Friday, February 18, 2011

Is It August Already?

Often, I scoff at the whole "celebrity chef" thing. Even though often I like the restaurants of celebrity chefs. Of course, just who or what a celebrity chef is means different things to different people. To me, Eric Ripert is a celebrity chef; Tony Bourdain (with all due respect) isn't. Mario Batali is a celebrity chef; Guy Fieri (with no due respect) isn't. Remember, it's just me.

So what about a guy like John Besh? Some of you might say: "Who?" Don't worry - trust me, he's a celebrity chef, at least in his native city of New Orleans where he has like 30 restaurants. Well, not really; it's more like 7, but I digress. And...he was one of those people who made sure that Hurricane Katrina wasn't going to be the death knell for New Orleans that it might well have been.

It just so happens that Significant Eater and I are taking a little vacation in New Orleans and the first place I wanted to try (since I'd heard good things) was one of celebrity chef John Besh's restaurants called Restaurant August. Sometimes these celebrity chefs let their places get away from them and they turn into caricatures of themselves. Or worse, with tourists flocking in to dine at the altar of greatness. I've seen it at Batalai restaurants (though at Mario's the food generally remains the focus); I've seen it at Bobby Flay's places. Emeril' get the drift.

But August was great. It's a beautiful restaurant (though not located in a particularly beautiful part of town) with soaring flowers decorating the room...

Our prix fixe lunch started off with an amuse, a zabayon with local caviar...

First courses on the prix fixe menu (have I mentioned the prix fixe is $20?), from which you have 3 choices, included these fried brussels sprouts with Marcona almonds and Serrano ham, which was quite lovely...

And this hunk of pâté de campagne, served with various gelées, mustards, pickled chanterelles and baby greens, which was so good...

Moving on to our mains, Sig Eater had shrimp stuffed with many things, including the famous andouille sausage. I felt mine was the better of the two, described simply as grillades of veal. The crispy light as air pucks of tender veal were served over grits and were napped with a delicious tomato and veal based sauce...

And finally dessert, which in SE's case was described as S'mores, while I opted for some house-made ice cream. But these s'mores were so much more, with house-made marshmallows decorating the plate like a forest floor...

Our meal finished with a few more "gifts" of the house, a pair of truffles and a couple of pieces of brittle. Service was exemplary throughout the meal, in a Southern (i.e. really nice) style that works because, well, we're in the south right now, y'all.

What more to say about John Besh? Well, here are a few things I found out using the google. For instance, right after the hurricane:

"It was a life-changing event for all of us," said Alon Shaya, who was the chef at the steak house before the storm. "I had only known John for a short time, and we really just had a professional relationship. But I tell you, when we were stirring pots of red beans in his driveway at four in the morning, it created a bond for all of us."

Preparing food and delivering it to hospitals, rescue workers and stranded residents -- and "every civil servant in St. Bernard Parish for a year-and-a-half," was the start of everything that followed, said Shaya, who now leads Domenica.

And, at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. shortly after Katrina:

That day Besh and the other 19 chefs making po-boys, the traditional New Orleans sandwich, raised $27,000 in two hours, Rathle said. But the event also made Besh a spokesman for his stricken hometown.

Though all that he did for his home-town city of New Orleans was not necessarily altruistic (as a matter of fact, he has been able to open 5 of his restaurants since the disaster), I'd say John Besh wears the title of celebrity chef, and is as true to its meaning, as well as anyone else behind the stove.


  1. Good post. The plating looks very appealing, very fresh and colorful.
    And its good to see that he loves his town and his town is loving him back.

    Are you going to Couchon? What's the oyster situation like?

  2. @ Jude - oysters were rocking. Had fresh gulf shrimp too, with no ill effects...yet.

    We ate at Cochon for dinner and had a great meal. We also finished our final day with lunch at Cochon spinoff, Butcher, which is right around the corner from the mother ship. Sandwiches, charcuterie, sausages, etc. all sold at retail with some tables for dining in.

  3. 1) I appreciate your appropriation of my favorite phrase, "the Google".

    2) Holy wow that pate looks amazing.