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NEWSWEEK: Viva the New Big Easy

Three years ago, barely a month after Katrina destroyed his house and scattered his employees, chef Donald Link reopened Herbsaint with a menu of iceberg salads (the only lettuce available) and andouille-enhanced meat loaf, comfort food he hoped would appeal to the 10,000 or so shellshocked residents who'd returned, as well as to the contractors who'd all but taken over the town. John Besh opened Restaurant August a few days later serving dinner only, which left his days free to feed an enormous oilfield cleanup crew, a contract he'd secured in order to keep his business afloat—days before the storm, he'd closed on the building that housed his restaurant. "People like myself and Donald knew our only salvation was to be defined by our hustle," Besh says. They clocked 20-hour days, paid even their absentee workers in full and, as though ignited by adversity, created the most inspired menus of their careers. The first spring after the storm, Besh won the James Beard award for best chef in the Southeast, Link won the following year, and both have since bought or opened additional spots (La Provence and Luke for Besh; Cochon and the upcoming Butcher and Swine bar for Link).


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