As chef/partner of New Orleans restaurant Borgne, Chef Brian Landry knows a thing or two about NOLA cuisine. The smart seafood eatery in the heart of the city puts an elegant spin on classic dishes and serves them up with lashings of soul. Here, Brian reveals his guide to New Orleans dining, so you can learn your Creole from your Cajun and discover what makes the Deep South city such a culinary destination.
Who was your biggest inspiration as a young chef?
“Personally, the women in my family were the biggest inspirations for me in the kitchen – my mother and grandmother specifically. My mom has nine brothers and sisters, and we often got together as a family when I was growing up. There are now over 130 immediate family members on just my mom’s side of the family. Watching them prepare food for so many in their huge Magnalite pots was always a treat. Daube and spaghetti and seafood gumbo with shrimp and blue crab are two of my fondest memories.
Professionally, Bob Waggoner and Michelle Weaver at Charleston Grill played a huge role in shaping my idea of what it meant to be a professional chef. I truly enjoyed working in their kitchen, watching them cook with both passion and precision.”
From Creole and Cajun to soul food, New Orleans’ cuisine is a melting pot of influences. What are the key differences between each style?
“Creole cuisine is based more on French technique and proper sauces. Cajun cuisine is more of the rustic based home cooking that also tends to be a little spicier. Soul food is heavily influenced by African American culture. All three styles of cooking, however, rely on the local waterways, farms, and produce.”
What do you love most about NOLA cuisine?
“I love the fact that you can walk into just about any neighbourhood restaurant in New Orleans and have a great meal. We have access to some of the best seafood in the world right in our backyard, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. Delicious food served with a touch of Southern hospitality is hard to beat.”
How has the NOLA food scene evolved over the past thirty years?
“New Orleans typically does not like change. Thirty years ago, there was not much diversity in the restaurant scene. There were a great number of restaurants all serving Creole cuisine at a very high level, but not much outside of that genre. Today, there is a much wider spectrum of cuisines being offered in the city. True Cajun restaurants, Spanish Creole restaurants, authentic Italian pizza, and even Israeli influenced restaurants are all now part of the dining scene. There has also been a huge Vietnamese influence on Creole cuisine as of late. Vietnamese immigrants have become such an integral part of our local fishing community.”
How was the city’s farming and food industry affected by hurricane Katrina, and have you seen changes during its recovery?
“Our seafood industry in Louisiana plays a major role in our economy. Our fishing communities were devastated after hurricane Katrina. Generational, family-owned businesses did not return. We have, however, recovered and are also improving. Sustainability and responsible sourcing of seafood are part of our everyday conversation.”
Is being involved in the local community important to you?
“Being involved in the community is part of being a chef in New Orleans. The chefs of New Orleans are always at the front line when it comes to assisting each other, our fellow restaurateurs, and our neighbours. You can’t throw a fundraiser without food, and we are constantly donating our time and food to help any number of causes, schools, and families.”
You’re very philanthropically involved in New Orleans. Why is it important for you to help preserve the city’s culinary heritage?
“Louisiana Creole cuisine is one of the few indigenous cuisines to the United States. It is a beautiful melting pot of French, Spanish, German, Italian, Irish, West African, Caribbean, and Native American influences. Preserving that history while at the same time being part of its evolution is important to me. I consider it an honour to be part of the culinary community of New Orleans.”
When visiting New Orleans, what dishes should people try and where?
“Gumbo is a fun way to explore the city – everyone has a different recipe, often influenced by how and where they grew up. Try a seafood gumbo and compare it to a darker, chocolatey roux-based duck or andouille gumbo.
Poboys are a must in New Orleans – you’ll never convince a local that it is the same as a hoagie or a sub. Once you have one, you’ll understand. I love taking my kids to Parkway. My go-to is the surf and turf, fried shrimp and roast beef gravy.”
Where are the best places to shop for authentic local produce in New Orleans?
“Crescent City Farmer’s Market is my favourite place to buy produce directly from the farmers. The market is open on certain days in different neighbourhoods throughout the week. Check out the Market Umbrella website for locations and hours. We also have so many great local grocery stores like Simone’s Market, Rouses, Langenstein’s that all have amazing relationships with local producers and bring in the best that the local land and water has to offer.”
What five ingredients could you not live without?
“Shrimp, blue crab, butter, garlic and smoked pork.”
What NOLA dishes can people easily make themselves at home?
“Shrimp are a great introduction to Gulf seafood. BBQ shrimp is a classic preparation and can easily be thrown together in one skillet. Most recipes include a fair amount of garlic and Worcestershire sauce, and some include a local beer like Abita Amber, but any recipe you try should include fresh Jumbo shrimp from Louisiana.”
What upcoming projects do you have planned for the rest of the year?
“Last year, I partnered with the Besh Group and Emery Whalen to create Our House Hospitality. Right now, I am just focused on refining the operations of the two projects we opened at the end of last year. Bringing back the Caribbean Room, Bayou Bar, and Silver Whistle and adding Hot Tin (our rooftop bar) in the Pontchartrain Hotel was our first project under the Our House Hospitality group. We then opened Marsh House, Killebrew Coffee, and LA Jackson in the Thompson Hotel in Nashville just four months later.”
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Image credits: Brian portrait © Andrea Behrends. Shrimp toast & Oysters© Rush Jagoe. Crawfish bread © Randy Schmidt.