Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
Basically, just halve English muffins, place them face up, and pile on top:
Cubed sharp cheddar
A little onion
A little green pepper
4 strips of bacon, crumbled
A little mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Throw them in the broiler... 5 minutes or less I think, just watch them...
And voila...Deliciousness. Cheesy, Bacony, muffiny deliciousness.
hazelnut, sage, and mushroom stuffing
8 cups 1/2-inch cubes of firm white bread such as a Pullman loaf (1 pound)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped shallots (about 8 medium; 10 ounces)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery (from 3 ribs)
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups hazelnuts (1/2 pound), toasted, any loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 cups turkey stock, heated to liquefy if gelled, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 400°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Generously butter baking dish. Arrange bread in 1 layer in 2 large shallow baking pans and toast, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. (Leave oven on.)
Meanwhile, cook shallots in 1 stick butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Add mushrooms, celery, thyme, sage, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid given off by mushrooms has evaporated and mushrooms are browned, 20 to 30 minutes.
Add wine and deglaze skillet by boiling, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, until wine is reduced by about half, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bread in bowl. Add hazelnuts and parsley and toss.
Whisk together stock, eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then stir into bread mixture.
Transfer to baking dish and dot top of stuffing with remaining 1/2 stick butter. Bake, loosely covered with a buttered sheet of foil (buttered side down), in lower third of oven 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake until top is browned, about 15 minutes more.
For potatoes, I did this gratin from Bon Appetit, of course, with some changes. I used a 9x11 pan, it was way too big. Use a smaller pan. I substituted baby portabellas for porcinis, as i was worried the porcinis would overpower the mascarpone, and i think it was a good call. Even Justin the mushroom hater ate it.Potato gratin with porcini mushrooms and mascarpone cheese
Bon Appetit November 2007
Makes 8 to 10 servings
4 ounces dried porcini mushrooms*
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese**
1 cup whipping cream
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 5 large), peeled, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
Place porcini and 1 cup boiling water in medium bowl. Place small bowl atop mushrooms to keep submerged. Let soak 20 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop mushrooms.
Melt butter with oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Whisk 1/4 cup Parmesan and next 4 ingredients in small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter wide shallow 2-quart baking dish. Arrange 1/4 of potato slices in bottom of dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter 1/4 of mushrooms over. Repeat. Spread half of cheese mixture over, shaking dish to settle. Repeat with remaining potatoes and mushrooms in 2 layers each; spread remaining cheese mixture over. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over.
Place gratin dish on rimmed baking sheet. Bake gratin until top is brown and sauce is bubbling at edges, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let gratin rest 15 minutes before serving.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I ripped this recipe out of Food and Wine magazine a year ago knowing it would be a home run. It took me a long time to get to making it but it was worth the wait. I made this dish last night for a low key dinner with friends and it was a knock out. I added pine nuts on the top before serving which was a nice addition. Make sure to look in specialty food stores for the noodles.
Pappardelle with Lamb Ragù
ACTIVE TIME: 30 MIN TOTAL TIME: 1 HR SERVES: 6
Chef Way Andrew Carmellini serves fresh pappardelle with a ragù of house-ground lamb shoulder cooked in lamb stock. He finishes the dish with fresh ricotta and chopped mint.Easy Way Use store-bought pappardelle, ground lamb and chicken stock, then top the dish with fresh ricotta and mint.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
3/4 pound pappardelle
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped mint
In a large cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the carrot, onion and celery and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add the lamb, coriander, fennel, cumin, rosemary and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the stock and bring to a boil. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat until the liquid is slightly reduced, 25 to 30 minutes.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, shaking well. Add the pasta to the sauce. Add the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and toss over low heat. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the ricotta and mint.
Friday, November 23, 2007
At their peak of freshness in autumn, brussels sprouts are a traditional vegetable for the Thanksgiving feast. They were first introduced to American cooks by Thomas Jefferson, who is reputed to have grown them in his garden at Monticello. Our recipe balances the vegetable's natural sweetness with radicchio, a type of chicory that adds vibrant color and a hint of bitterness. We also add diced pancetta, which provides just the right amount of saltiness and savor.
1 1/2 lb. brussels sprouts
6 oz. pancetta, diced
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 head radicchio, about 8 oz., trimmed and cut
into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh marjoram
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth, plus more as
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Cut or pull off any dry outer leaves from the brussels sprouts. Trim away any brown spots and slice off the dry stem end. Using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, shred the brussels sprouts. Set aside.
On the stovetop, heat an oval copper roasting pan or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook the pancetta until crispy and golden brown, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl. Pour off the fat from the pan and discard, then wipe out the pan with paper towels.
Set the pan over medium heat and warm the olive oil. Add the brussels sprouts and stir to coat with the oil. Cook until the brussels sprouts begin to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir again, then add the radicchio, marjoram and salt and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the 1/4 cup broth. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and adding more broth as needed, until the brussels sprouts are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pancetta and stir to incorporate. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
Transfer the brussels sprouts to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.
Make-Ahead Tip: Trim and slice the brussels sprouts and radicchio and dice the pancetta up to 1 day in advance. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Boil a pot of water. Dump bag of pearl onions and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, flash in cold water and peel skins.
Get butcher string and truss hen. (For the how-to video, click here) Get large roasting pan. Rub hens with spice mix (above). You can buy rubs pre-made at stores and those work well, too. Place trussed hens in pan. Add carrots, onions, garlic, herbs and chicken stock.
Place in oven and cook for 1 hour. Baste hens with juices and brush with butter every ten minutes. Serve warm.
Finnochiona: A type of salami flavored with fennel,cracked pepper and curry
Sopressata: A dry-cured salami from Southern Italy, often flavored with chile pepper and garlic.
Speck: A juniper-scented Italian prosciutto cheese
Pierre Robert – cow, triple-crème
Abbaye de Belloc – sheep, semi-firm
Clochette – goat, semi-soft
Parmigiano Reggiano – cow, hard
Quince paste (membrillo) – quince fruit
Apricot Almond Preserves
Red Fig Perserves
Monday, November 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
P.S. For a great snack or starter, roast a head of garlic per person and serve it with an olive oil plate seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground pepper and a baguette. Yummm
Parmesan & Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots
For 4 people
20 cloves of garlic, peeled (Most stores carry tubs of peeled garlic. Saves you lots of time!)
6 Russet potatoes
3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/2 a stick of butter
3/4 cup of 1/2 & 1/2
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Take garlic cloves and place on sheet of aluminum foil. Cover in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap foil into ball with twist the the on top so it looks like a bulb. Place in oven at 300 degrees for 1 hour.
Bring pot of water to a boil. Peel potatoes and cut into large cubes. Boil potatoes until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and put potatoes back in pot. Add butter, 1/2 & 1/2 and parmesan. Use potato masher and mash up. Take roasted garlic out of oven and add to pot. Mix with masher. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with caramelized shallots.
For the Caramelized Shallots
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds fresh shallots, peeled
3 tablespoons sugar 3
tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof saute pan, add the shallots and sugar, and toss to coat. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the shallots start to brown. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss well.
Place the saute pan in the oven and roast for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shallots, until they are tender. Season to taste, and serve hot.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
As described by Amazon.com, "The Last Supper is Chefs have been playing the “My Last Supper” game among themselves for decades, if not centuries, but it had always been kept within the profession until now. Melanie Dunea came up with the ingenious idea to ask fifty of the world’s famous chefs to let her in on this insider’s game and tell her what their final meals would be. My Last Supper showcases their fascinating answers alongside stunning Vanity Fair–style portraits. Their responses are surprising, refreshing, and as distinct from each other as the chefs themselves. The portraits—gorgeous, intimate, and playful—are informed by their answers and reveal the passions and personalities of the most respected names in the business. Lastly, one recipe from each landmark meal is included in the back of the book. With My Last Supper, Dunea found a way into the typically harried, hidden minds of the people who have turned preparing food into an art. Who wouldn’t want to know where Alain Ducasse would like his supper to be? And who would prepare Daniel Boulud’s final meal? What would Anthony Bourdain’s guest list look like? As the clock ticked, what album would Gordon Ramsay be listening to? And just what would Mario Batali eat for the last time?"
Thursday, November 15, 2007
"This is an item made famous by Calvin Trillin in a New Yorker article describing its history. It seems that some gentlemen stayed late at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo discussing a business deal and asked for something to eat. Given the few ingredients available in the kitchen at the time, this was the result. This recipe (provided directly by the inventor) subsequently appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
The quantity of wings per person is based on extensive research and takes into account the severe agony of running out of wings before appetites are sated."
5 1/2 Chicken wings per person, cut at the joints, wingtips discarded
1 part Butter
2 parts Frank's Louisiana Red Hot Sauce (Durkee)
1 part White vinegar
Blue Cheese Dressing:
1 cup Mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. Onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. Garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup Parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1 Tbsp. Lemon juice
1 Tbsp. White vinegar
1/4 cup Blue cheese, crumbled
Salt, Pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Celery stalks, chilled
1. Heat the combined hot sauce ingredients in a saucepan.
2 Deep fry the wings until brown and crisp. Pour a little sauce over the wings as they are finished.
3. Serve the wings and sauce with crisp celery sticks and blue cheese dressing (combine all dressing ingredients). The dressing is actually intended for the celery but it is also good with the wings.
Chuck Note: I have had excellent results baking the wings instead of frying. In a 425 degree oven and on a greased cookie sheet, bake the wings for 20 minutes a side for a total of 40 minutes.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
One of the best (and simplest) pasta dishes from this year’s crop of cookbook authors comes from Johanne Killeen and George Germon, the chefs and owners of Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, and the authors of On Top of Spaghetti. This recipe calls for quickly boiling shredded zucchini in the same pot as the pasta, then tossing everything together in a sauce made with yogurt instead of cream. Yogurt may seem strange in a pasta sauce, but the result is brilliant.
1 pound farfalle
4 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), coarsely shredded
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farfalle until al dente; about 1 minute before the farfalle is done, add the shredded zucchini to the pot. Drain the farfalle and zucchini, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, melt the butter. Remove from the heat. Stir in the Greek yogurt and the 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and season the yogurt sauce with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Add the farfalle, zucchini and reserved pasta water to the saucepan and cook over low heat, tossing, until the sauce coats the pasta; transfer to warmed bowls and serve with the extra cheese
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
1st Place Winner "Best Clam Chowder in Boston", Chowderfest Competition, 1984, 1985 and 1986. Chowderfest Hall of Fame 1987. 1st Place Winner, "Best Clam Chowder in New England," Great Chowder Cook-Off, Newport, Rhode Island 1987.
40 Oz. Clam Juice
1 Pint Heavy Cream
1 Cup Water
4 Oz. Clarified Butter
4 Oz. Flour
1 Medium Onion
1 Rib Celery
1 Large Potato (Blanched)
1/2 Tsp. White Pepper
1 Small Bay Leaf
1 Clove Minced Garlic
1/4 Tsp. Thyme
Wash clams thoroughly. Place quahogs in pot with 1/2 cup of water. Cover tightly and steam until clams open. Repeat this process with cherrystones. Remove clams from shell, chop coarsely, and reserve broth in a separate container.
In the same pot, add clarified butter and garlic. Saute 2-3 minutes. Add onions, celery and spices. Saute until onions are translucent. Add flour to make a roux, stirring constantly. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes (don't brown). Slowly add clam juice (fresh and commercial), stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer for 10 minutes (the soup will be very thick at this point so be careful it does not burn). Add potatoes and cook until tender. Add cream and clams and bring back to a boil. Season to taste.
Serves 10 People.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Lemon and Herb Tilapia
From Diana Rattray,Your Guide to Southern Food.
Tilapia fillets are baked with a topping mixture made with lemon, butter, parsley, chopped green onions, and seasonings.
1 small lemon
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions, with tops
4 tilapia fillets, about 6 ounces each, about 1 1/2 pounds total
Preheat oven to 400°. Zest lemon and squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice. In a small bowl, combine the peel and juice with the softened butter, parsley, salt, pepper, and green onions.
Butter a 12x8-inch baking dish.
Place fillets in baking dish, folding thinner ends under as necessary. Top fillets with the butter mixture. Bake fillets for 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.Serves 4.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Gobble, gobble. It's about that time. You know what I'm talking about... Thanksgiving planning! So, here's a turkey recipe worth taking a look at.
Pancetta-sage turkey with pancetta-sage gravy
Bon Appétit November 2007
Servings: Makes 10 to 12 servings
subscribe to Bon Appétit
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), chopped
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 14- to 16-pound turkey, rinsed, patted dry inside and out; neck, heart, and gizzard reserved for Shortcut Turkey Stock
8 fresh sage sprigs
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Shortcut Turkey Stock or water
1/2 cup diced thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon; about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups Shortcut Turkey Stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage PreparationFor pancetta-sage butter:
With machine running, drop garlic down feed tube of processor and chop. Add pancetta. Pulse to chop finely. Add all remaining ingredients. Pulse blending to coarse paste. Transfer to small bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.
Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 325°F. Sprinkle main turkey cavity with salt and pepper. Spread with 2 tablespoons pancetta-sage butter. Starting at neck end, slide hand between skin and meat of breast, thighs, and upper drumsticks to loosen skin. Spread remaining butter over thighs, drumsticks, and breast meat under skin. Fill main cavity with herb sprigs. Tie legs loosely to hold shape. Tuck wing tips under.
Place turkey on rack set in large roasting pan. Rub turkey all over with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour 2 cups stock into pan.
Roast turkey until thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165°F to 170°F, about 3 hours. Tilt turkey so juices run into pan. Transfer turkey to platter. Tent with foil; let rest at least 30 minutes (temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees). Reserve pan.
Scrape juices and browned bits from roasting pan into large glass measuring cup. Spoon off fat. Reserve 2 tablespoons. Heat 2 tablespoons reserved fat in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta; sauté until beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add shallots; sauté 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium. Add flour; whisk until golden, about 4 minutes. Whisk in 3 cups stock, wine, and degreased pan juices. Bring to boil, whisking. Cook to desired consistency, about 5 minutes. Whisk in rosemary and sage; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
My mother makes the best pear chutney on the planet but I usually only score one or two jars a year. They go fast so I use Stonewall's Apple Cranberry Chutney for back up. Fall is all about chutney so I recently bought two jars to hold me over the next month. It's great with baked brie, pork or just on a plain cracker as a snack.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Here we've taken pecan pie above and beyond its usual corn-syrupy incarnation. A layer of bittersweet chocolate adds richness to the dessert while simultaneously balancing its sweetness. And an abundance of pecans makes for a supremely satisfying filling.
Makes 8 servings
Friday, November 2, 2007
Thursday, November 1, 2007
October 31, 2007, New York Times
From Disaster, a Chef Forges an Empire
By KIM SEVERSON
BEFORE Katrina, John Besh was simply a good chef with a fancy restaurant that had a habit of making top 10 lists around the country.
After Katrina, he became known as the ex-Marine who rode into the flooded city with a gun, a boat and a bag of beans and fed New Orleans until it could feed itself.
His post-Katrina narrative has turned him into a spokesman for his city’s culinary recovery. He is the anti-Emeril, a polite, bona fide hometown boy who is less bam! and more bayou. That he looks good on television hasn’t hurt. On “The Next Iron Chef” last Sunday night, Mr. Besh beat another chef on his quest to join the Food Network’s all-star cooking team.
But behind that telegenic Southern humility and unquestioned generosity lies a man who approached life after Katrina with a kind of military focus that has made him one of only a few chefs in New Orleans who are much better off than before the storm.
Just before Katrina, Mr. Besh had bought out his investor in Restaurant August, his downtown flagship. When the storm shut the city down, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to cover the rent and payments on his business loans.
Through a series of aggressive moves in the months after the storm, Mr. Besh expanded his empire. The number of restaurants in his group doubled to four, including the new Lüke, a downtown brasserie with a private line of beer, and La Provence, a rustic French restaurant and mini-farm north of New Orleans that he bought earlier this year after the death of its owner, Chris Kerageorgiou, Mr. Besh’s mentor and partner in a pig-raising venture.
He is now responsible for 310 paychecks, up from 167 before the storm.
In hindsight, it turns out that the smartest move Mr. Besh made was quickly arranging a series of lucrative emergency catering contracts, feeding thousands of law enforcement, government and oil rig workers. The contracts, some of which lasted for a year and a half, made him enough money to bankroll the expansion of his businesses.
The bottom line also got a boost from Harrah’s, which owns the casino where Mr. Besh has been running a steakhouse since 2003. The company paid him as a consultant until the restaurant could open again.
“We just did what we thought was right at the time,” he said.
As he and his partner, Octavio Mantilla, began to rebuild, Simone Rathlé, a longtime friend in the public relations business Mr. Besh hired when he opened August six years ago, went to work.
“He was like numb and just freaked out,” she said. “He owned this restaurant and owed a lot of money. He was doing things for survival. He needed to pay his bills and I needed to promote him to get people to go to his restaurant to help him to pay his bills.”
She flew him to fund-raisers and put him in front of any journalist she could think of. Soon Mr. Besh was leaning into the role as spokesman for New Orleans like a politician with a cause. Even today, whether he’s cooking at a charity event, shooting a holiday magazine spread or appearing on television, he stays on message.
“I’ll tell ya’ll, it’s been trying,” he said as he braised short ribs on the “Today” show set earlier this month. “There are so many beautiful things happening in the city, but at the same time there’s a ways for us to go.”
Commitments have been piling up. He’s writing a book and designing a line of flavored butters for Whole Foods, with a local dairy. On Nov. 22 he will star with Wynton Marsalis in an episode of “Iconoclasts,” the Sundance Channel series that makes unlikely celebrity matchups.
Meanwhile, Food Network fans are cheering him on in the “Next Iron Chef” competition. The finale is Nov. 11, and the smart money is on Mr. Besh to make it at least that far.
Spend some time with Mr. Besh, and it becomes clear that he knows how to work his assets, which include an addictive laugh, deep blue eyes and hair that always looks a few days away from really needing a cut.
He is a practiced bad boy. His idea of a joke is to send his Israeli-born chef at the Besh Steakhouse at Harrah’s on a nine-hour drive with a car full of Berkshire pork to a Tennessee smokehouse for what Mr. Besh calls “ham camp.”
With a tendency toward dispensing compliments that rival Eddie Haskell’s, Mr. Besh walks through the world with the playfulness of the class clown and the confidence of the star quarterback.
“He just shines,” said Bruce Seidel, the executive producer who cast Mr. Besh both for an “Iron Chef” andouille challenge against Mario Batali (Mr. Besh won) and for “The Next Iron Chef” series.
Even though New York producers are taken with the Louisiana bayou-boy persona and his humble message of hope, it can wear thin. On a recent episode of “The Next Iron Chef,” the host, Alton Brown, issued a warning: “The judges feel the Southern gosh-darn cook thing is growing a little old.”
In New Orleans, it is a rare person who criticizes Mr. Besh’s newfound stardom. Chefs and food writers in a town thick with both might grumble about service lapses at August or the naked capitalism of the $1,200 California wine and $58 New York strip at Besh Steakhouse, but his success is generally regarded as a good thing.
“When he rises, he raises it for all of us,” said Leah Chase, the 84-year-old Creole chef of Dooky Chase’s. “I like people who know what they have to do and just do it.” (But the TV appearances don’t impress her. “I’ve got to call John and say I think he’s above that Iron Chef,” she said.)
In Slidell, the little town north of here where Mr. Besh, 39, was raised and still lives, his culinary degree, European training and a cell phone full of high-powered numbers aren’t all that important.
“He thinks he’s from Paris, France,” a relative likes to joke. “But he’s just from Slidell, Louisiana.”
During a recent family breakfast at his Pottery Barn-perfect five-bedroom house on a bayou in a new subdivision, Mr. Besh discussed his strategy for avoiding the problems that come when chefs stretch themselves too thin.
“Unlike a lot of chefs, I don’t try to pretend I’m in every one of my kitchens every day,” he said. Although he likes to cook at August at least five days a week, the partners and chefs at his three other places get room to run things as they see fit.
That kind of structure lets him leave town a lot, grabbing every opportunity that comes his way. He likes it, sure, but he also feels that he has to do what he can while he has the chance.
“This is my home and my life,” he said, dishing out pork grillades and stone ground grits to his four boys, the oldest of whom is 11 and the youngest 3. “But when I think about the sacrifices all the people who work with me have made and my children and all the help the city still needs, I think who am I to turn down the chance to be on this new Iron Chef show and everything else that has come my way?”
Mr. Besh and his wife, Jenifer, grew up together, but didn’t fall in love until Mr. Besh, his studies at the Culinary Institute of America cut short by a tour leading an infantry squad during the Persian Gulf war, came back home to Louisiana ready to settle down. They’ve been married 16 years, and their lives are a tangle of kids, relatives and friends they’ve both known since Catholic school.
Mrs. Besh is a lawyer who has stopped practicing except to occasionally look over her husband’s contracts. Ask her how she feels about her husband’s new fame and she’ll raise an eyebrow and say, with the slightest hint of sarcasm, “I am the happiest girl in Slidell.”
If the storm sharpened Mr. Besh’s naturally competitive drive, it softened his cooking in many ways. Before the storm, locals sometimes criticized him for being too far out on the cutting edge, which is an easy place to be in a town where people still get a little itchy if there’s no trout amandine on the menu.
“When he went through his foam phase it was a little nauseating,” said Poppy Tooker, a local cooking teacher. “It was like crawfish jelly with spit on top.”
Although he still plays on the edge, foaming this or that or using methyl cellulose to create fried oyster stew that comes to the table as a liquid encased in a perfect cube of crust, most dishes are more direct. The August menus, still sophisticated, are built from even more Louisiana ingredients than before. He uses his own eggs and Berkshire pork and is trying to figure out how to raise a mix of Brahma and Charolais cattle, which he hopes will mirror the flavor of the beef he tasted in the Loire Valley.
“I’m cooking with a lot more soul now,” he said. “I want my food to have meaning.”
From his first days in a kitchen, misfortune has shaped Mr. Besh as a cook. He took to the stove at 9 after his father, who was out for a bike ride, was hit by a drunk driver and became paralyzed. Mr. Besh pitched in by cooking breakfast. Then, encouraged by his dad, he moved on to the game and fish he and his family pulled out of the Louisiana woods and bayous.
When Mr. Besh wanted to get as far away from Louisiana as possible, he signed up for the military. But the reality of war in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait sent him back home, ready to get serious about his cooking career. Then came Hurricane Katrina.
And life’s hard turns keep coming. Almost a year ago, Kathleen, one of his four older sisters, died of cancer at 46. One of her last wishes was a white Christmas, so Mr. Besh rented a snow machine and covered his yard in frozen Louisiana water.
And after surviving all of it, he says that there is only one thing left that scares him.
“I’ve only got this one shot,” he said. “I don’t want to mess it up.”