2016 New Orleans Rising Star Concept Chef Miles Landrem of Johnny Sánchez

2016 New Orleans Rising Star Concept Chef Miles Landrem of Johnny Sánchez
February 2016

Johnny Sánchez
930 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

Recipe

Photos

Miles Landrem was born and raised in New Orleans, where culinary culture is vibrant and diverse, but where authentic Mexican food lacks a serious presence. Not that that stopped Landrem from taking a job at a fast food Mexican joint. The restaurant was Taco Tico, where 15-year-old Landrem worked for two summers. By the time he was headed for Ole Miss, Landrem hadn’t found Mexican inspiration, but he was comfortable with cooking as a side gig. Working at a restaurant during college, Landrem went from dishwasher to kitchen manager.

In 2008, Landrem decided to take his culinary experience north and got a degree from the International Culinary Center in New York to bolster his résumé. Moving back home, Landrem found a place in the empire of one of New Orleans’ great mentors: John Besh. At August, he worked is way up the ranks to executive sous chef, assisted Besh with his Cooking from the Heart cookbook, and appeared with him on his TV show, “John Besh’s Family Table.” Landrem accompanied Besh and Aarón Sánchez to Besh’s hunting camp in Alabama, where he was formally reintroduced to Mexican food—and the inspiration for a restaurant was born. Landrem spent a summer in Mexico, working at Pujol and eating his way around the country, before launching Johnny Sánchez in Baltimore and then New Orleans. Having come full circle, Landrem is at the fore of New Orleans-Mexican cuisine.



Interview with New Orleans Rising Star Concept Chef Miles Landrem

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Miles Landrem:
My first job was at a fast food Mexican restaurant. I was 15, and my parents said, "You’re getting a job this summer. It was Taco Tico; I worked there two summers. I went to Ole Miss, got a job at a restaurant on the square, and worked my way up from dishwasher to kitchen manager in three years. I’m still good friends with the owners. Back in New Orleans, my brothers and I bought a Katrina House, the real estate market crashed, and I found myself cooking. I went to New York and graduated from FCI in 2008. Mike [Gulotta] hired me at August, and I got called to help Chef Besh do his TV show “John Besh’s Family Table” in 2012. We hit it off, and I traveled with him everywhere. 

CH: How did Johnny Sánchez get its start?
ML:
All the same chefs run the TV circuit. Chef Besh has a hunting camp in Alabama, so I picked up Aaron Sánchez in Alabama and drove him to the camp. He flew in with Mexican ingredients and we rolled enchiladas. We thought, "We can open a Mexican restaurant and call it Johnny Sánchez." I went to Mexico all last summer, started in Guadalajara. Aaron has a friend whose sous chefs showed me around. I went to Mexico City, worked at Pujol, ate my way around, and went to Oaxaca. October 5th will be a year since the trip. We opened a restaurant in Baltimore first. Octavio Mantilla has big history of working in casinos, and [Caesars] had heard about this concept and said that’s right up their alley. I had all these ideas; some were brilliant, some weren’t. We got a lot of the systems in place before we opened this one [in New Orleans]. This one seats 126; Baltimore is 226. 

CH: How would you describe your cooking style?
ML:
I take everything I’ve learned from New Orleans-style French food and apply Mexican flavors. I’m from New Orleans. Lots of people come for tacos and chips and salsa. We definitely have a perceived value here. It was fun to take French-style cooking and throw it out the window. We char all the vegetables instead of sweating them down for braises.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community? 
ML:
Through Chefs Move!, which sends youths to New York. I help out a lot with them, and we attached ourselves to a recipient or two. I trained two at August and have a few here. When Sánchez was in town, we had 10 at risk New Orleans youth, fed them, brought them through the kitchen, and showed them how to get into this industry. 

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
ML:
We’re looking to grow this individual concept. Staffing is going through a time with so many restaurants and only so many people. It’s important to reach out to inspire young kids to choose this career path.