|Roasted Oysters with Fried Kale and Parmesan|
The Grill Room
New Orleans, Louisiana
Young people wondering what to do with their liberal arts degrees should gain inspiration from Chef Daniel Causgrove, who graduated with a combined major in environmental studies and English writing. Daniel started cooking in restaurants just after college in Syracuse, New York, and later in Vermont. “I found cooking suited me because there are intellectual and athletic elements to it that I found exciting, and it was artistic, too.”
Eventually, Daniel landed at the venerable (and now shuttered) Café des Artistes in New York City. “That’s where I learned to be a professional cook,” he says. “The guys there had been there for years, and they taught me how to be a true worker. I would compare it to a place like Galatoire’s in New Orleans.” Later, Daniel did stints at the elegant Jean Georges and high profile Le Cirque, which led him to Jack the Horse Tavern, a sophisticated neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn Heights.
Having visited New Orleans, he decided that cooking in the Crescent City presented a lot more opportunity than New York City. It’s in this city that he obtained a sous chef position at La Petite Grocery. As Daniel worked hand-in-hand with Chef Justin Devillier, his love of the Crescent City only grew.
Most recently he has cooked at Dijon, upscale eatery that Daniel describes as “based in French cooking, but playful and hopefully a bit different.” So, how does that play out? “For example, in all the entrées, I’ll serve multiple parts of the chosen animal (except for fish). I treat each part of the animal in different ways to take advantage of the different characteristics. I want it to become something that is equally exotic and innovative, having just as polished a technique as you would have in the top French restaurants in New York.”
|Pickled Shrimp and Tasso Tacos|
It is often said the best restaurateurs are those who come up through the ranks, so the fact that Chris Wadsworth started at age 14 as a dishwasher at a local seafood restaurant speaks well for his determination. Chris, a Lafayette native, stayed there for nine years before working in a couple of corporately owned restaurants, which led him to the elegant, century-old Café Vermilionville, in Lafayette. Over two decades, Chris sharpened his skills and expanded his artistry with Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and as executive chef at Nottoway Plantation. In addition to his current position with IPO, Chris and his wife Sommer own Bon Repas, a company that includes a food truck, catering division, retail business, and personal chef services.
For those wondering how Chris keeps up with all of this, you should also know that between them, Sommer and Chris have six children. Meanwhile, IPO is regularly packed with diners, largely due to an innovative small plates and tapas menu.
“We keep our guests grounded by using products they’re familiar with,” Chris says. “We typically run four to five off-the-menu specials per night, but our signature dishes are always on the menu.”
Those dishes include Bayou Eggs, deviled eggs made with crawfish and tasso and topped with a freshly fried Louisiana oyster; Bon Temps Shrimp, which Chris describes as “our play on fried shrimp with spicy Asian sauce, served with mixed greens and pickled ginger;” and Pequeño Tacos, stuffed with redfish ceviche and topped with chipotle avocado relish.
Chris and Sommer are a team, he says. “I am self-taught, but Sommer is highly influential, a good Louisiana girl who does a lot of good Louisiana cooking at home. She keeps me on the cutting-edge.”
|Salad of Blue Crab and Candied Acorn Squash|
New Orleans, Louisiana
Michael Gulotta is the embodiment of the person who always knew what he was going to do with his life. “I grew up in Lakeview in New Orleans, and as long as I can remember, I wanted to cook,” he says. Fortunately, his mother encouraged him, took him on trips to the grocery store, and supported his idea to attend the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University. “As far back as I can remember, even at about age 9 or 10, my mom would do the cutting and chopping, and I would cook.”
Ultimately, Michael found himself working in fine kitchens at Emeril’s Delmonico Restaurant, and for Chef John Folse at Bittersweet Plantation. But it was Chef John Besh for whom he truly wanted to work. “I wanted to work for him because at August he was doing the best in the city keeping true to
classical techniques,” Michael says. “Nothing is pre-packaged, and everything is butchered in house. I was working in the Black Forest in Germany, but after Hurricane Katrina, I came back here as sous chef and then later chef de cuisine. I liked the idea of keeping local farmers on their feet by investing in their produce, and making great food from their products.”
Michael says cooking in New Orleans offers an opportunity to draw from the various cultures that exist here. “When I first took over the restaurant, I was trying to do everything in a classical French style,” he says. “But New Orleans is a melting pot, and here I can take all of these cultures and assimilate them into the menu.”
|Corn Soup with Pork Belly Marmellata and Pickled Mushrooms|
Sylvain, New Orleans, Louisiana
Like so many other successful chefs, Alex Harrell did not start out to be in this business. He graduated college with a degree in biology, but found jobs few and far between in the sciences. But he always carried with him the memory and experience of cooking at home alongside his cardiologist father, who loved making fresh pastas and baking breads. “Cooking became his outlet during his time off,” Alex says, “and when I spent time with him, we were often cooking together.”
Alex started cooking for a living in 1998, and had the opportunity to work under locally beloved and nationally renowned New Orleans Chef Susan Spicer at Bayona for a year. He then worked in three restaurants under Chef Gerard Maras before moving to Charleston, South Carolina, in 2007 for three years. His chance to come back to New Orleans happened when Sylvain was conceived as the city’s first real gastropub.
“The gastropub idea is casual, but upscale, where you can get elevated bar food,” he says. “We’ve expanded on that idea now, and we view ourselves more as a contemporary American restaurant, but with a gastropub feeling.”
In the French Quarter, Alex has a dedicated mix of locals and tourists who crave his signature items, including a shaved Brussels sprouts salad, chicken liver crostini, braised beef cheeks, crispy pan-fried pork shoulder with grits and greens, house-made pappardelle and Bolognese, and the Chick Sylvain sandwich.
|Sweet Baby Breesus|
The French Press, Lafayette
One of the most effective ways to honor local culture in Louisiana has always been through traditional cooking. So says Justin Girouard, who, along with his wife Margaret, own and operate The French Press in Lafayette.
Justin started in the industry by washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen, where he also learned to do minor cooking and prep work. Working his way up through the ranks, Justin eventually found himself at the elegant Stella! in New Orleans, where he worked for nine years. “I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. “Scott Boswell, who owns Stella!, saw something in me that he could utilize, and he really taught me how to cook. I fell in love with it.” Eventually Justin became the sous chef at Stella! and later managed the kitchen there and at Scott’s other French Quarter restaurant, Stanley.
The Girouards wanted to move back to their hometown, Lafayette, and bring with them a concept that so many Lafayette residents traveled frequently to New Orleans to patronize. “We just wanted to open a New Orleans-inspired restaurant that featured local Cajun cuisine and traditions, and we found this location that had New Orleans-style architecture and ambiance.
These days, Justin offers Cajun versions of traditional dishes, such as his Cajun Benedict, which uses French bread instead of English muffins, boudin instead of Canadian bacon, and is topped with chicken and andouille gumbo instead of hollandaise. “Our goal is to serve Cajun dishes in which the ingredients are just elements of the dish as a whole, rather than the main focus,” he says.
“We wanted to bring what we had learned home here to Lafayette.”
|Butterscotch Pudding with Toffee-Espresso Sauce|
La Petite Grocery, New Orleans
Fear not, says Bronwen Wyatt, pastry chef at La Petite Grocery: There is a sweet life beyond Key lime pie, bread pudding, and pecan pie. Bronwen, a Maryland native who came to New Orleans for college, and then moved to Portland, Maine, and later San Francisco, California, ultimately found the lure of the Crescent City too much to resist. While trying to be a writer but having trouble finding work in Portland, Bronwen’s brother, a restaurant chef, hired her to work in his restaurant.
“I was a double major at Tulane in English and print-making, but discovered I had a knack for pastry-making. When I came back to New Orleans, I found out they needed a pastry chef at La Petite Grocery. I don’t really have formal training—I learned everything on the job.”
That move to the West Coast proved very influential. “My style of dessert is simple, borderline rustic, and very precise,” she says. Bronwen credits Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, as her greatest influence. Chez Panisse is widely known for its use of locally and organically grown products. “What is so great here is that we can have good relationships with local purveyors and get things that are sometimes not widely available. One time a purveyor of mine went out in the field and picked satsumas just for me when I needed them. That kind of thing does not happen everywhere.”
Typical of Bronwen’s desserts, which she describes as “not as sweet and over the top as other local desserts,” is her traditional butterscotch pudding. She strives for straightforward, uncomplicated dishes.
“I want to be in New Orleans because there is something special going on here now. The city is growing considerably, and diners are becoming more sophisticated.”