Best of the Year: Restaurants, Chefs and More
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MÂITRE D’ of the YEAR
Patrick Van Hoorebeek
Larousse Gastronomique says the following about the maître d’hôtel: “A maître d’hôtel worthy of the name must be a chef in every sense of the word. He must have qualities of leadership, which will enable him to command the corps under his direct authority, and to command with courtesy. He must be a first class administrator and – no less important – a tactful diplomatist.” As fine dining has become more common over the last few decades, it has inevitably become more casual as well. The wider interest in good food has reaped benefits for restaurants and diners both, but the more casual attitude has left at least one casualty: the maître d’. Gone are the days when a single man was expected to play the role of host, sommelier, business manager and frequently, tableside chef.
While the duties of the maître d’ have been reduced in modern times, restaurants of a certain standard will always need someone to be the “ambassador” for the restaurant, and that’s a role Patrick Van Hoorebeek has played for almost two decades in New Orleans.
Van Hoorebeek was born in Belgium, and first came to the U.S. to reconnect with his father in 1985. After a series of restaurant jobs, he ended up at the Bistro at Maison deVille in August of ’87. By the time Katrina closed the Bistro, he had been the face and the soul of that restaurant for many years. When it finally re-opened, the Bistro decided to change direction and he moved on; first to Chef Tom Wolfe’s Peristyle, then to the Rib Room in the Royal Orleans hotel.
He has landed now in one of the finest restaurants in the city – Restaurant August – and is working with a chef whom he first met while both were working across Tchoupitoulas Street at the Windsor Court Hotel: John Besh. Restaurant August is an excellent fit for Van Hoorebeek, because it gives him a venue as expansive and sophisticated as his personality. It feels like a true home for him, and shortly after he arrived, he seemed to be in complete command of the menu and wine list.
In 2000, Patrick co-founded the Krewe of Cork, of which he has been named King for Life. The krewe has proven immensely popular, and has grown every year. It is yet another outlet for Van Hoorebeek’s love of wine and celebrations.
Van Hoorebeek’s true brilliance is that when you dine in a restaurant at which he works, you feel as though you are his guest, rather than a customer. That is because Van Hoorebeek gives people the sense that he has an ownership interest in the restaurant. That isn’t to say that he puts on airs; rather, he exudes an almost contagious sense of comfort and ease. Never obsequious, he clearly enjoys making others feel at home. For all of these reasons, we are pleased to name Patrick Van Hoorebeek Maître d’ of the Year for 2009.
BARTENDER of the YEAR
RITZ-CARLTON LOBBY BAR
“And that’s when my life really began …”
Do you know that moment in your life? Daniel Victory does.
To make some extra money while attending St. Charles High School in Laplace, Victory began working for a good friend’s parents, who owned a reception hall in eastern New Orleans. He found the prep work and even the clean-up around the bar area quite interesting.
This experience sparked his career, which took him to a job at the Fairmont Hotel (now The Roosevelt New Orleans), where he found himself in the thick of New Orleans events, including the 2000 presidential campaign festivities; dinners for George W. Bush and Al Gore (separately, of course); Carnival; conventions; and grand celebrations.
The romantic history of the Sazerac Bar and the education from New Orleans legend Mr. Tony guided Victory.
He joined the Marriott organization, and has been home at the Lobby Bar in the Ritz-Carlton for almost nine years.
Victory’s approach to creating and serving cocktails can be described as “holistic.” He thinks through the entire transaction, considering not only the incredible array of available ingredients, but also to whom he’s serving the drink.
“I like to make the connection. I enjoy when someone says ‘So, what do you think I would enjoy?’ because that means they are open and desiring some new experience.”
There is also a secondary yearning in his work. “New Orleans hasn’t received the respect she deserves. People in our industry talk about a lot of places where good work is being done, and we don’t seem to get our share of the glory.”
For that reason, Victory likes to create drinks and enter competitions. He isn’t only challenged by the effort, but he’s also pretty good at it. His recent international accolades for his creations came from two distinguished spirit brands, the Bombay Sapphire GQ magazine “Most Inspired Bartender” award for his creation, the Courtyard Cooler; and Esquire magazine’s “Benedictine Alchemist Search.”
Victory feels that his hometown isn’t doing enough molecular mixology, which is a blending of unconventional ingredients not usually found together or even considered “building blocks” in beverages.
“This is a very conservative town, and whenever I pull out the tarragon or the fennel, some people get concerned. But those kinds of fresh additives are where the profession is going. New Orleans will get there. I’m committed to putting us on the map.”
Daniel Victory is helping the cocktail evolve in our beautiful and exciting city, and it’s a great pleasure for those of us on the other side of the bar.
UNDER the RADAR
Chef Anton Schulte
Driving along Magazine Street, a person could easily miss Bistro Daisy. Despite its cheerful yellow paint, this attractive cottage wedged alongside National Art and Hobby is easy to overlook. And much like this seeming contradiction, Bistro Daisy is an open secret. Despite its being awarded for this category, “Under the Radar” might be a misnomer, as the last few times I’ve been, the restaurant has been full – and happily so. Word-of-mouth is the engine that drives its reputation, and those in the know really love it. “We don’t have a lot of presence other than what the restaurant itself brings,” says Chef Anton Schulte. “But we do get a lot of repeat business.”
Owned and operated by Anton and Diane Schulte and named for their little daughter Daisy, this husband-and-wife team opened Bistro Daisy in August of 2007. Anton handles the kitchen and the gracious Diane handles the front of the house. His cuisine and her charm are the reasons guests keep coming back. Anton, who spent five years as Chef de Cuisine with Anne Kearney at Peristyle, describes his style as Louisiana-American Bistro: “I try and stay loyal to ingredients from the area, particularly seafood.” French and Italian figure strongly on his menu, along with regional influences like Shrimp and Grits. “After [Hurricane] Katrina a lot of people went to South Carolina and became familiar with this low country dish,” says Anton. “Because of that we keep a version of it on the menu. However, we do ours with roasted mirliton and it’s more assertively seasoned than people in the Carolinas would be used to.”
An appetizer of cool Lump Crabmeat in Horseradish Aioli, served with visually strikingly medallions of chilled beet, shows how he employs local ingredients in clever ways. Another starter of oysters poached in a licorice-y Herbsaint cream sauce reinforced by fennel, is particularly complex. Wild mushrooms, including chanterelles from the Northshore, appear in season, sometimes in pasta and a gift from a neighbor of local satsuma were recently transformed into sorbet. In addition, Anton cures his own pancetta, a process that allows him to skew the flavor profile in a way that complements its eventual use. For dessert, be sure to try their individually sized Baked Alaska, a sweet reinterpretation of the classic confection.
Along with the one handicapped space out front, Bistro Daisy does offer off-street parking at the corner of Nashville and Magazine streets. Bistro Daisy is dinner-only, Tuesdays through Saturdays.
COOKBOOK of the YEAR
POPPY TOOKER, EDITOR
Crescent City Farmer’s Market Cookbook
The past year has produced a healthy crop of cookbooks by famous New Orleans chefs and food personalities. But there’s one that stands apart from the crowd, notable because it isn’t the work of a single chef but, rather, the voice of an entire community. Part history lesson, part grassroots community effort – and all cookbook – this year’s Cookbook of the Year Award goes to the Crescent City Farmer’s Market Cookbook, edited by Poppy Tooker.
The book’s roots go back to the earliest days of the market. “The cookbook had been planned for and talked about virtually from the beginning,” says Tooker. “A lot of credit goes to John Abajian who was the first market manager, along with Richard McCarthy and Sharon Litwin, who started the market 14 years ago. John made sure from the beginning that every time a chef did a demo, he got a copy of the recipe and a signed permission slip. It was really quite remarkable how meticulous he was.”
The upshot of Abajian’s meticulousness is that Tooker eventually found herself with an extraordinary file of recipes to draw from, some of which were written in hand from chefs who are no longer with us, such as Jamie Shannon and Chris Kerageorgiou. “When I saw Jamie Shannon’s original Gumbo Ya-Ya recipe, written out longhand, it brought tears to my eyes,” says Tooker, “It gave me great pause and gave me a feeling of how important this work was that we were doing.”
Recipes in the book come not only from chefs, they also come also from the farmers and purveyors who sell at the market, along with its shoppers. For example, Jim Core of Taylor’s Happy Oaks Farm in Folsom offers an unusual recipe for jambalaya, which uses brown rice and kale. Another recipe by a market shopper serves up White Beans and Shrimp, using the fresh local catch of shrimper dynamos Kay and Ray Brandhurst. Along the way, Tooker seasons the descriptions with anecdotes and longer stories. This synergy between chef, purveyor and shopper creates a grassroots pastiche of the New Orleans dining and greenmarket scene. There is nothing else like it; the excellent forward by Alice Waters is lagniappe.
Fittingly, given the grassroots nature and independent spirit of their parent organization, Marketumbrella.org, the Farmer’s Market Cookbook is self-published and distributed nationally by Chelsea Green. Readers who buy it through their Web site (www.marketumbrella.org) can have Tooker personalize the book for them. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to benefit this local nonprofit organization, which helps mentor a surprisingly far-ranging roster of social justice-related food programs from Africa to Japan.