Stories / Interviews

How Culinary Dreams Become Reality for This St. Augustine Chef

Janae Butler

August 29, 2023


Photo: Melissa Marcarelli

The James Beard Foundation (JBF) Patrons are a community of supporters that believe in our mission, including both food lovers and the people behind the plate—from chefs to restaurateurs, winemakers, front-of-house, and more. In this series, we’re highlighting members from across our Patron program who are working to improve our food system and who embody our mantra of Good Food for Good™.

Introducing Barry Honan, our August member spotlight. Chef Barry is based in St. Augustine, Florida, and previously lived in New York City where he worked at the 3-Michelin starred Le Bernardin. We spoke with Barry about his newly opened restaurant, Lotus Noodle Bar, and his hopes to use his knowledge of elevated culinary experiences to create a food destination in the nation’s oldest city.  

JBF: What made you interested in joining JBF as a patron?

Barry Honan: I feel that the Foundation and I believe in the same things: supporting American food culture, equity, and sustainability. All those things are very important to me and are the fundamentals that Lotus was built upon. And when you believe in something, you have to support it to the fullest.

JBF: You’ve flown up to New York City from St. Augustine for almost every patron event since joining. Why is it a priority for you to experience these events in person?

BH: It's important because I need to be able to tell my story and the story of St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. It's an amazing town with so much culture and history and I think a lot of people don’t know that. I feel like it’s my due diligence to be an ambassador and create awareness of what's happening here in Florida, and Lotus is one of them.

JBF: Can you describe the culinary evolution in St. Augustine?

BH: St. Augustine is becoming a huge food destination and it is definitely evolving. When I think about New York City, to me, that is like the Mecca. You can walk three blocks and find pretty much anything that you want to have. It's not so much like that in St. Augustine, but it's progressing and becoming more of a tourist and travel destination like Savannah, Georgia. My goal is to always integrate the things that I've learned in New York City and bring them here to expose people to things that they might not normally be exposed to.

JBF: Tell me about Lotus Noodle Bar– the concept and what you hope people experience when coming to your restaurant?

BH: Lotus is an elevated ramen concept that integrates modern Japanese cuisine with French techniques. I’m classically trained in French techniques and the Japanese influence comes from the time I spent in Japan and New York City. When I first moved to NYC, I would eat ramen almost every night and then on my days off from working at Le Bernardin, I would stage at a ramen restaurant to learn. There was something about that particular cuisine that just fascinated me. It’s beautiful and there is an art to building the flavors. That's what Lotus was built on. And there's correlation with my life because, just like the lotus flower, I’ve gone through hard times, but I’ve been able to make something beautiful through this restaurant.

JBF: You’ve mentioned that you dream about food and sleep with a notepad by your bed to write down your ideas. Do you have any dishes that have made it from your subconscious dreams to your conscious mind and, ultimately, onto the plate?  

BH: Absolutely! I had a dream about this dessert in a potted plant that [guests started eating] and realized, “wow, this is a dessert!” In my dream, it started out as a forest floor with little chocolate branches, chocolate soil, and a custard underneath. That eventually evolved into the idea of the potted plant, which I thought went really well with Lotus because, to me, it symbolized new beginnings. I started serving it at popup dinners and explaining the idea behind it and how it came to me in my dream. People loved it! There was a story behind it—it came from my heart and that's what creates such an epic experience when you dine with us.

JBF: How has community and charity work influenced your career?

BH: I believe that you have to give back and that compassion is powerful. I have the power to cook and provide somebody with a warm meal, and I would want someone to do that for me and my daughters if we were in a tough situation, too. So, I’ve spent some time doing cooking classes for middle school students at the Boys and Girls Foundation. Last year, through the help of the community and various fundraisers we raised almost $90,000 in humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine and that was incredible. And when several hurricanes hit South Florida, I was like: “I'm going to go down there and cook because that's what I can do.” I went to South Florida and slept in my car for three days, but I didn't care because I wanted to help. Cooking has given me the ability to give back and I'll always continue to do that.

JBF: You have a quote from James Beard in your kitchen at Lotus! Can you tell us what it is and why you chose it?

BH: Yes, “the secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it.” For me, I want my chefs to come into the kitchen and think, “this is just not a job, this is something I love to do.”  Anybody can work in a kitchen, but if you love it and there's passion behind it, it's different. As a chef, you have to create inspiration in your kitchen and if you can achieve that, you're going to be set.

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Janae Butler is manager of development operations at the James Beard Foundation.