Memphis chef Emily LaForce is painting murals across Memphis

Most days, Emily LaForce can be found in a chef’s coat at the River Oaks restaurant.

But on her days off, this talented sous-cook can often be found on a ladder painting a mural on the side of a building.

LaForce says she has painted all her life; Her passion for cooking grew out of the need to make a living.

Both wall painting and cooking appeal to their artistic side. “I really like coating a dish,” she said. Part of her job at River Oaks is creating the daily specials. “I get creative and have four dishes a day.” Each is of course beautifully and creatively presented on the plate.

One of the things she loves most about painting murals is the calm. “Being outside on a day like today is so nice,” she said one Sunday as she was basecoating the saltwater crab mural. “It’s so quiet compared to the kitchen where it’s so hectic and crowded.”

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Emily LaForce paints the primer on a mural she creates at Saltwater Crab in Midtown Memphis.

About six years ago she went on an overland trip with the goal of painting a free mural in each state. It didn’t quite work out as she planned. “I’ve only made it to two states,” said LaForce.

After a brief stay in California, she finally moved back to her hometown of Memphis. The year was 2014. She got a job as a line cook at The Five Spot, a small café behind Earnestine & Hazel’s. There she met the owners of the Majestic Grille, Patrick and Deni Reilly. Soon after, LaForce was working in the kitchen of the Majestic Grille.

Under Patrick Reilly’s guidance, LaForce learned the skills to move beyond a line chef to a career as a chef. Two and a half years ago she worked for Jose Gutierrez on the River Oaks. In the course of time she worked her way up to the sous chef. She admits that when she started working in restaurants as a teenager, she never dreamed that being a chef was in her future.

She managed to strike a balance so that now she can have both her old love (painting) and her new love (cooking) in her life.

Most of her murals were for restaurants.

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Emily LaForce, the Memphis cook, painted the mural in the taproom of the Meddlesome Brewing Company.

One of the first ones she did in Memphis was the mural in the taproom of the Meddlesome Brewing Company in Cordova.

“I was holding a beer koozie with the logo in one hand while I tried to paint it on the wall with the other hand,” she recalls.

Today she is more precise in her painting. She creates a sketch and converts the dimensions to fit the wall.

Emily LaForce creates a sketch as part of her wall painting process and uses it to calculate the dimensions that will fit the wall.

One of her latest murals is at Saltwater Crab. She creates a colorful wall version of the logo.

Her work can also be found at the main entrance to Fleming’s Steakhouse. The mural in this East Memphis restaurant is a panel of a cow and a wine glass.

Memphis cook Emily LaForce painted the mural on the front door of Fleming's Steakhouse.

Once she finishes the mural at Saltwater Crab, she hopes to finish a portrait of her chef for the restaurant. “Jose keeps asking me where it is.”

Follow LaForce’s projects on Instagram @laforceartwork.

Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining reporter for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.

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