Sep 24 2013

Fall Harvest Calendar

By: Jhesika Menes

Our local harvest calendar relies on natural produce and indigenous substances, be it seafood, edible tropical fruits, or the garden variety veg. With the lack of seasonality present in other areas of the country, we see that citrus never really fades from the markets, but rather transforms from grapefruits and oranges to satsumas and tangerines. Being located in the Gulf region supplies easy access to other fertile markets, however, for those that survive on the farmers market dailies or local suppliers, Fall can be the most tasty time of year.
Martinique Bistro is the baby of Chef Hubert Sandot who owned the establishment for 10 years before owners Kelly Barker and Cristiano Raffignone took over in 2003. Kelly, a veteran of the fashion industry met Chef Cristiano in New York City, where they discovered a love of food and entrepreneurship together. The duo initially opened Houma based Cristiano's in 2000. Cristiano would frequent Martinique before making the move to NOLA and Kelly confesses it was her favorite place to acquire vegetarian fare. She admits, "It was a safe bet for extremely good food in a special atmosphere."
When the opportunity arose to purchase the restaurant and make it their own, they answered the call. Chef Cristiano is of Italian descent, but being reared in Paris gave him experience and knowledge of French cuisine. Executive Chef Eric Labouchere holds down the fort and attributes his well developed palette to his youth. He grew up as a child of the world, spending time in Europe and Australia where he explains there were no kids menus to be had. "Growing up as a child developing your palette you discover things that grown-ups eat are actually good. Places like Belgium, Holland, and France are where I enjoyed some really great food and got inspired by it."
Chef Eric made his way to New Orleans because of the food culture and has taken the reigns at his culinary post with passion for fresh local ingredients. "I can't commit to having just one item that is my favorite for cooking. I have a favorite thing in every delivery from the markets or in what's seasonally available at the time."
Currently his favorite local Fall item to work with are the chanterelle mushrooms he gets freshly foraged from the North Shore. "They're such a precious item. Too much rain and they're wiped out, not enough rain and they don't even grow."
In other news on this restaurant group's front, the Northern Italian with local flair pop up Cristiano's Executive Chef Lindsay Mason may be finito at Martinique, but the menu will be carried over to Dick and Jenny's, which Kelly and Chef Cristiano recently purchased. Kelly advises "The casual vibe works well and still has a rustic feeling. We will continue to operate under the Dick and Jenny's name infusing the menu with the Cristiano menu items and marrying the two boots, Italy and Louisiana."
Chef Dustin Brien of Salu got his start in North Andover, MA, and like most kitchen stories, there are familial ties to his culinary influence; his fondest memories are cooking with his Uncle. For someone who moved up from dishwasher to grill cook, he knows his way around the back of the house. "I studied sound engineering in college and I hated it. I'd always worked in kitchens for money and that's when I realized I should just move back home and enroll in cooking school."
After an internship and steady restaurant work in the 'burbs his peers encouraged him to take the move to Boston where he went from small town comforts as Sous Chef to bottom line cook under the wing of his mentor Stephen Sherman at Union Bar and Grill. Making his way up the line, once again, to Sous Chef, Dustin met his wife, a New Orleans native. He admits that he wouldn't date her because it was too close for comfort, but she 'made him'. The two eventually needed a change of scenery and Nola became home. It was his cousin in law, a regular at Salu, that mentioned the Executive Chef position was available.
During his stint at the restaurant a lot has changed. He's established a rule that no flours are used in any sauces or soups, and although it may be a little more expensive, reductions are always used as thickeners in his cuisine, making his offerings free game for gluten/wheat allergy sufferers. It helps that he was raised by a Celiac/Lactose Intolerant mother and he himself is also Lactose Intolerant. He respects the dietary upsets that constrain restaurant goers and helps accommodate their need to have a nice dining experience. Working closely with Greg Thomas, the restaurant's manager, they've improved customer service and brought attention to detail to the forefront.
The menu is a concoction of good eats. Locally sourced items are always on the conscience and when you use as much arugula, a definitive mark on our Fall harvest calendar, as this restaurant (it festoons everything from salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads), finding other ways to make dishes with seasonal allure is imperative. Chef Dustin speaks of a possible comeback of the Scallop and Pumpkin Risotto from last Fall's menu that is a favorite among his regulars. He has plans for the short rib dish he showcased at Salu's Diplomatico Rum Spirited Dinner over this year's Tales of the Cocktail. Texture and color rich jicama slaw and crunchy onions decorated meat so tender it barely held onto the bone. His pork belly brine uses local citrus, onions, garlic, and the Blue Moon beer will be replaced with a dark amber beer for the season.
Purveyors like Two Run Farms are restaurant go-to's as well, utilizing small local farms for meats. The Bouillabaisse will embrace sweet potatoes, kabacho heirloom squash, and butternut squash, and be on the lookout for a duck dish that is sure to satisfy seasoned palettes. Chef Dustin is considering adding a brunch service to the existing Bloody Mary Bar on Sundays.
The sweet history behind Sucré consists of Joel Dondis of Joel catering and pastry Chef Tariq Hanna's merged ideas and partnership. When asked about the birth of the venture he explains, "It's been a 7 year courtship with Joel; I've been married to him almost as long as I've been married to my wife. I'm still trying to figure them both out, or vice versa. Joel and I are very different. You've never met two more opposite people. Joel basically runs the operation while I supply the comic relief."
With business elements organized and a menu in place the team opened shop. The first being on Magazine in the LGD and a second location in Metairie next to Lakeside Mall. At the Metairie location the use of Fall harvest calendar items is apparent in the form of Brown Butter local Fig Frangipane Tarts with honey glaze and vanilla Bavarian cream. Though Chef Tariq is inspired by our area's crop lists, basically anything that grows in the Hurricane or dry season, he has been in the process of scrapping the entire dessert menu because he's "tired of it." He made mention of a Pumpkin Pie Gelato for Autumn, and while I sat briefly with Magazine store manager Jesse Kurvink, he informed me that the Pumpkin Spice latte will resurface for the season. He also explained that with the 'Back to School' themed induction to Fall, a Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaron will make its way into the pastry cases.
Chatter about their third location set to open in the French Quarter at the corner of Conti and Royal Streets in Spring of 2014 has been duly confirmed by Tariq himself. "It will be a game changer for Sucré. The two story building will house a retail store in bottom and upstairs will be full bar and beverage service offering small dessert plates and also savory items. I think I'm a better savory chef than pastry chef, but no one takes me seriously."
Many locals missed Tariq's appearance on the "Today" show Mardi Gras of last year, where he instructed Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford how to cook Jambalaya. Tariq has admittedly grown tired of the average interview questions like 'what's the next trend in pastries', stating, "You create your own trends, nothing is not trendy if you own it. The next trend is what you deem it to be." He does point out, however, that his favorite Pastry Chef at the moment is Zak Miller at Coquette, noting, "He's light years ahead of the rest."
It's abnormal to find a man this legendary willing to highlight the great achievements of others, and what's more mind blowing is that he prefers his employees to address him by name. "Trust me, no one will walk in the studio and wonder who's in charge. My ego hits the door before I do. I don't play into what conventional wisdom says and I don't ask my staff to remind me of the hard work I've done to get where I am."


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