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Cooking from the Heart: An Interview with Chef John Besh

Chef John Besh: Cooking From the Heart

Chef John Besh: Cooking From the Heart

Earlier this year, I planned a short trip to New Orleans. The purpose of the trip? Eating. And boy did I eat well. We visited some truly memorable restaurants and John Besh’s restaurants, some of the best in NOLA, had to be on the list. Well at least one. We ended up at Domenica. It is pizza and pasta, but oh so wonderful. The lamb ravioli was exquisite. And the several pizzas we sampled were magnificent too.

So, I was beyond ecstatic when I was offered the chance to interview Chef Besh, while he was in Atlanta promoting his new book, Cooking From the Heart. Y’all, I talked to Chef Besh for like twenty minutes. He is such a sweet person and so humble. I recorded the entire interview or so I thought. My recording malfunctioned and the entire thing was lost! I’m pretty devastated but here’s an excerpt from it.

Did you have any influencers growing up that got you into cooking?
JB: My grandparents and my mother influenced me growing up. Cooking was always important and big affair in our family.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?
JB: Large spoons that stir the pot are my go to tool. I love making jambalaya, etouffe, creole, stews- really and large, one pot meals. I usually set the spoons right back on the stove after I’m done cooking because I know I’ll be using them again and again.

Curiosity and the Cook is one of the chapters in your new book, Cooking from the Heart. Tell us a little more about that.
JB: That chronicles the time I spent in Europe in my twenties with my wife, Jenifer. Those were terrific days. We visited so many little out of the way spots and had some of the most delicious foods. I learned so much about cooking from these places and tried such a variety of things, things that I wouldn’t normally have tasted. It really broadened my palate and really helped shape the way I cook today.

You run restaurants. Your wife works but you have four children. How do you find time to balance work / family life? Are part of those lessons what you learned in Europe?
JB: Yes, Jenifer quit work to be dedicated to the family which is very admirable. I think it is all about the priorities you make. If something is important to you, you will find the time to dedicate to it. So even as busy as our lives are especially now with my boys’ sports obligations, we still make it a priority to sit down together with the family quite often. That is what my book is about – bringing people and families together.

Do any of your sons prod you to open a restaurant with their name?
JB: Ah! What was I thinking when I did that? Luke is after named after my grandfather but many think it is after my son. Had I known all the flack I’d get from this, I might have named it something else.

In recent years there has been some controversy about food bloggers. Do have thoughts on them. Relevancy in the market and how you see them shaping the food world.
Bloggers are part of the media now and continue to influence and shape the restaurant industry. I have been very fortunate that so many bloggers and critics have given my restaurants positive reviews. But I do think people are so quick to critique something instead of enjoying it for what it is and the experience.
A meal is a time to sit down and have a meal with those who are special to you, and sometimes that is overshadowed by critiquing and taking pictures. I think that young kids like 17 and below haven’t event developed their palate yet and they are already critiquing places. Even my son, Brandon, writes a column in his paper and he is so young.

What is your guilty pleasure food?
JB: I’m a chef, pretty much everything I make is a guilty pleasure, isn’t it? Okay, I guess if I were to pick something I like french fries dipped in mayonnaise.

Where are you eating in Atlanta while you are here for your book signing?
JB: I sent a tweet out when I landed and I’ve gotten so many responses but don’t have nearly enough time to visit the restaurants. I will try to visit Linton Hopkins restaurants as we are friends and I always try to go to his spots when I’m in Atlanta. I’ve heard great things about Wisteria and really do want to visit there and Alma Cocina downtown. Malika, let’s make a plan to go on a food tour next time I’m in Atlanta.
Me: (swoon) It’s a deal!

Here’s the Pumpkin Tian recipe from his cookbook, Cooking from the Heart:
Pumpkin Tian
Serves 6-8

I’m so pleased by the presentation of this tian, where the shell of the squash becomes the baking and serving vessel that you bring to the table. If you don’t want to bother with the shell, you can bake the scooped out pumpkin and custard in a shallow casserole.

1 4–5-pound sweet pumpkin or Kabocha squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 sprig fresh thyme
Dash of cayenne pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
1 cup cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the top off the pumpkin, about 3 inches below the stem, and reserve to serve with the squash. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds. (You can roast the pumpkin seeds for a nice snack: toss the cleaned seeds in olive oil and a pinch of salt, spread on a baking pan, and roast in a 350 degree oven for 15–20 minutes, until golden brown.) Use a spoon to scrape out as much of the pumpkin as you can, leaving the shell intact. Chop the flesh.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the garlic and pumpkin flesh and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, cayenne, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the saut.ed pumpkin back into the shell.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, and Parmesan and pour into the pumpkin shell. Place on a baking pan and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve right from the pumpkin while it’s still hot.

—From Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way by John Besh/Andrews McMeel Publishing

About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!