La. chef John Besh picks up SE Asia influences
ASPEN – The last time we ran into New Orleans chef John Besh, he was occupied with rejuvenating that city’s restaurant scene following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.
But then came the BP oil spill and Besh, who runs six restaurants in and around New Orleans and one San Antonio, again found himself working overtime (or better, still finding himself working overtime) to remind people how great Louisiana seafood can be.
During his 40-minute cooking seminar Saturday morning on the second day of the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Besh said the two storms (one physical, the other economic) helped him discover something more of his city.
The seminar was titled “The New New Orleans” and while on stage Besh prepared a shrimp creole, simple and familiar enough for anyone knowing Louisiana cuisine, but this version incorporated the strong Thai and Viet Nam influence found in that city.
Not many in the audience admitted they knew of New Orleans’ vibrant Southeast Asia populations, but those populations were boosted when people from Southeast Asia moved to the U.S. for work in the energy industry.
It took Katrina for Besh and others to discover and assimilate the Viet and Thai cooking styles into traditional Deep South cuisine.
The Vietnamese immigrants were “segregated until Katrina brought the city together,” Besh said.
It was during the rebuilding, when so many cultures came together, that many chefs discovered the culinary styles and ingredients that now grace the familiar-yet-now-different Louisiana dishes.
Besh said it’s not uncommon to find dishes using lemongrass or chili paste, both Southeast Asia influences, as well as the better-known cultures – French, Spanish, African-American and other – that have forged the New Orleans food scene prized today.
But the end of Katrina wasn’t the only the jumpstart given New Orleans’ rejuvenation. It took the ecological and economic disaster of the BP oil spil, which suddenly turned off millions of people to all that luscious Louisiana seafood, to get Besh pounding the podium of “Eat More Shrimp.”
The only losers in the lingering fears are those still uneducated about how far the Louisiana shrimp (and all seafood) industry has come, Besh said.
In typical Besh style, he wasn’t at all shy about urging the audience to eat more domestic shrimp and “Better yet, eat Louisiana shrimp,” he told the appreciative audience.
The Food & Wine Classic winds up Sunday with a morning lineup of seminars as well as the extremely popular and standing-room-only Quickfire Cookoff pitting star chefs Richard Blais against Kevin Sbraga.