THE BEST OF CLASS
What was your biggest challenge coming from California to New Orleans which has such a distinctive culinary tradition?
Iím a Bostonian, so itís not the first time Iíve had to morph my cuisine into something else. I certainly had to brush up on Cajun and Creole cooking techniques. There are so many influences here: Acadian, Creole, Italian, Spanish, Canary Islander, Vietnamese. One of my primary goals has been to honor the traditions and influences of New Orleans, while staying true to my own style and to the traditions of the Windsor Court.
What sort of innovations have you made to the menu here?
One example is a dish which combines catfish and caviar. Here in New Orleans, you see catfish on a lot of menus, but not in fine dining. People said, ďYou canít serve that at the Windsor Court.Ē But weíve innovated and made it a much more luxurious dish. We poach the catfish in milk, then toss it with a remoulade sauce and serve it cold with sevruga caviar. When we introduced it, people really sat up and took notice. Now itís one of our most popular dishes.
Do you have a signature dish?
There are several. One would be our jambalaya, which pulls on a number of traditions. Commonly poultry and shellfish are mixed in jambalaya and itís served with rice. So what weíve done is to take Muscovy duck breasts and duck confit (very French) and whole crawfish, crawfish tails and okra (very Louisiana) and serve them over orzo (Italian). Our jambalaya also has braised collard greens, garlic and shallots, and itís all cooked in a duck stock-based red pepper sauce.
What do you like most about cooking in New Orleans?
I love the respect and excitement that surrounds chefs in the culinary arts. Nowhere in the U.S. is there more excitement about food. This is a city that embraces newcomers and doesnít squeeze out old-timers, so chefs have time to develop. Itís a very positive environment to work in.
Do you use local sources for food?
I use as much local product as possible. The seasons are more pronounced here, so when the time is right, we look for Ponchatoula strawberries and Louisiana crawfish, which in season have more tail fat than others. I get chanterelles from a woman who will not reveal her source. Creole tomatoes which are grown in the soil of the Mississippi and are left on the vine until ripe are better than any supermarket tomato. My grandfather was a horticulturist who was passionate about obscure and unique vegetables, so I am always looking for unusual vegetables like kohlrabi and cranberry beans and mirlitons.
Gumbo is one of those traditional dishes which native New Orleanians feel strongly about. Have you worked any innovative magic on the gumbo here, or left it alone?
Iím very lucky to have Cajuns working in the kitchen, and I listen very carefully when they talk about how their families make gumbo. When they say my gumboís good, but ďnot as good as my grandmother makes,Ē then I know Iím hearing an authentic recipe. Weíve basically lighted the texture of the gumbo, while intensifying the flavor. We use a very good, deep brown roux, which really maximizes the flavor, but we use less of it, so the gumbo packs a lot of taste without being too thick. This is one native tradition I wonít tamper with.
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