinary school at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. He then moved to Little Rock, where he worked in restaurants before joining the kitchen staff at Ashley’s in the Capital Hotel. He rose to the position of sous under chef Lee Richardson, another Southern culinary legend. When Richardson left Ashley’s, Bell took control of the kitchen before taking advantage of the opportunity at South on Main.
After his years of working in Little Rock, Bell is excited to be moving to another state capitol. “It wasn’t something I was necessarily looking for,” Bell shared on a recent phone call. “But it’s a logical transition in my career to a bigger property and a bigger job in a bigger market.” He is on track to sell his restaurant to new ownership, which intends to maintain the relationship and programming with Oxford American — so there shouldn’t be many major changes there.
Bell intends to be on-property by the middle of February, and he has multiple reasons to be fired up about the opportunity and about Nashville. “I’m somewhat familiar with the market, and I already have a lot of friends there who have been very helpful with making me feel comfortable. I’m excited to discover new farmers and suppliers around Nashville! Nashville offers one of the most exciting culinary communities in the country, and 21c offers one of the most hospitable travel experiences, so it’s the perfect match. I am looking forward to being a part of the 21c family here in Music City and to extending our hospitality beyond the hotel and into the local community.” Bell is also a huge fan of football (unfortunately he’s a Steelers guy) and NHL hockey, and he looks forward to rooting on his new home teams.
Bell’s experience glorifying vegetables on his menus and working with whole animals should fit in nicely in the market, and specifically with the gestalt of Gray & Dudley. “We are thrilled to welcome Matt as the executive chef of Gray & Dudley,” says Melanie Tapp, senior director of 21c’s food and beverage. “Matt’s skill and experience in the kitchen are matched by his love of community and compassion for others, which makes him a perfect addition to the 21c Nashville team. We can’t wait for locals and travelers alike to visit him at Gray & Dudley.”
Bell is also a fierce supporter of social change, and has hosted multiple benefit dinners and lobbied on Capitol Hill alongside No Kid Hungry to protect programs that benefit children impacted by food insecurity. He will continue his work with the organization in his new role at 21c Nashville.
“Giving back is extremely important to me,” said Bell. “There is no better way to do it than through my work as a chef. The connection of food and hospitality can be transformative.”
While we’re disappointed to see Wallace and Newton move on, we’re happy for them and excited to see what will come next at Gray & Dudley with Bell in the kitchen.
Update: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the Oxford American owned the building that houses South on Main. We regret the error.
Source: Thanks https://www.nashvillescene.com/food-drink/bites/article/21111594/gray-dudley-announces-matt-bell-as-new-executive-chef