Multiple James Beard Award winner John Besh is an undeniable authority on many subjects: New Orleans cuisine, Southern hospitality, running a smash-hit restaurant empire, and preserving our nation’s foodways, to name a few. Another area of expertise: Besh just might serve the ultimate breakfast. Managing editor Elena North-Kelly caught up with the iconic chef, restaurateur, philanthropist, and our 2016 Chefs & Champagne honoree to get the scoop on his morning routine, best shrimp and grits recipe, and favorite places to fuel up and chow down in the Crescent City.
Elena North-Kelly: What’s a typical breakfast like at your house?
John Besh: Breakfast is the one meal that I have with my boys, because I’m never there for lunch and very seldom home for dinner. At my house, breakfast begins with black coffee for me, and an oven preheated to 400 degrees. Bacon is placed on a sheet tray, McEwen & Son’s organic grits go on the stove, and the house begins to smell of smoky bacon goodness. Once the oven is preheated, the biscuits go in for 12 minutes. After this performance, the lads begin to appear and I start working on the eggs: scrambled for Brendan, over-easy for Jack, sunny-side-up for Drew, and for Luke, an extra biscuit. And depending on the time of year, I’ll usually put out some fruit, like honeydew, watermelon, and Creole tomatoes.
ENK: In the debate over sweet vs. savory breakfast items, where do you fall?
JB: I’m definitely a savory guy, but with that said, Jack and Brendan both like pancakes, beignets, and waffles. So about once a week, I give in to their requests and we go sweet.
ENK: Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for hosting a great breakfast or brunch gathering?
JB: Make-ahead dishes are key, especially in the morning. Both grillades [a meat stew typical of regional French and Cajun cooking] and baked jalapeño cheesy grits are old New Orleans favorites that are great made in advance and can be reheated just before your guests show up. I also love a big bowl of stone fruit and berries tossed with mint and Champagne, or a frittata loaded with vegetables. And, of course, chilled seafood: oysters with mignonette, shrimp rémoulade, and crab ravigote.
ENK: Can you tell us about a few of your favorite breakfast or brunch spots in New Orleans? What do you order there?
JB: For the dress-up brunch it’s Commander’s Palace Uptown, where it’s all about the Brandy Milk Punch. For the dress-down brunch it’s to Elizabeth’s in the Marigny, where their praline bacon makes a big splash!
ENK: Do you have a best breakfast memory?
JB: It’s an Alabama morning and from my sleepy bed, I hear my grandmother Grace in her kitchen, frying up bacon and sausage, stirring grits, and talking to her biscuits, saying, “Rise, Mr. Biscuit, rise!” A lump forms in my throat, thinking of her heartfelt cooking. Through my grandmother, I came to realize the importance, if not the nobility, of cooking for others, especially those you love. So it’s no surprise that one of my most cherished pleasures today is cooking breakfast for my boys.
ENK: Finally, do you have a go-to breakfast recipe you can share with us?
JB: My Duck Camp Shrimp & Grits!
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