Elvis Week Blog 7 - Feasting on Elvis Week - Meet Chef Mollee Malone
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Graceland Blog

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF GRACELAND

Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Elvis Week Blog 7 - Feasting on Elvis Week - Meet Chef Mollee Malone

By Jon Waterhouse

Graceland guests need fuel, especially during the hubbub of Elvis Week. Fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs, fresh veggies, and the proverbial peanut butter and banana sandwiches make up just a small portion of the nourishment rocking and rolling out of the campus kitchens. And Chef Mollee Malone keeps tabs on everything edible.

As the first ever Graceland campus chef, Malone oversees all of the food and food production taking place behind-the-scenes at each of the Elvis Presley’s Memphis restaurants and eateries. This includes the classic ’cue at Vernon’s Smokehouse, the casual delights at Gladys’ Diner, the confections at Minnie Mae’s Sweets, and the coffee shop creations at Rock ‘N’ Go. And don’t forget about the quick-service stands in the Graceland Exhibition Center Food Hall – she says the burritos are big sellers – and the grub found at the Jungle Room Bar.  

If that’s not enough, Chef Malone rustles up all of the on-site catering. From the classy clusters of appetizers at last night’s Elvis Bash dance party to the backstage buffets for Graceland performers, Malone has her culinary eye on it all. 

But she’s not just leading the crew. Malone’s often dropping chicken into fryer, setting up buffet lines, prepping fruits and veggies; just about every duty imaginable in a professional kitchen. The newly opened Graceland Exhibition Center serves as her home base. Malone and her staff work their magic in its massive kitchen, the largest she says she’s ever helmed. The 11 ovens, four stovetops, three fryers, two flat-top grills, and massive mixer –the latter custom painted in blue suede blue– provide enough equipment to feed as many as 2,000 people in one catering job.

The remainder of her Graceland gig spans a smorgasbord of duties. Among them, Malone has her hands in menu creation, food budgets and orders, and restaurant layout and functionality. The latter came into play earlier this year with Malone being part of the team responsible for the revamp of Gladys’ and Rock ‘N’ Go. This included streamlining the customer que experience at the coffee shop and adding repurposed Cadillac seating with phone charging stations. A new self-service checkout keeps things hopping at Gladys’ Diner with gas pumps and jukeboxes doubling as touch-screen kiosks.

Amid her busy Elvis Week dance card, Chef Mollee gives us a look at her recipe for success running the king’s kitchen.

On her background:
“I was born and raised in Memphis, and have been in the culinary world professionally for six years. My mom is an amazing cook, and she owned a barbecue restaurant when I was growing up. So, that steered me in the right direction. ...I went to culinary school and spent 70 weeks there learning how to cook, how to run a business, (and much more.) I did a yearlong internship at Restaurant Iris in Midtown under Chef Kelly English. I then branched out and became a sous-chef at Terrace at the River Inn in Harbour Town. My boyfriend introduced me to a place in Olive Branch, Mississippi called Sidestreet Burgers, a little hole-in-the-wall burger joint. Up until this job, it was the most fun I’ve ever had. That’s actually where my boss, Daniel Clark (food and beverage director for Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland), found me. He ate there one day, and I walked him through the menu and told him about my favorite things. When he saw the way I lit up when I talked about food, he said he knew I was the one for Elvis Presley. At that point, I was brought over to help open Vernon’s and Gladys’. I wrote the recipes, cost everything out, and trained everyone on how to open a restaurant and how to cook everything. It was interesting, seeing as I had never opened a restaurant before. Ever. Then I opened up two more at Graceland. Two-and-a-half years later, I’m still here.”

On what she loves about her job:
“It’s fun to say I’m the only chef in the history of Graceland. It gets your head real big. (Laughs) You meet so many interesting people. I met Trisha Yearwood, who has a cooking show on Food Network. She’s awesome. I’ve met everyone from a 3-month-old Elvis fan dressed in a crocheted jumpsuit to Buddhist monks. I had no idea Buddhist monks loved Elvis, but they do! You see such a wide range of people, and it’s so interesting to hear everyone’s stories and why they’re Elvis fans. It’s just amazing to see how much Elvis still affects people and how his music brings everyone together. It’s awesome to me.”

On serving celebs:
“This is going to sound cheesy, but I get excited every time there’s a concert at Graceland, because I get to cook for somebody famous. Who gets to say that? Six years into my culinary career, and I’ve cooked for dozens and dozens of celebrities. That’s not something that happens to everyone in our field. I just happened to be at the right place and the right time, I guess. Sammy Hagar loves our barbecue ribs and chopped pork. He said it was some of the best stuff he ever tasted. And I was surprised, because he owns restaurants. I told him, ‘Thank you! That’s so awesome!’ George Thorogood really loves our rotisserie chicken. Bret Michaels loves our chicken strips. We marinate our chicken overnight in our secret rub so it soaks up all that flavor.”

On Elvis Week’s fast pace:
“You’re feeding lots of people, and you’re cooking mass quantities of food, but you want to make it as authentic as possible. Our biggest catering job during Elvis Week is the Elvis Bash. It’s about 425 people. It’s light appetizers with fried mushrooms, chicken wings, meatballs, fruit trays and vegetable trays galore. We try to touch on every food group so everyone can find something they like. It takes more than two days to prepare. ...You have to pace yourself during Elvis Week. Honestly, you get as much sleep as you can, drink a lot of water, and suck up to your baristas for lots of coffee. (Laughs.) When you’re having fun, the week flies by. I enjoy what I do, I enjoy making food, and I enjoy my co-workers.”

On keeping a positive kitchen:
“That’s something I really try to do. Stress sometimes gets the best of you, and we all snap at each other now and then. But we always come back, tell each other we’re sorry, and give each other a hug. We celebrate each other’s birthdays. If there’s a birth or a death, we all come together. We’re family. We cry together and laugh together. You see your co-workers more than you see your own family. So why not build those bonds and make it fun to come to work? We like to have a good time and promote having fun, but our focus is our guests. Mr. Clark likes to say, ‘If your employees are having fun, your guests are having fun.’ So, we do our best to keep a positive, upbeat, laughing, joking culture around here. And so far it’s working pretty good.”

Elvis Week Food By the Numbers
  • Chef Malone receives 152 cases of food deliveries three times a week leading up to Elvis Week.
  • Vernon’s Smokehouse uses approximately 150 pounds of wood a month during the summer. They use green seasoned hickory and soak it in water for at least 24 hours before tossing it into the Southern Pride smoker.
  • The Vernon’s Smokehouse smoker can smoke as much as 550 pounds of meat per rotation.
  • Gladys’ Diner serves approximately 100 fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches per day during Elvis Week. Customers can choose from a sammy grilled in either butter or bacon grease.
  • A staff member at Minnie Mae’s Sweets makes as much as 15 to 20 pounds of fudge weekly, including cotton candy, mint, and more.
  • The ice cream shop at Minnie Mae’s Sweets makes approximately 200 fresh waffle cones per day.
  • Customers choose from 14 flavors of ice cream, including peanut butter and banana made exclusively for Graceland by Turner Dairy in Memphis.
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