“Cooking with the history of the food culture here is really a lot of fun,” says chef Justin Devillier. “You don’t have to follow it exactly, but it’s one of those things that’s always there if you need inspiration.”
“The inspiration is kind of this underlying theme of the Mississippi River and the importance that the water around us has played in the history of our city,” Devillier says of Balise. “You’ve kind of got to be half history nerd, half chef.”
Take a closer look at Devillier and his two restaurants in our latest AskNOLA video:
Justin Devillier: “I think everyone who comes to New Orleans kind of gets sucked in by history and tradition and architecture and all that. Cooking with the history of the food culture here is really a lot of fun. You don’t have to follow it exactly, but it’s one of those things that’s always there if you need inspiration. I moved here to cook in 2003 and really just fell in love with the city and wound up staying here. New Orleans is a great place to be a chef. I mean you have access to some of the best local seafood and produce. Also, your guests that frequent your restaurants: they know what they like and they have very discerning palates so it’s definitely a fun place to cook.
“When you work in a kitchen all day you go home and you think about dishes and what the specials are gonna be tomorrow and stuff like that. It’s not really that hard to find inspiration but you need someone to deliver you the ingredients so you can execute. La Petite Grocery is our uptown restaurant. It’s been around for about 10 years. At La Petite, we have some produce providers that are very fickle I’d say. But in a good way though, you know. One day they’ll have something awesome, but they’ll only have one bag of it. So what we do is we just have about a five-item chalkboard menu, and that changes every day. And then you have the hard menu that’s like La Petite favorites. It’s almost two restaurants inside one. It allows us to keep those favorites around, but at the same time see new things every day.
“Balise is brand new, and it’s downtown in an old Creole Townhouse style building. The inspiration is kind of this underlying theme of the economy of the Mississippi River and the importance that the water around us has played in the history of our city. So there’s kind of a nautical theme; a seafood-heavy menu. You have to try to find that identity, so you start looking at things like the era it was built and what was going on, and kind of trying to timeline the building. Everything was coming in and out of the River. There were no planes. There was not much stuff coming by train or stagecoach or anything like that. Everything was coming up and down the river. We got a lot of inspiration from doing that. You’ve kind of got to be half history nerd, half chef when you’re doing it.”