Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Right now: chef John Besh of New Orleans and beyond.
Tell us about your new book that's coming up. I'm really excited about the book, it's called Cooking from the Heart, and it's stories and delicious recipes and anecdotes and life lessons through food. It's basically centered around my apprenticeship and working in the Black Forest and then later in the South of France. All the different culinary blunders I'd had and how I learned from all that. It's really kind of the anti-new modern food movement, it's all about this real gutsy way of cooking. Though I'd worked for Michelin star restaurants, making classic French cuisine by hand, all the flavors that go into these foods were just life changing to me.
So it's about sharing stories of learning, and you could say the book is arranged almost like a curriculum, beginning with charcuterie and ending with desserts. It's easily a 10-12 course feast all the way through. Each chapter begins with a story of my time and how I learned and what really inspired me. From soups to simple things like potatoes that we kind of take for granted, but you can do so many things with. It's just sharing a bit more of my soul than I've ever shared in a book before.
What kind of anecdotes are in the story? Stupid things, like my first time cooking a fish. As an apprentice you can't touch the expensive things like truffles or proteins like fish. You're relegated to peeling things more often than not til you work your way up. Finally I had a chance at cooking a real fish, a trout meuniere. I'm like, I'm from New Orleans, I know trout meuniere! I thought their food was kind of bland, from Louisiana and here I am in Europe, so I mixed together some Cajun spices and really took this fish to another level. The chef looks at it, throws it, makes a good spectacle where I thought I was the greatest thing on earth and I'd be promoted to the next station. Anyhow long and short of it is, I never really thought: what is the flavor of the fish? We cooked everything the same way, heavy handed, fried or charred on a grill. I'm talking the foods of my childhood, very rustic Southern Louisiana foods. There I learned restraint, it was all about holding back, respecting the fish, every little part of it so you can coax the most flavor out of it. Each chapter has stories and lessons like that, I had to learn theses lessons and I'd love to share them with you.
You've got a new show right? The show is My Family Table, taken after my second book and what I loved was I filmed it at my house. Wake up in the morning, have the crew downstairs waiting in the kitchen. I go in and we knock out an episode, maybe two a day, just cooking incredible foods. I love to cook in my house. There's nothing really forced, it's just natural and fun and in a way both the show and this new cookbook really try to take the mystique out of food.
Too often I think buying food has been cloaked in some sort of mystique, when I was coming up was always paired with classical music and people with foreign accents. Now is really the only chance I have as a chef to cook my food on TV, through the venue of public broadcasting, because too often chefs are relegated now to competitions, and all these shows that have more of a competitive thread to them. And that's all good, I love it and I've done all the Iron Chefs in the world, I'm a judge on Top Chef every season and that all has its place. But I also want to cook and I want to show people this is your food, this is how simple it is and if I can cook at home anyone can.
As a pro, you have to learn to cook at home without making this massive mess. My wife certainly isn't gonna clean up after me. The way a chef cooks in a restaurant, they come and they're there for me. When I'm at home, I'm cooking something that the boys can eat, that my wife can eat, that fits in the lifestyle of running from ball practice to whatever.
Any new projects? Coming down the pike, and nobody knows this, but Aarón Sanchez and I are working on a restaurant together called Johnny Sanchez. And it's fun, whimsical farm to table tacos and a fun, casual Mexican food and tequila bar all in one. Not nightclubby but not just a restaurant either, a very social setting. Everything from goat cheese stuffed fried blossom tacos to his grandmother's tacos with chicharron. And kind of merging it all together. We had a conversation last week with Caesars about doing this and they were very excited about it.
He's always been a friend, we always get together and cook, he always brings these incredible tortillas, we were like we ought to just do this. Let's just throw a restaurant together. So that's what we're scheming on right now. At this point I never even really sought to have this empire, it evolved because people around me evolved and they wanted their share of the pie. This is a project that would really just be fun, nothing is definite yet but that's something we're kind of simmering on the backburner. I would like to have a couple Johnny Sanchez's out there.