To say the last few months have been busy for Chef Will Avelar is an understatement. As the Chef de Cuisine for Meril, the newest Chef Emeril Lagasse venture, Avelar only recently was able to take his first day off, spending the time practicing capoeira, a Brazilian martial art combining elements of fighting and dancing. The break is well-deserved, as Avelar has been prepping for Meril’s launch for months.
The restaurant, now open in the Warehouse District, adds a casual concept to the host of fine-dining options under Emeril’s umbrella. “People have changed the way they like to go out to eat,” Avelar explains. The casual restaurant appeals to a variety of diners, from people sitting at the bar and grabbing a few snacks, to large groups ordering a variety of dishes to share.
Avelar has worked in Emeril’s restaurants for more than ten years, steadily rising through the kitchen ranks, and now helming the laid-back Meril. His excitement for the new restaurant is palpable: “it’s how restaurant industry people eat,” he says. That concept is evident in both the tantalizing menu and the renovated space itself.
Tucked away in a formerly nondescript building on Girod Street, Meril’s expansive bar and sun-soaked dining room are welcoming and energized. The menu features easily shareable dishes, with most falling between $10 and $20. But the food is anything but standard fare; the dishes are creative and nuanced, matching the high expectations set by Emeril’s previous restaurants.
Right on the heels of opening Meril, Avelar is gearing up for Boudin, Bourbon & Beer 2016 which will take over Champions Square on Friday, Nov. 4. The event, started by Chefs Emeril Lagasse and Donald Link, benefits the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and features a bevy of attractions to delight the senses: a packed musical lineup, libations including Abita and Buffalo Trace, and more 50 chefs whipping up boudin-themed dishes. Avelar is already prepping his dish — hot tip: it’s boudin-stuffed tamales! Tickets can be purchased here and check out the full list of chefs, musicians, and sponsors lending their talents to the event.
Suffice it to say, Avelar has a lot on his plate, yet he still finds the time to enjoy his city. Check out this local chef’s go-to sights and sounds below.
20 QUESTIONS WITH WILL AVELAR
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
My first mentor and boss, restaurateur Diane Timphony.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
My father. He’s from El Salvador but moved to New Orleans for opportunity. I am born and raised in New Orleans.
3. In your opinion — what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
I enjoy all of the neighborhoods in New Orleans. They all offer a different vibe and experience, and I enjoy them all for various reasons.
4. If it’s a beautiful day, where are you going to spend it?
Wherever my kids tell me (haha). We like to play soccer at Lafreniere Park.
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern: home-cooked hot roast beef w/ gravy [po-boy], fully dressed. They also have a great grilled cheese.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
7. What’s your favorite type of po-boy or sandwich? Where do you get it?
The Italian Hoagie at Stein’s Deli.
8. You’ve got friends visiting, and it’s their first time in New Orleans — where are you taking them?
I’d take them to Capoeira New Orleans Academy, where I train with my kids. It’s a great way to experience a different culture. Then, I’d take them to get a sno-ball at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, listen to music on Frenchmen Street, and then relax at a cigar bar.
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
Bayou Beer Garden; I have a lot of friends that live in that area.
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail, and where do you go to get it?
A classic daiquiri at Cure.
11. What’s your favorite dessert or sweet treat in the city?
Lemon ice box pie at Meril.
12. Best spot to see live music?
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
Chegadão, one of the best Brazilian bands in town.
14. Favorite New Orleans festival?
15. What’s your ideal New Orleans date night?
I don’t really have time to date with the opening of Meril (haha), but it would include dinner and drinks at Bacchanal and salsa dancing at Dragon’s Den on Fridays.
16. What are your favorite local shops?
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
I would have to say the Louisiana Children’s Museum just because I take my kids there so often. They really enjoy it.
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
At Meril; when the Saints play, I’m usually always working.
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans, and why?
I was running late to work the other morning, so I took a detour through the French Quarter. I was enjoying Capoeira music with my windows rolled down, and every time I stopped at a stop sign, people were bopping their heads to the music with smiles on their faces, enjoying it just as much as I was. It was a good moment.