Louisiana chef (and owner of renowned restaurants like New Orleans' August, Lüke, and Domenica) John Besh is bringing his award-winning cookbook, My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, to life in a new 26-part series on public television station WYES. Premiering April 6 at 9:30 a.m., the series, Chef John Besh's Family Table, features John cooking Southern favorites such as recipes such as Grandmother’s Fried Chicken and Potato Salad and sharing life lessons like the importance of bonding with family and friends over food.
For this series filmed entirely in John’s family home just outside of New Orleans, the acclaimed chef adopts a throwback approach and takes food television back to its roots. We sat down with John to chat about his food, his family, and his latest project. Here's what he had to say:
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Q: You filmed the entire series in your home kitchen. What’s the one professional tool or gadget you would recommend home cooks invest in?
A: We make too much out of tools and gadgets. Some of my best meals have been with minimal circumstances, no bells and whistles. However, I do think that every Southerner needs to have some cast-iron pots and wooden spoons. Those showed up more than anything else on my show.
Q: What are some common mistakes people make in the kitchen?
A: Time management. We think of cooking too often when we are ready to eat. If you plan a little better and get some prep work done in advance, it allows you to enjoy time with your guests.
Q: If you had to buy a lifetime supply of one ingredient what would it be?
A: I am just such a nut for Gulf seafood—shrimp, oysters, and all the great fish of the Gulf.
Q: What’s your first food memory from growing up in your family?
A: Mom’s trout almondine. My dad was a fisherman and I later became one. Growing up, I remember coming back from a fishing trip [with my dad] when we’d caught speckled trout. Those were transformed into fillets and then sautéed with brown butter, toasted almonds, parsley, and lemon juice.
Q: What do you feel is the most important thing shared at your family table?
A: Each other. Time is our most valuable resource, so to take the time to share with one another at that table is really something. The time that we gather [together] is priceless, and we'll remember those moments for the rest of our lives.
Q: Cooking shows have long been a television staple, and you have starred in some yourself. What do you think makes the combination of TV and cooking work so well? How does television change or enhance the stories you can tell through food?
A: I think that we have become so visual that TV has really become the perfect medium for sharing thoughts and ideas on food. We have so little time, and it’s just the easiest way to share ideas. I grew up watching television with Justin Wilson, Paul Prudhomme, Julia Child, and Jacques Pépin, but now so much of that has become so passé, and the food has turned into a spectacle. So it’s interesting that I finally have the opportunity to create the same kind of food television I once loved as a kid. At the end of the day we have one life to live and I don’t want to be defined as this guy who can stand on one foot making risotto out of whatever he can find in a vending machine. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s good, it’s entertainment, but it's not why I cook. I wanted to do something worthy and this gives me the opportunity to do just that.
Q: You’ve said before that you want your four sons to understand the origin of local foods and have knowledge of food at its source. Is there a particular dish that best demonstrates this?
A: The dishes that I grew up with, like jambalaya, they mean something. It's not just a recipe, it’s significant because of all of the cultures that came together to create the culture that we have. I want [my sons] to know that we have red beans and rice on Mondays. That’s what we do; this is who we are. I want them to identify themselves through food the same way you would identify yourself through religion or anything else. Food sets us apart and I’m really proud of that.
Q: What recipes are you most excited about sharing in this series?
A: It could be as simple as fried chicken. When I was a kid, chickens didn’t have fingers. We ate chicken off the bone. What I want to do is give people the inside scoop on how to be successful in their own home kitchen. Julia Child might have dropped a chicken--or an entire salmon-- on the floor in a couple of episodes. She would just pick it up wash it off. [My show is about] that kind of cooking. I cook to make it accessible to people. We need to remove the mystique from cooking. There is no gadget, gizmo, or recipe--it’s really about the act getting in there and cooking and giving.
Q: How does what you share about home cooking differ from what goes into play at your nine successful restaurants across the South?
A: It’s totally different! I actually had to learn how to cook at home. It was my wife who really challenged me. On Sundays, I would cook these elaborate meals that I really did for myself. I wanted everybody to say “Oh John, what a great chef you are and blah blah blah blah." I realized a couple of years ago is that I’m cooking and doing well in the restaurant business, and I’m known as this great chef, but I’ve failed to cook for my own family. I’ve failed to make that a priority in my life. Recognizing [that fact] was really the genesis of the book and the show.
Q: Any “don’t try this at home” recipes—dishes from your restaurants you’ve learned just don’t work in a home kitchen?
A: Oh, a bunch of stuff. As a matter of fact, most restaurant food I leave at the restaurants and don’t try to cook it at home. For years, my reputation had been as a fancy chef. Now I want to cook, not just to win awards, I want to cook food that means something for the people that mean something to me.
Chef John Besh's Family Table premiers on WYES Saturday, April 6 at 9:30 a.m. and is airing nationwide this spring on Public Television Stations (check local listings). To learn more about John, his books, his restaurants, and the John Besh Foundation visit chefjohnbesh.com.