2012 New Orleans Rising Star Restaurateurs Aaron Burgau, Leon Touzet, and Pierre Touzet of Patois and Trūburger

2012 New Orleans Rising Star Restaurateurs Aaron Burgau, Leon Touzet, and Pierre Touzet of Patois and Trūburger
April 2012

Skimming through Chef Aaron Burgau's résumé is like reading a Who's Who of New Orleans. The NOLA native has worked with James Beard Award-winning Chef Susan Spicer (of Bayona and Mondo) and Gerard Maras (of Gerard's Downtown). But when he met up with future partners Leon and Pierre Touzet, the trio began carving out their own spot on the city's Who's Who list.

Not that the restaurateurs were ever strangers to the New Orleans dining scene. In 2006, Burgau took on executive chef duties at Bank Café. That same year, he was named a Louisiana Cookin' "Top 5 Chefs to Watch." A James Beard semifinalist three years running (since 2009), Burgau partnered with longtime friends and entrepreneurs Leon and Pierre Touzet to open Patois, where fresh, locally sourced ingredients get classic French treatment with a healthy savor of patois, or local accent. Burgau also has won Food & Wine's "The People's Choice, Best New Chef," and under his leadership Patois earned four beans from the Times-Picayune.

The Touzets are not only New Orleans natives, but they also have a genetic claim to the restaurant industry: their grandfather, Leon J. Touzet, moved from the Pau Region of France to New Orleans, where he worked in some of the city's most beloved restaurants. Wishing to fulfill their lifelong dream and live up the family legacy, the Touzets partnered with Burgau to open Patois and later Trūburger, where Angus, brisket, rib, and chuck come together to make carnivorous magic for burger-craving New Orleanians.

The restaurateur trio divides responsibilities according to their strengths. Burgau oversees the kitchens of both Patois and Trūburger, while Leon, the wizened and efficient businessman, ensures a smooth back-of-house operation. Pierre, meanwhile, uses his natural charm and social flare to keep guests happy in the front of the house. Which is why it's no surprise that both Patois and Trūburger are well known and beloved local institutions (a number of the restaurant shots on the first season of HBO's "Tremé" were filmed at Patois)—putting the trio at the top of the list of New Orleans' local culinary heroes.


Interview with Aaron Burgau of Patois – New Orleans, LA

Katherine Sacks: What was your first restaurant? How did you get the money?

Aaron Burgau: Patois is my first restaurant. My partner and I have known each other for a long time. He knew I was looking for a restaurant, and he was looking for a restaurant. When we found the place, we didn't have a concept in mind, but I have a classical French background. We came up with the name Patois, based on the language [Leon and Pierre Touzet's] French grandfather spoke. We wanted to have a French feel, but also keep it pretty eclectic. Patois is a dialect, it lends us to do a lot of different things. My nationality if Filipino, Italian, and French, so I pull from a lot of different areas.

KS: Who are your mentors?

AB: Gerard Maras and Susan Spicer. Working with Susan was my first job out of culinary school. She taught me how to have an eye for detail and to think like a cook, instead of just going through the motions. And Gerard helped me form my philosophy of cooking. He taught me a lot of the classical sauces and bases for cooking, techniques you don't learn in culinary school.

KS: Tell me about your growth at Patois?

AB: When you look back five years later, you see how you evolve your techniques and how your philosophy of cooking changes. Seeing the trends change over the past five years, we're thinking more about how to create a more sustainable restaurant.

KS: What's your customer service philosophy?

AB: I just like the customer to be able to come and know that I'm giving the freshest, nicest ingredients. Before the storm there was 800 restaurants. Now there are 1,300 restaurants.

KS: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant group?

AB: Running a small restaurant. I buy the flowers; I mop the floors; I take out trash when I have to; I buy the plates; I run around all day getting ingredients. I'm not above doing anything. I'm very humble in what I do. I think the biggest challenge being a chef is that I have to juggle all the bullshit things when I just want to cook. You're the florist, the party planner, everything. You have to juggle those things, being a manager and a cook, and I have two babies, so I have to be a family man as well. It's constant working, and you have to be passionate about it.

KS: How do you inspire your staff?

AB: You have to constantly keep things fresh, to keep things going. One of the hardest things is trying to be creative everyday, of every hour. You can't just make a menu and keep it on for years and years and years. You have to keep it fresh. If you are running a soup special every week, you're cooks won't respect you. You have to be creative and talk with them about ideas.

Interview with Restaurateur Pierre Touzet of Patois – New Orleans, LA

Katherine Sacks: Tell us about how Patois started.

Pierre Touzet: This is my first restaurant, and my brother[Leon Touzet] and Aaron [Burgau] are more in the trenches. We found the property, and I like to develop architecture and design, so I told my brother, "There's a restaurant here, and we can probably do something with it." He pulled in Aaron and off we went. My brother and I are in the real estate business. It was our family business, so it was something I did already.

KS: Who are your mentors?

PT: I would say one of my main mentors is probably my grandfather, who was 105 years old and just passed away a year ago. Seeing him and how accomplished he was, working with his brothers in the restaurant business … he was really my mentor. I'm trying to walk in his footsteps.

KS: How did Patois grow?

PT: It's been unbelievable. Since day one, when we opened the doors, it hasn't stopped. It's really been very consistent for the past five and a half years.

KS: And how does Patois fit into the culinary scene in New Orleans?

PT: We just settled in nicely. We're a bistro that came up from nothing. We did no marketing, no advertising; we just opened the doors. We weren't trying to be anything. And we still do no marketing. It's all word of mouth.

KS: What's your customer service philosophy?

PT: Really, it's having people feel like they are at home, to be in an environment they feel comfortable in. I try to create that environment by being myself and having everyone who works for us really understand that goal.

KS: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant group?

PT: Our biggest challenge is basically holding on to what we have. We're a small restaurant. We may expand to new locations, but it will never change what Patois is, and that's part of the reason it is so nice. Re-creating this restaurant is not possible.

KS: How do you inspire your staff?

PT: I will say, thank God that I have a great staff that really understands and love working with us. I inspire them by just being myself.

KS: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

PT: Just being part of this restaurant for me is an accomplishment for me. I can compliment our chef and my brother as well, there's no possible way I could do it without them. They are the heart and soul of the restaurant.