The last 12 months have been uniquely eventful for John Besh. It's a period in which winning the 2006 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast probably ranks a distant third behind two larger achievements: keeping his family and business intact in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A Louisiana native, he's chef/owner of Restaurant August in New Orleans as well as executive chef of The Besh Steakhouse in Harrah's New Orleans. He lives in Slidell, LA, across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans.
This house looks brand new.
We moved in about a month ago. It was a 2-1/2 year project.
Why so long?
We lost a house to Hurricanes Isadore and Lilly in 2002, and bought land on higher ground to build this one.
So did Katrina flood you out?
No, but five trees we left standing around the house fell on it.
Just when you were ready to move in?
Yes. It added nine months to the construction timeline.
We'll bet your children are happy to be settled in now.
They are. We've got four boys, ranging in age from two to 10.
What do you feed this crew?
We have an inherent culinary tradition here in Louisiana. I'm bringing them up in the fashion reminiscent of how I grew up.
So your kids eat red beans and rice and the other Creole/Cajun staples instead of chicken fingers?
They have no choice. I cook good local, healthy food for them. It's not common these days.
Who prepares these meals?
I take Sunday off and spend it with my family. We cook ahead for the week that day.
And during the week?
It's crazy now. The boys are in school from six a.m. until noon, then another school that lost its building takes over at one p.m.
What are your days like?
I'm at August most of the time. And we cater to people over in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. They really got wiped out.
What's the catering gig involve?
We do breakfast, lunch and dinner for 500 people—oil refinery workers and civil servants. It was 1,300 people at one point. It's a good deed that morphed into a business-saving venture.
I did it for free for a long time, then landed a contract in December. If it hadn't been for that we'd have been out of business.
You keep a lot of locally raised ingredients in your fridge.
We're trying to bring back farmers' markets and local commerce. Small producers depend on chefs to go with better local and fresh product.
Even mom and pop distillers?
Oh, the moonshine. I've had a guest or two who brings it in.
Do you drink it?
It's fun to put a shot in a mason jar and serve it as an aperitif. It's not good for more than a sip.
Hey, after what you and your family have gone through, you deserve a sip. A real big one.