The acclaimed chef and restaurateur susan spicer has been creating amazing dishes in her many ventures for decades. Her unique fare that blends local bases with international fl avors has reached even the worldliest patrons, including musician Don Vappie, who loves her scallops. susan always had a passion for cooking, was trained internationally, and began a professional career back home in New Orleans.
"i have always enjoyed the process of cooking, whether it is interpreting a traditional dish or creating a new one," says spicer. "i did travel and ate a lot, as i was always a good eater, due to my mom being such a terrifi c and adventurous cook. And while i did work in Paris in 1982, i started my cooking career about two blocks down the street from Bayona, at the Louis XVi restaurant in what was the former Marie Antoinette Hotel. i had a wonderful job cooking at the Jazz Festival in Nice, France. We would work hard all day cooking up red beans for all the musicians, then clean up and go out to the festival - what an amazing gig!"
Those experiences have led spicer to create unique menus at her current restaurants Bayona and Mondo, and she has gained fame, even appearing on the show Top Chef and releasing a book. she describes local food: "it truly is one of the most delicious indigenous cuisines in the world, due to the confl uence of all these different cultures - the French, spanish, West indies, African, italian and now of course, Vietnamese and Latin American. We are also so incredibly lucky to have the Gulf of Mexico and all the bounty it provides. We're a little bit spoiled with our crab, crayfish, shrimp, oysters and fin fish… And i could truly eat a different gumbo every day of my life!"
Although she is a world traveler, she loves the New Orleans life. As a young woman, she indulged in music, particularly at The Warehouse, where, according to founder Bill Johnston, she was the fi rst person to see it and often stopped by. she remembers, "[I saw] every show for about the first year - i just couldn't believe that this place actually opened in New Orleans. I ended up passing out flyers and working the ticket booth off and on. I saw Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, the Kinks, the Eagles, the Doors, Buddy Miles, it's a Beautiful Day, the Allman Brothers…. so many great ones!"
She still enjoys live music, especially the Creole String Beans and their sax player Derek Huston. "i used to love to go hear The iguanas and just dance the night away. But Derek has played with so many great people, like James Hunter, Nick Lowe and Elvis costello. The creole string Beans played an event I organized out in city Park for some out-of-town chefs and it was a great introduction to New Orleans classics for them - everyone loved it," she says. Derek is also quite the traveler. susan states, "I know Derek has traveled quite a bit too, recently with Dr. John, as he emailed a photo of a fantastic window display of men's shoes from Paris."
If not for his admiration of New Orleans musicians, Derek Huston may never have been the globe-trotting sax player he is now. He explains, "in college in Washington, D.c., i found a book in the library called Walking to New Orleans by John Broven about rhythm and blues. i knew a lot of the artists he was talking about; Fats Domino, Little Richard, Lee Dorsey…but it never occurred to me until then that all of these musicians were from one place. And at the same time, there was a band called The Blasters who had a saxophone player named Lee Allen, who was a sax player in cosimo Mattassa's studio in the 1950s." As he began booking shows in D.c., Huston became friends with Dash Rip Rock and later traveled to visit them in New Orleans. He continues, "I fell under the spell of the city. i just felt people to be so warm and there was so much exciting stuff; it was a feast for the eyes."
Derek always makes time for great food, including his favorite dish: raw oysters. He talks about his initial experience with oysters as he eats the delectable Poached Oyster dish at serendipity in the American can co. Building, "i remember the fi rst time i had oysters. i didn't like it; i didn't know what to make of the consistency." But he grew to love them, describing them, "i read an article and the last line was, 'Eating an oyster is like kissing the sea on the lips.' That's exactly what i like about it."