Your new cooking series airing on WYES/New Orleans and PBS stations nationwide focuses on your first cookbook, My New Orleans: 200 of My Favorite Recipes and Stories from My Hometown. If you had to choose, what are three of your favorite dishes from the cookbook?
I love the master recipes like gumbo, jambalaya and bisque, they are the building blocks on which so much of our cultural identity rests. Good one pot cooking is the very essence of my childhood cuisine!
Is there any recipe that the novice cook may want to start with and why?
All of my recipes are broken down into three groups from the simply easy to advance, however most of them are written in such a way to invite the novice to the kitchen. The shrimp creole recipe was the one of my entry into cooking. Quick, simple and delicious.
Most people know the secret to a good gumbo is in the roux, do you have any other gumbo secrets you want to share?
I add my onions by themselves to the roux in an effort to brown them in the roux which will add a sweetness to the gumbo as well as enhance the deep dark color because of the onion’ high sugar content.
Growing up on the bayou what was your favorite dish to eat?
It depended on the season, cold months gumbo, spring it was the crawfish boil, summer creole tomatoes and crab salad.
Who influenced your decision to become a chef?
My father encouraged me to pursue my passion for cooking, taking me to meet the great chefs of New Orleans Paul Prudhomme, Chris Kerigoriou, Gunner Preuss and Leah Chase, it was them who inspired me and still do.
Have you learned anything by competing against other world-renowned chefs in shows like “Iron Chef America,” “Top Chef,” and “Top Chef Masters?”
Oh I learned so much, however the greatest lesson is that although I enjoyed the competition it is not why I cook. I cook to make people happy, I cook out of love and it’s hard to convey such passion in a game show setting.
When home with your boys, Brendan, 15, Jack, 10; Luke, 8 and Andrew, 6 – what do they like their dad to cook for them?
Nearly everything in My New Orleans, I want them to grow up with the same appreciation for our food culture as I did. It all begins at the family table.
Does your wife Jenifer, have a special dish of yours that she can’t resist?
She’s never let on to a favorite, she’s just plain happy when I’m doing the cooking. For the most part anything crab makes her extra happy!
Are there any special ingredients that you can’t cook without?
Great olive oil, it finds it’s way into 90% of what I cook.
In New Orleans, what and where are your favorite places to eat?
Ba mien for Vietnamese, Dooky Chase for creole, Bon Ton for Cajun, Cochon for new Acadian cooking, Galatoires for birthdays, Commanders Palace for special occasions, Parkway for po boys.
Name a couple of places where you always stop to get a bite when traveling.
In NYC Luppa for late lunch, Publican in Chicago, Osteria in Phily, Comp Tons Grocery near our farm in Alabama for the best Brunswick stew, Poche’s meat market in Breaux Bridge, Suires Grocery for turtle sauce piquant in Kaplan Louisiana to name just a few.
Are there any new ingredients that you are currently experimenting with?
Our pork of our Mangalista pigs.
Being executive chef and co-owner of the Besh Restaurant Group obviously keeps you pretty busy, but when you do have down time, what do you enjoy doing most?
Hunting, fishing and cooking for my family.
You recently opened your first restaurant outside of Louisiana – Luke San Antonio. Why San Antonio, Texas?
San Antonio has always felt like home to me, lots of friends, and those friends helped us big time with the rebuilding effort in new Orleans just after hurricane Katrina. It’s safe to say that were it not for those very friends that invested in the rebuilding of my New Orleans, I wouldn’t be in business today.