In New Orleans, we’re accustomed to being in the presence of culinary greatness. From the old guard of Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme to the newer generation of chefs like John Besh and Donald Link, New Orleans has often been the proving ground for some of the nation’s best culinary talents. This week, that fact was proven once again as three of our city’s chefs have been nominated for James Beard Awards in the Best Chef South category, with other chefs and restaurants receiving similar accolades.
For those of us familiar with the New Orleans restaurant scene, the nominees sound almost like a list of New Orleans Greatest Culinary Hits: John Harris of Lilette, Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace, and Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon. Sue Zemanick, chef of Gautreau’s, was nominated again for the Rising Star Chef of the Year award, a category for chefs under 30.
Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at all of these restaurants. I’m probably biased because I play for Team Lilette, but seeing as John Harris has been nominated three times for this category, I’m rooting for him. But that aside, each of these chefs deserve this award, and even in more casual restaurants like Cochon, there is a clear dedication to high quality food and excellent flavor profiles.
If you’re ever going to treat yourself out to a fine meal in New Orleans, the food at these restaurants is delicious and meticulously prepared. Zemanick’s foie gras is the best I’ve ever tried. McPhail’s turtle soup is a beautiful exercise in rich flavors. Stryjewski’s oyster roast might be second to none. And, I’d have to say that Harris’s truffle toast with marrow and wild mushrooms is possibly my favorite appetizer ever.
No matter who wins, the nominations alone show the extraordinary quality of contemporary New Orleans cuisine.
But, I have to ask. Who are you rooting for?