Growing up in the Louisiana bayou meant passion for food ran deep in Bart Bell. And ever since he got into the profession, he's been driven by a love of food that's kept him fixed on a journey through southern kitchens, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bell's repertoire expanded quickly, incorporating traditions of Italian, French, Creole, and American cuisines. (Oh, and he's also an ace with the barbecue pit). But for the once-mustachioed chef, who can more than hold his own in genteel white tablecloth establishments, the finery of modern dining takes a backseat to the chef's most recently discovered passion: authentic sausage-making.
Finding an outlet for his artisanship required a bit more elbow grease (which Bell's got in spades, netting him a 2012 New Orleans Rising Star award). After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2004, Bell—who was one of those displaced by the disaster—was part of the city's rejuvenation, opening breakfast haunt Huevos in NOLA's Mid-City. Success followed tragedy, and soon after cutting the ribbon on Huevos, Bell opened Crescent Pie & Sausage Company next door, a space from which he churns out freshly made sausage with modern savvy and old school passion (Huevos closed in 2011).
Artisan to the core, Bell and business partner Jeff Baron (who approached Bell when he was a sous chef at Cuvée) even got hands on in the look of the restaurant. Together, they salvaged old lumber from a nearby condemned building and gave their restaurant some of the spirit of salvaged New Orleans. Space constructed, Bell is now happily ensconced, preparing delicious sausage and keeping his city smiling in the way only a cook, who became a chef, who discovered his incomparable talent as an artisan, can.
Interview with Chef Bart Bell of Crescent Pie & Sausage Company -- New Orleans, LA
Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Bart Bell: It just happened. I didn't want to become a chef until I was a cook having a great time. It paid school tuition; it was good, and I felt I was good at it. I thought, “Sweet, I'm getting paid, and I can eat for free 24/7.” Then after I changed majors 100 times, the one thing I didn't change was cooking and enjoying my job. My roommates and I would have parties with lots of food. It was natural to cook lots of food.
One thing led to another and in 1999 I think I saw Emeril on television. I was like: “That's in New Orleans. I have friends in New Orleans. I'll go there and get a job.” So I got a job at Delmonico's under [Chef] Neal Swidler, and he's a cool fucking guy. We're still good friends. He made being a chef really cool.
CH: Did you go to culinary school? Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary background?
BB: I didn’t go to culinary school, but I hire cooks that went to culinary school, and they know lots more than me.
CH: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
BB: Definitely location. I heard about that at opening. I believed it. But I thought about Mid-City growing as a neighborhood. You will not be on the river even if Mid-City grows. Everything that happened in New Orleans happens on the river. That little piece of location is huge. I wanted to be in a neighborhood spot, and I am, but I'm not in a neighborhood with people who have pockets full of money.
CH: What trends do you see emerging?
BB: Hamburgers, but in a weird way. It's a bad thing for the hamburger that it's happening so fast. It's one of my favorite things to eat. I remember really craving a burger, and all we had was Coop’s Place. They're great because they're all beef. Now all of a sudden, you can't get a regular hamburger. It has to be either fast food or gourmet.
CH: What’s next for you?
BB: We’re looking at more entrée-like dishes. I definitely want to move [the restaurant]. I don’t think I’ll get what I want without moving.