Ten years ago it was Katrina. Five years later came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Both disasters profoundly impacted Louisiana’s restaurant businesses. But today the state and New Orleans have bounced back.
The recovery parallels the growth of production. “Anything good for the economy is good for the culinary scene,” says chef and restaurateur John Besh, also the star of PBS’s “Chef John Besh’s New Orleans.”
“The film industry has added a dimension to New Orleans that wasn’t there before,” he notes. While production catering companies are an obvious beneficiary, Besh sees a trickle-down effect to both legacy establishments and newcomers. His American Cafe at the National World War II Museum has received support form Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Tom Brokaw.
Besh adds that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been known to drop in at local po’boy sandwich shops.
Second Line Stages’ Trey Burvant sees production’s ripple effect in the uptick of restaurant openings and rash of new food trucks. “There’s a huge amount of spending from craft services to production offices that order take-out for 20-25 people per day,” he says.
Due to its cadre of celebrated celebrity chefs (with Emeril Lagasse at the forefront), New Orleans eateries are boosted by reality TV appearances. “Top Chef” has integrated numerous local restaurants and their chefs into the competition as locations, participants and culinary challenge judges.
In some ways, business is even healthier than 10 years ago and culinary options more diverse. “Previously all new restaurants were run through the lens of Creole cuisine,” says Neal Bodenheimer, founder of CureCo, a collective of bars and restaurants, including Bellocq, Cane & Table and Cure. The latter is a recent “American Horror Story” location.
“People used to come for jambalaya, gumbo and Mardi Gras; that focus has definitely changed,” echoes chef Jason Klutts of Cane & Table. “A lot more premium ingredients are in demand, which is good for farmers markets.”
While producers and execs frequent top restaurants after-hours, on-set menus need to be less rich and cater to special dietary requests from vegans, vegetarians and above-the-line talent. Cayman Sinclair of Lakehouse Film Catering and Events (the firm has serviced such projects as “Trumbo” and “Dallas Buyers’ Club”) evolved his catering menu based on demand.
The state’s culinary talent is not confined to New Orleans: up-and-comers include chef Ryan Andre (City Pork in Baton Rouge), famed for his house-made charcuterie and smoked meats, and chef Cory Bahr who has made Cotton Restaurant in downtown Monroe a dining destination.
“While there’s diversity in the food scene, we won’t lose our sense of place,” Bodenheimer says.