[Aarom Ore/Unsplash]

Tasting Notes

21:30 April 19, 2015
By: Emily Hingle

Chef Chris DeBarr of Serendipity and Helen Gillet

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[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
The whimsical name of this Mid-City eatery fi ts it to a T; located in the American Can Co. Building, Serendipity is elegantly furnished and contemporarily decorated, but maintains a friendly vibe. Chef Chris DeBarr, formerly of Delachaise and Green Goddess, greets customers as a large wine bottle chandelier looms happily over the tables, soon packed with colorful dishes. The richly red Wine Mushrooms fill the air with a deep red wine scent.

Chef Chris brings his lifelong restaurant experience to Serendipity, saying, "I'm bred to like the work: the speed, passion, intensity, and family camaraderie of a restaurant satisfy my creative desires. I love learning new things about life, culture, and my contraband treasure chest of ingredients. Cooking gives me the information and desires to challenge myself to keep learning."

With that spirit, the chic, yet friendly restaurant is perfect for a romantic meal or a culinary excursion with your friends. Chef Chris explains, "I hope Serendipity becomes an intimate, big restaurant. I try to interpret my New Orleans as it intersects with the world, so we cook with a magician's sleight of hand when we're at our best. New Orleans is a famous port city, very bohemian in our shared creativity, and we just want to capture 'that old black magic' that imbues everyday life in the city. It's more civilized to break bread with friends and share in the experiences of all our fl avors. It's like listening to a great jazz band: one person might like this moment of the song or this aspect of a Serendipity dish, and by comparing notes and sharing the fun, the entire dining experience gets better. Sharing food is sexy and fun, and creates more meaningful memories among great friends."

On New Year's Eve, Chef Chris enlisted musician Helen Gillet to perform during dinner. Like Chris' meals, Helen's music is a mix of so many things. He says, "Helen is such a blend of avant-garde and soulful music. I love how she can play everything from jazz to Patsy Cline, and those poetic French and Belgian love songs she does slay me. She swings and she can smear a classical note with her own sense of the blues, and her technique liberates her to make daring music that speaks soulfully. Her cello visions are so diverse, and her sense of adventure and love for music sync up to the same ideas I have in my kitchen. In a sense, Helen Gillet is almost like the perfect soundtrack for the globetrotting, but only found in New Orleans-type of food we do at Serendipity. A natural fit..."

Helen Gillet explains her adventurous life:

"My Belgian father was involved with a couple of different banks. He met my American mother at the University of Chicago. They got married in Belgium, and after a few years he got transferred to Singapore with a French company. From there, he kept transferring around Japan, and Southeast Asia, and Kuwait as an international businessman. We were raised in Singapore for nine years, and went back to Belgium for my dad's job again; they divorced, and I moved to Chicago with my mom when I was thirteen. So that's how I got all around the world." Helen's cello remained a constant throughout that time. "It kept my identity stable to go back to music no matter where I was in the world. I started when I was nine in Singapore with the Pilipino-Singapore Symphony, and then it stuck with me and I kept going with it."

Helen moved to New Orleans a decade ago, and she enjoys the array of international cuisine our city provides, although she espouses the merits of Belgian culture and Asian fare as much as possible. She says, "I love a good Belgian meatball recipe. I also really like Singapore noodles; I was raised on a lot of homemade Asian noodles, and it's like comfort food to me. I like to throw my own Belgian parties, and promote the little country that is Belgium. I like to throw out Belgium facts, like how The Smurfs were invented in Belgium and Nostradamus was Belgian." She tells the history of how fries were invented in Belgium by serving fried potatoes shaped like long, thin fi sh that were scarce that season. "I know they're called French fries, but I'm a Belgian Walloon French-speaking girl that likes to promote that little-known fact."

Even with her globetrotting life, there are many restaurants here that can satisfy her Eurasian cravings. Helen lists her favorite restaurants: The Joint, Lost Love Lounge, and Yuki. She adds, "I play a weekly gig at Bacchanal on Monday nights." The backyard Bywater winery swirls with her cello's notes over gourmet dishes.

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