2012 New Orleans Rising Star Chef Brian Landry took the first step on his long career path by choosing not to take a step (further) down another. Landry received dual degrees in biology and philosophy from the University of Alabama. But when he returned to New Orleans, his heart pointed him squarely in the direction of culinary school.
Landry attended Johnson and Wales and pursued a kitchen career, working concurrently at the renowned Charleston Grill. That experience eventually landed Landry at New Orleans institution, Galatoire's. After serving as executive chef for five years, Landry took some time away from the restaurant to join the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board as part of an effort to restore confidence in Gulf seafood after the BP oil spill (who better than a chef with a bio degree to help get us back into the water?). He also helped local legend Chef John Besh open the seafood-obsessed restaurant Borgne, which Landry says he hopes is the answer to the almost-rhetorical question: "Where in New Orleans can I get the best seafood?"
These days, when he's not in the kitchen or advocating for Louisiana's fishing culture, Landry holds culinary demonstrations at local farmers markets and talks with high school students about culinary careers. Landry also recently was voted to the board of directors for Café Reconcile, and will be the chef mentor for a local Chefs Move Scholarship recipient. Clearly a dedicated advocate, Landry even finds time to speak at his alma mater Jesuit High School to encourage budding culinary students to take on the same responsibilities—and hopefully receive the same accolades—as he has.
Interview with Chef Brian Landry of Borgne – Louisiana, LA
Francoise Villeneuve: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Brian Landry: I started as a busboy at an Italian restaurant at 14 years old. Basically, I worked in restaurants through high school and in college for spending money. I was pursuing a biology degree, took the MCATs, went on medical school interviews, then left and told everyone that I was going to culinary school. I switched to the back of the house at 17 or 18. Until 31, I always had bartending and waiting jobs on top of my cooking jobs to pay bills. I've been in the back of the house exclusively for 4 or 5 years. Now I know both sides.
FV: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
BL: The biggest way is through Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board, and events with other chefs in New Orleans promoting product. We do tons with Café Hope and Café Reconcile, going and cooking with students, guest cheffing there, all in the hope of providing them with jobs. We did a huge event at Café Hope. It was a kickoff party for Borgne.
FV: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
BL: I guess the biggest thing is just to keep your head down and know that there's a lot of work still in front of you. To absorb as much as possible.
FV: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary background?
BL: I think for me, at least, I worked in the industry before I went to school, so I was learning lots of different techniques. I never really understood the whys behind it. I think culinary school helped package it—that helped me understand why I was doing what I was doing. I think in the ever-changing culinary world that it's definitely an advantage to have a formal education.
FV: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
BL: I think it should be fun. I think one of the approaches I take to cooking here is that I want people to be comfortable, just like when someone comes to my house I want to greet them with food and drink, make sure they're comfortable and having a good time.
FV: What goes into creating a dish?
BL: Part of it is why are you creating it? Are you trying to utilize a seafood that's very seasonally driven like soft shell crab? I think why you're creating the dish definitely plays a roll. You find a gap on your menu that you need to fill with a certain available protein. From there, what products are you trying to source? Are they in the peak of season becomes the second most driving factor.
FV: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
BL: Right now we're only 2 months old so it's to establish the systems that allow our team to become fluid and comfortable in what they're doing. Obviously everybody plays a role. We have a large team here because we have a large restaurant, so refining systems such that there is no wasted time is probably the biggest challenge. People always need to know what the next project is so they are utilized properly. Unfortunately, there is down time now because of the lack of organization.
FV: If you had one thing you could do over again, what would it be?
BL: I would probably stage in Europe. I cooked a lot in restaurants when I was younger and never had the chance to actually go cook in Europe. That's something I would still enjoy doing today. Doing one of those unpaid externships is not really in the cards for me right now.
FV: What are some of your favorite food-industry charities? Why?
BL: Café Reconcile locally is a big one. Restaurants theses days get hit up every day with multiple different outfits, so it's important to find the one that's nearest and dearest to you. Supporting the schools my kids go to is one of those. I'm also a mentor for Chefs Hope, which provides a scholarship to minorities who want to pursue culinary careers.
FV: What's your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
BL: I think there's a lot yet to be accomplished. The biggest thing for me is when a cook comes into a kitchen and they leave more prepared and with better skills than when they came. I know for me that the chefs I worked for did everything they could to help me prosper in this career, and I definitely try to do the same for the cooks that work with me.
FV: Where do you see yourself in five years?
BL: Hopefully I'm still here at Borne and having a good time. We are very new and restaurants obviously take a long time to hit a good stride, so five years is a pretty small window.