Growing up in southern Louisiana, John Besh was always around hunting, fishing, family and cooking. At age 9, Besh began helping in the kitchen and cooking for his siblings. After putting his own unique spin on the recipes he was cooking from, he was encouraged to continue to cook.
Besh joined the Marines and served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. Once he returned from Iraq and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, he spent time learning his craft in Germany and France. In 2001, Besh opened his first restaurant, August, in the Central Business District in New Orleans.
Though he was already on the ‘Top Chef’ list throughout his early career, it wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans that Besh changed the way he not only conducted himself, but also his restaurants. He told CBS News in a recent interview, “I did fall into the trap of being that selfish chef just focused on building this great place. And it was Katrina that really brought me back to my roots.” In the aftermath of the storm, Besh could be found cooking red beans and rice to feed anyone who was around. He played an active role in helping New Orleans during the recovery.
He realized just how important it was to maintain and preserve New Orleans’ rich culinary heritage. Besh has been one of the biggest ambassadors in promoting and celebrating the region’s food culture. He took his goal of sustaining the food culture a step further than just shopping for local products for each of his 10 New Orleans restaurants. He also started the John Besh Foundation to support the people of New Orleans. The foundation is a non-profit organization that provides scholarships and grants to people that are looking for a career in the food industry. A part of the program helps minority residents of New Orleans attend cooking schools. After they complete a 9-month training program at the International Culinary Center in New York, they are offered a paid internship at a Besh restaurant.
Chef John Besh went from cooking breakfast for his siblings as a child to being one of the most decorated chefs in the South. He is a James Beard Award winner, an Iron Chef champion, one of Food & Wine’s ’10 Best Chefs’, and Food Art awarded him the Silver Spoon Award for revitalizing the culinary legacy of New Orleans.
The restaurant empire has grown to 12 restaurants. There are 10 in New Orleans, one in San Antonio, Texas, and one in Baltimore, Maryland. August is a Gayot ‘Top 40 Restaurant’ and a Wine Enthusiast’s ‘Top 100 Restaurant’. It has also been a James Beard Nominee for ‘Outstanding National Restaurant’.
Besh can be seen on PBS as host of two shows: Chef John Besh’s Family Table and Chef John Besh’s My New Orleans.
He is also the best-selling author to 4 cookbooks:
- My New Orleans: The Cookbook: 200 of My Favorite Recipes and Stories from My Hometown
- My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking
- Cooking From The Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way
- Besh Big Easy: 101 Home-Cooked New Orleans Recipes
Chef John Besh is going down in history as one of the greatest chefs, not only in just New Orleans, in the United States. He is not only known for his excellent cooking and work on preserving the heritage and culture of New Orleans, but also for his kind and welcoming attitude. I asked Chef John Besh, “How Do You Red Bean?”
1. Where’s your favorite place to order red beans and rice?
My favorite place for red beans and rice is at my table with my little boys who look forward to it every Monday evening. It can’t be too thick or too watery,. The beans have to be tender and perfumed by smoked hammock and spiced with a touch of Tabasco.
2. Do you put any unique ingredients in your pot of red beans? Do you prefer dried or canned beans?
I definitely prefer dried red beans! To cook them, take the dried red beans and cover with at least 2 1/2 inches of water. Add onions, a stalk of celery, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic and one ham hock.
3. What do you eat with red beans and rice?
I usually serve my red beans with cornbread and cutlets of meat.
4. Do you only eat red beans and rice on traditional Mondays or any day of the week?
Yes, only on Mondays.
5. What are you currently working on?
Besh Big Easy is being released, and I am so excited about it because it’s the cookbook that best exemplifies the food I grew up eating. As I find myself cooking more like my grandmother than ever before, I realize that these 101 home cooked recipes is what have inspired a lifetime of work.
Chef John Besh’s newest cookbook, BESH BIG EASY: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes, is available from Andrews McMeel Publishing. The recipes included in the book are simple, easy-to-follow and feature ingredients that will have you cooking the authentic flavors of southern Louisiana, right in your own kitchen.
With this cookbook, Chef John Besh pays homage to New Orleans. He takes away the complicated steps and hard-to-find ingredients that some associate with Creole/Cajun cooking, as a way to inspire the readers to just get in the kitchen and cook. For you to have that great New Orleans meal, Besh offers practical advice, helpful tips, and his secrets for mastering the recipes.
The 101 recipes are broken up into 11 chapters that include sections on Easy Apps, Soups & Bisques, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Veggies, Big Fish, Butcher Shop and Rice, Beans & Corn. In the Rice Beans & Corn chapter, you’ll find Chef John Besh’s Red Beans & Rice recipe.
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Keep the red beans cookin’!