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.