A city is doing something seriously right when it wins more prestigious James Beard awards per head of the population than anywhere else in the US. Step forward, New Orleans.
The ‘Big Easy’ was once famous for Creole and Cajun cuisines, but it has added to its serious culinary repertoire with some of the most exciting tables anywhere in the country.
Shaya, James beard restaurant 2016
Foremost amongst them is the James Beard US restaurant of the year, Shaya. Set in an unassuming and relaxed space, it couldn’t be further away from stuffy fine dining. Israeli chef Alon Shaya is the eponymous hero and has won critical and public acclaim for his simple but vibrant dishes that celebrate the cooking of his home country and the wider Levant region, proudly presented on the menu: “This vibrant cuisine is a living mosaic of many origins: from Turkey to Morocco, Bulgaria to Greece and Yemen to Russia”.
Multiple types of creamy smooth hummus are one draw, alongside less familiar meze such as lutenitsa, a red pepper paste. Sumac-laden salads, sensational slow-cooked lamb and fish and delicate desserts complete one of the simplest but most enticing menus imaginable.
As Shaya himself explains, “We have amazing local ingredients here in Louisiana due to our mild subtropical climate. It is a similar climate to Israel, so we get to share in many of the same ingredients, like citrus and okra, We have people here raising goats, lamb, beef and chicken just like they do in Israel as well.”
4213 Magazine Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70115
Tel. (504) 891-4213, Website
Across town, another lauded spot is Purloo. Situated within the excellent Southern Food and Beverage Museum, chef Ryan Hughes serves contemporary and innovative takes on some of the region’s most famous dishes. Fried catfish comes with cucumber salad, crème fraiche and micro beets, or ‘lowcountry style she-crab soup’ is infused with Madeira. Most memorably, a pheasant gumbo is an extraordinary bowl and reminds the gourmet appeal of this iconic Louisiana dish.
Compère Lapin, just steps from the city’s famous French Quarter, was named for Caribbean and Creole folk tales that featured a cheeky ‘brother rabbit’. The cuisine celebrates these cultures too, often with Italian influences. As a result one of chef Nina Compton’s dishes to quickly become an unofficial signature is her sensational, sticky and deep curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi. The menu continues to innovate with conch croquettes with pickled pineapple tartare sauce, or the old-smoked tuna tartare with avocados and crispy bananas.
Compere, with its exposed brick interiors, is housed in the former ‘No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery’ in the Warehouse Arts District. A cool space in a cool district, but Compton never follows the crowd: “Meals aren’t about trends, shock value, or opulence.
Meals are about moments, memories and those who surround you at your table. We believe in the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors. Our histories, vast and varied, deserve to be memorialized and romanticized by dishes that at once remind us of home and transport us to somewhere new.” The same could be said of New Orleans itself, a city which continues to reinvent, nowehere more so than on some of America’s finest dining tables.
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130
Tel. (504) 599-2119, Website
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