Louisiana’s Coastal Cuisine
a conversation with Executive Chef Brian Landry of Restaurant Borgne
by Marla Norman, Publisher
“Sometimes, you have to find out where you’ve been to get someplace new,” Brian Landry, Executive Chef of Borgne muses thoughtfully. “John (Besh) and I were fishing buddies for many years – and many of our trips were to Lake Borgne. We always knew we’d open a seafood restaurant together. We wanted a restaurant that would preserve the heritage of the old lake restaurants around Borgne, many of which were lost with Katrina. They made fresh, rustic, hunter’s food.
After much deliberation, Besh and Landry decided to not only reproduce the Lake Borgne dishes, but to also explore the Spanish side of New Orleans’ Creole heritage. “I had been at Galatoire’s focusing on French cuisine, as do most of the restaurants here,” Landry continues. “I was ready for a change and we felt the Spanish cuisine would set us apart. The fact that most of the Spanish settlers in New Orleans were actually from the Canary Islands, made it all even more interesting.”
So interesting, in fact, that Landry spent over a month in the Canary Islands, studying the cuisine and cooking with locals. “I even went back up into the mountains to learn how to make a particular kind of bread,” he laughs.
Island-inspired dishes on the Borgne menu include: Oyster Spaghetti, Seared Tuna with Chorizo Marmalade, Yellow Beet Ceviche & Crab Fingers; Grilled Octopus, Berber Hummus and Garlic Caper Confit; Slow Smoked Pork Empanadas; Adobo Marinated Hanger Steak and Potato Croquetas.
The plates in general are much lighter than traditional French food. Butter is replaced with oil and, of course, the Canary Island diet revolves around seafood.
In his research of Canary Island cuisine, Landry also discovered a disturbing history: “In 1678, the Spanish Crown passed a law referred to as El Tributo de Sangre or a Blood Tax. This measure mandated that 50 Canarian families were to migrate to Spain’s least populated colonies in America for each 1000 tons of Canarian exports. In essence it was a tax credit, which accrued to the benefit of the wealthy Spanish landowners, exempting them from Spanish import taxes, as long as they provided bodies to populate the colonies.” (from Roots Web Ancestry) Horrible as it sounds, this was not a conscription, evidently. The Isleños volunteered to go as a way to escape poverty and to become landowners.
Another fascinating bit of history is that one of the primary items exported was wine. So prized were Canary Island wines that Shakespeare was paid in-part with them. Christopher Columbus’ first stop on his way to the new world was the Canary Islands to pick up supplies of wine and even the American signers of the Declaration of Independence celebrated their new liberty with a glass of Canary Island wine.
Landry proudly displays a favorite Spanish wine, a Rosé – Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina – so ruby pink it’s almost a shade of magenta. The nose is candy sweet, but the wine is relatively dry with a smooth velvety finish – unusual for a rosé. “This wine was such a great find and pairs beautifully with our fish dishes and shellfish,” Landry explains.
What’s next for Chef Brian Landry? “I’m leaving in a few weeks for mainland Spain,” he says, barely drawing a breath. “But I’ll stick to the coastline: Valencia, Barcelona, San Sebastian and Bilbao.”
Stay tuned for more inspired seafood at Borgne!
Hyatt Regency Hotel
601 Loyola Avenue
Central Business District
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If your seafood cravings include oysters, some of the best in New Orleans can be found at Lüke. There, the Fruits de Mer plates include an assortment of shellfish, but the deliciously flavorful, pure-tasting oysters are standouts. The P&J Oysters – stuffed with gulf shrimp and blue crab – are also incredibly rich and succulent.
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Chef Ian Schnoebelen was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine for his restaurant Iris now located on the ground floor of the Bienville House Hotel. His latest venture, Mariza, in a industrial-chic spot in the Bywater, was inspired by his trips to Italy. Menu favorites include Red Snapper Crudo, Burrata Crostini & Tomatoes, Anchovy & Crusty Pig Ear Salad, Duck Ragout Papardelle, Quail & Pancetta.
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Versions of the muffuletta sandwich abound in New Orleans, but the genuine, original is only at the Central Grocery – made with piles of ham, salami, mozzarella, and the Grocery’s special blend of olive salad mix. The entire creation is 10-inches in diameter and could easily feed 2-4 people. But, it’s so incredibly good, you might not want to share.
The Central Grocery dates back to 1906 when Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant, first opened his deli and invented his famous sandwich. Today the store is operated by Salvatore T. Tusa, Salvatore’s grandson, and two cousins. The shelves are loaded with imported Italian condiments and numerous local products from chicory coffee to Cajun spices and hot sauce. And, of course, the Grocery’s olive salad mix is also available so you can make your own muffulettas at home.
A word of caution: GO EARLY. There’s only one line into the store, whether you’re ordering a sandwich or simply wanting to buy hot sauce. The line moves fairly quickly, but it stretches the length of the block, or more, during lunch hours. The Central Grocery is open 9:00-5:00, Tuesday through Saturday.
If you get home and realize that you left your jar of olive salad mix at the hotel, don’t worry. Goldbelly online market carries Central Grocery products, along with favorite dishes from many other legendary restaurants and they ship anywhere in the U.S.