Exclusive Interview with Chef John Besh on Cooking From the Heart
Chef John Besh is the owner of many restaurants in New Orleans and the author of three cookbooks, the most recent, Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way.
Chef Besh was kind enough to take time out of his extremely busy schedule to speak with us about his everyday life, cooking inspirations and his take on food bloggers.
AoFB: Did you have any influencers growing up that got you into cooking?
JB: My grandparents and my mother influenced me tremendously growing up.
AoFB: What is your favorite kitchen tool or gadget?
JB: Large spoons that stir the pot. I love making jambalaya, etouffe, creole, stews, large one pot meals. I usually set the spoons right back on the stove after I'm done cooking because I know I'll be using them again and again. And I love the Le Cruset cookware.
AoFB: Curiosity and the cook? Tell us a little more about that.
JB: That chronicles the time I spend in Europe in my twenties with my wife, Jenifer. Those were fantastic days. We visited so many little hole in the wall spots and had some of the most delicious foods. I learned so much about cooking from these places and tried such a variety of things, things that I wouldn't normally have tasted. It really broadened my palate.
AoFB: You run restaurants. Your wife works but you have four children. How do you find time to balance work / family life?
JB: Yes, Jenifer quit work to be dedicated to the family so that has helped a lot. But it is all about the priorities you make. If it is important to you, you will do that so as busy as our lives are especially with the boys sports, we still make it a priority to sit down together with the family. That is what my book is about - bringing people and families together.
AoFB: Do any of your sons prod you to open a restaurant with their name?
JB: Ah! What was I thinking when I did that? My restaurant, Luke, is after my grandfather. I sometimes wish I didn't do that. I get a lot of flack for it.
AoFB: In recent years there has been some controversy about food bloggers. What are your thoughts about them? Do they have relevancy in the industry and how you see them shaping the food world?
JB: I think bloggers are great and continue to influence and shape our industry. I have been very fortunate that so many bloggers and critics have given my restaurants positive reviews. However, I do think people are so quick to critique something instead of enjoying it for what it is and the experience. A meal should be about sitting down with those who are special to you. I think that young kids like 17 and below haven't event developed their palate yet and they are already critiquing places, which isn't right. Even my son Brandon writes a food column in his paper and he is so young.
AoFB: What is your guilty pleasure food?
JB: I'm a chef, pretty much everything I make is a guilty pleasure, isn't it? Okay, I guess if I were to pick something I like French fries dipped in Mayonnaise
AoFB: I see the pumpkin Tian that you made on the Today show in your cookbook. The stars of the new movie, Last Vegas acted as your Sous chefs. What was it like directing Michael Douglas, Robert Dinero, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline?
JB: I had so much fun with that. Kevin Kline was great, and it was my first time meeting him. Robert Dinero Michael Douglas was terrific too. It was like being with friends because they have dinned in my restaurants before.
AoFB: What else?
JB: Check out my new book, Cooking from the Heart, visit BeshRestaurants.com as well for more information.
Here is a recipe from John Besh's latest cookbook, Cooking from the Heart:
RABBIT IN GELÉE WITH CHANTERELLE SALAD
Makes 8–10 ramekins
Here’s one way to think about a gelée: individual ramekins used as molds to turn out little aspics with morsels of rabbit and diced vegetables. I like to serve this appetizer with a beautiful salad of chanterelles and cherry tomatoes to enhance the delicate flavor of the rabbit. Or serve it more simply, with a variety of pickled vegetables.
Young rabbit (about 3 pounds)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 carrots, diced small
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
8 cups Basic Chicken
Stock (page 250)
1 cup diced celery root
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 packets (.25 ounce each) powdered gelatin
Freshly ground black pepper
About 2 cups small chanterelle mushrooms
A handful of cherry tomatoes
1. Combine the rabbit, onions, leeks, half the carrots, the thyme, bay leaf, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, cayenne, and Chicken Stock in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Season with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer slowly for 1½ hours. Transfer the rabbit to a bowl.
2. Strain the cooking liquid through a finemesh sieve into a medium pot and discard the aromatics. Bring the stock to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, until it has reduced by about half to 3–4 cups, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the remaining carrots, the celery root, and the chives. Soften the gelatin in ½ cup cold water and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the gelatin to the reduced stock and stir until dissolved.
3. Debone the rabbit and dice the meat, then add it to the stock. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and if you think it needs it, add more salt and pepper.
4. Evenly divide the rabbit, vegetables, and stock among 8 or 10 ramekins. Refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours. Meanwhile, toss chanterelles and tomatoes with oil and vinegar and reserve.
5. To serve, place the ramekins in of warm water for just a moment to soften the gelée. Use a knife to release, invert and carefully unmold each onto a plate.
BASIC CHICKEN STOCK
Makes about 6 cups
Save the carcass from every chicken you roast—it’s the foundation of a great chicken soup. I always have a few in my freezer for just this purpose.
2 carcasses roast chicken
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1. Combine the chicken carcasses, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Cover with 12 cups cold water and bring to a boil. With a spoon, skim and discard the foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until reduced by about half, about 3 hours. Strain the stock through a finemesh strainer over a large bowl. The stock is ready to use, or chill and freeze for future soups and stews.
—From Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way by John Besh/Andrews McMeel Publishing