John Besh is one of the most celebrated chefs in the American South, with nine acclaimed restaurants (including his ever-popular flagship August), two award-winning cookbooks and a beloved cooking show. The James Beard award-winner is New Orleans’ biggest advocate, not only playing a crucial role in helping the city rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, but also preserving and promoting Southern ingredients and heritage. John talks essential New Orleans eats, the city’s resilient food community and ingredients we should all have on hand.
AndrewZimmern.com: What role did food play in your life growing up? At what point did you know you wanted to become a chef?
John Besh: Food brought our family together and food meant happiness. While cooking for my severely injured father at 9 or 10 years old, I noticed that my cooking made him happy, it was an early calling where I discovered my passion for serving others.
AZ.com: Have you passed on your passion for cooking to your sons?
JB: I want them to know who they are through the foods we eat. The foods of Louisina tell a story and I never want the boys to lose that.
AZ.com: Tell us about your new TV show, Chef John Besh’s Family Table.
JB: I’m so excited to have the creative control needed to produce a show filmed from my house and organically cook the way I do, in the place that I do it for those who I love most.
AZ.com: You’ve had a busy winter with the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras back-to-back. How did you prepare for the large crowds?
JB: The one thing that we in New Orleans have always done well is throw a party and the Super Bowl was exactly just that. Mardi Gras extended for a week. It’s why I say we need the Super Bowl down here every couple of years, because we are designed for that.
AZ.com: How has New Orleans’ food community changed/strengthened since Hurricane Katrina?
JB: It’s given birth to a renewed sense of vigorous entreprenualism seasoned with the Defend New Orleans montra. The isolationism that we expereinced through Katrina has been that stimulous for change that has fueled diverse growth of our food community.
AZ.com: Top five ingredients every cook should have in the pantry?
JB: Great olive oil, artisan pasta, cajun grain rice, housemade heirloom tomato sauce and hoisin sauce (random but worth it).
AZ.com: Three must-have food experiences in New Orleans?
- Seafood po-boys at Crabby Jacks or Parkway; Frenchalata at Liuzza’s on Bienville; or mufalatta at Cochon Butcher.
- Lunch at Bon Ton, Galatoire’s or Dooky Chase in the Tremé.
- Dinner at August!
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
JB: Red beans and rice that I cooked earlier for the boys’ dinner tonight, tabasco sauce, xo sauce, chili pastes, pork shoulder marinating in MOJO for tomorrow and lots of vegetables and cheese.
Check out John’s recipe for Chicken Fricassee.
John Besh is a chef and a native son dedicated to the culinary riches of southern Louisiana. In his restaurants, entrepreneurial pursuits, and public activities, he preserves and promotes ingredients, techniques, and heritage one mouth-watering dish at a time.
From the outset of his career, Besh’s talent and drive have earned him continual kudos: Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America,” and he won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef – Southeast in 2006. His nine acclaimed restaurants (August, Besh Steak, Lüke, Lüke San Antonio, La Provence, American Sector, Soda Shop, Domenica and Borgne) each celebrate the bounty and traditions of the region in their own unique way. His flagship restaurant, August, is a Gayot Top 40 Restaurant and a Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Restaurant, in addition to being nominated in 2012 for the James Beard “Best National Restaurant” award. Besh, the father of four, was featured on the cover of Parade magazine for Father’s Day 2012, and is a frequent guest on NBC’s “Today” show.
Besh’s two cookbooks, My New Orleans (October 2009) and My Family Table in (November 2011) were each recognized with an IACP Award, and his third cookbook is set to be published in fall 2013. He hosts two national public television cooking shows based on the books, “Chef John Besh’s New Orleans,” and “Chef John Besh’s Family Table,” which debuted in April 2013.
The John Besh Foundation, founded in 2011, works to protect and preserve the culinary heritage and foodways of New Orleans via initiatives such as the Chefs Move! culinary school scholarship and microloans for local farmers.
He and his wife, Jenifer, live with their sons in southern Louisiana.