Cookin’ up a storm
Chef of the Year: Scott Boswell
Did you notice that as businesses began reopening after Katrina, the ones we heard the most about were restaurants? Accounting firms, doctors’ offices, law practices and shops all opened too, but nothing seemed to measure the return factor like restaurant reopenings. n In this, our annual Best of Dining issue, we looked for some of the best performances from the past year. In the case of “Best New Chef,” his restaurant closed because of the storm, but the chef has landed at a promising new restaurant. Our “Chef of the Year” not only performed brilliantly in the kitchen but as an entrepreneur, being one of the first to reopen his restaurant. Though most of our accolades are in the context of the past year, we include our annual “Honor Roll” for longtime achievement, and we look at some hot new restaurants. n Selections were made by the editorial staff of New Orleans Magazine with the consultation of Senior Dining and Wine Editor Lorin Gaudin. We also surveyed other local food writers. Dinner is served.
It’s “Iron Chef Dinner” night at Stella! – and executive chef Scott Boswell is pulling out his hair. “This has to be perfect, perfect!” he says through clenched teeth, his jaw twitching, a sure sign of the stress he feels. After spending time this summer in Japan, he has returned to New Orleans invigorated and excited by what he had seen, eaten and cooked, bringing back recipes, delicate earthenware bowls and many ideas to incorporate into his culinary practice. As he surveys his restaurant, Boswell pores over every detail because this year’s trip is culminating in a one-night-only meal; the dining rooms are packed, every seat is taken. Those who have reserved in advance, fought or begged for a spot know that this is going to be the dining event of the year. Boswell fiddles with the bottle of edible gold leaf he carries in his pocket (a treasure from Japan) like a lucky charm and says that even though he has previously worked side by side with Iron Chef Masahiko Kobe, he’s beyond nervous.
The dinner is successful, so successful it’s still being discussed in some circles, and at the same time many people still don’t know who Boswell is. That’s his charm and his bane. Louisiana native Boswell is a chef who hides in plain sight. Even though he’s been on the New Orleans restaurant scene for a handful of years, manning his restaurant Stella! and receiving local accolades such as “Best New Chef” from New Orleans Magazine in 2002, he’s best known among foodies in the know. Boswell is a deep guy, serious about himself and his craft, a perfectionist who wears a mantle of intensity that is reflected in his food. He’s a skilled craftsman putting out some of the city’s most interesting and intriguing dishes: The oysters topped with zingy granitas of ginger and wasabi and the Korean chili prawns “Iron Chef style” join memorable meals of creamy-tender risotto or seared duck breast with foie gras wontons, mooshu pancake stir-fry and currant-cassis reduction.
Dishes such as these have garnered the chef a loyal local base and celebrity fans who return again and again for his food – a style which can only be dubbed “Global Boswell.” Even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Boswell’s passion for the world of foods found him moving ahead with the planned $1 million-plus renovation of Stella! While the restaurant was under construction, this intensely driven chef opened a less glitzy but no less brilliant comfort-food restaurant called Stanley. The Stanley burger, fat and juicy, made from the chef’s favorite blend of meats and grilled to order, is already reaching legendary status along with his inky-dark seafood gumbo and the tangy, sweet and salty Reuben sandwich. Boswell approaches his restaurants and cooking as if his life depends on it. Make no mistake, it does. He operates as if every meal, every day, is the last one, the one that will define his life and his career. Speaking from underneath the stove he’s fixing, Boswell says, “I’m getting there; the best is yet to come.” Believe it. – Lorin Gaudin
Scott Boswell, Age:44, Restaurant job prior to Stella!/Stanley: Rainbow Ranch, Big Sky, Mont.