“If you want to become a great chef, you have to work with great chefs. And that’s exactly what I did.” ~ Gordon Ramsey
Ask anyone what they think of when the city of New Orleans is mentioned and you’ll hear of great live music, colorful citizens, an endless supply of alcohol and maybe more importantly, food.
From Po-Boys to Gumbo to “whatever that is but it tastes good, “ New Orleans is the notorious land of authentic seafood with various twists to satisfy the hunger pains of seafood lovers everywhere and locally.
Over the course of nearly two months, I went on a discovery to declare my top five chefs for our readers to see…and eventually taste. These chefs are either self-taught or scholastically backed by culinary institutions however; they can all create dishes that are not only flavorful but deserves all the recognition.
While the city has a plethora of talented chefs around the city, each of these artists distinguish themselves with confidence, gusto and in their own lanes despite the food which brings them together. Did I mention each one hails from the “City of Seafood?” Who better to provide it than Louisiana natives themselves?
Check out New Orleans’ Royal Family of Black Chefs below:
Chef Kenneth Temple – The King
Temple, who has graced our site before, has made numerous local television appearances and won a $10k dollar prize on the Food Network’s popular show “Chopped.” Not bad for a graduate of Nicholls State University’s Chef John Folse Culinary Institute. He hosts the “Hunger Trap” live on Facebook every Tuesday night and, get this, he’s got his own cookbook called “Southern Creole: Recipes from My New Orleans Kitchen (Vol. 1)” that’s available on Amazon. While his level of service fits among the modest plus tax bracket, it’s his refinement that makes him worth every penny. Photos courtesy of Juston Jacques.
Chef Derek Robinson Jr. – The Grand Prince
Robinson prepared one incredible steak and baked potato with a garnishment that took me by surprise. His presentation was flawed and fearless while in the kitchen. What made Robinson a great contender for our list is that while he can deliver well with his gift, it was his Chef Gone Mad Cajun Nola seasoning that took more of the center stage. When asked what he wanted pushed more in terms of product, Robinson said, “My food preparation speaks for itself but it’s my seasoning that tops it off.” The arrangement of spices, which can be purchased here, not only lived up to its taste but is definitely a signature staple for his growing business. Robinson’s tenacity, spirited persona and his indomitable approach in the kitchen makes him a “beast” that will continue to make productive moves. Did I mention he does meal plans as well? Yeah, you can request his services just in time for “Summertime Fine.”
Chef Pierre Corwin – The Grand Duke
Corwin aka ‘The Wing Man’ was by far the meekest among our recommended five. This college grad, whose degree isn’t even in the culinary field, utilized his refund checks during undergrad to stock up on groceries. That eventually led him to cook for others and as word spread around, Corwin began his climb to cuisine notoriety. What made him stand out was that Corwin didn’t illustrate his cooking skills like an established chef with a chip on their shoulders could have. Instead, he cooked with so much humility and gratefulness; you could feel it during his conversation and with his final dish.
The heavy music driven chef’s love for music sets a tone for how he actually creates food for his customers. This husband and father conveyed his challenges of raising a family all while pushing his name among the New Orleans cooking elite, but honestly, there’s nothing Corwin needs to be worried about because his cookery speaks to the heart without bleeding you in the pockets. His crab cake and pasta dish tasted as humble as his attitude.
Chef Tasha – The Queen
Ms. Tasha Butler? Well, what I can say? Butler, the owner of Seasons of Louisiana, gives you maternal vibes while in the kitchen, maybe even “Hey Auntie!” vibes or the cousin that can make anything work with what’s in your kitchen. She took charge with a bit of sass, a lot to say, an elaborate display of showmanship along with her skills and array of pots and pans ready to war with the kitchen, Butler definitely makes fit for a queen.
With a cookbook coming out in March, fans of Butler can add author to her growing list of accomplishments. Not bad for a woman who started selling plates that were apparently good enough to lead her on the journey to create and own her catering company. Butler made a grilled cheese sandwich with crab meat and a pot of gumbo to not only feed the crew but her crew as well. She said, “Oh baby this is dinner for everyone!” She supplied leftovers to everyone; much like a maternal queen who doesn’t mind getting dirty in her very neat and pressed all black uniform but most importantly, she made you feel like a part of family of five and up.
Butler doesn’t just cook to satisfy you momentarily, she cooks to feed your soul with welcoming arms and second helpings fit for a royal family.
Entrepreneur Ms. Blake – The Princess
Let’s just call her “Ms. Blake if you’re nasty” and give this much needed “princess in heels” a little mystery. This petite jewel single handily gave us the princess treatment which matched her pleasant spirit, bright smile and easy on the eyes presentation. Ms. Blake, the owner of the Tasty Food Truck and the physical restaurant at 5000 Old Gentilly Road was definitely in her own world and a lane befitting to her speech about her business.
Though she openly admitted that she isn’t exactly the chef to take center stage, what makes her the star is her business acumen. She took her own money to invest in a food truck after previous jobs overlooked what she knew to be a great skill set she had – management. Not only did the investment pay off but it led to catering opportunities and her restaurant inside of the Big Easy Travel Plaza. Not bad for a woman who took lemons and made her own lemonade with a few cherries to aid.
With a staff as kind in service as their manager, one of Blake’s female employees was asked if she enjoyed working for the businesswoman. She replied, “I do like working here because she [Blake] treats us well, you know? It’s not like you come to work dreading it.” Clearly something was done right and has continued to work. With a fish, shrimp, crawfish and broccoli dish on a bed of fries made the crew fall into a food coma, Blake standout because her ownership is the actual presentation. Patrons of any restaurant want to feel like good customer service isn’t a chore but a requirement for operation. Blake and her staff not only complemented that service but did so with a smile and quiet confidence that was just enough to make you want to come back.
Each of these business men and women showed empowerment in their challenges to make the name that they currently have for themselves. What makes them unique isn’t the one who can cook differently or make a dish tastier than the other, but it’s their attitude when they divulge the details of their struggle coming out strong like the royal family they are.
Photo Credits: Riyani Sylvester