Whether you’re cooking a new recipe or sharing a meal with your family, food should be fun. And fun is the vibe that local chef Mason Hereford wants to bring to his restaurants, Turkey and the Wolf and Molly’s Rise & Shine. Hereford opened his first restaurant, Turkey and the Wolf, in 2017 to much fanfare and high praise – being named best new restaurant by “Bon Appetite,” Eater and “Food & Wine,” among many others. Most recently, Hereford and his sous chefs Colleen Quarls and Liz Hollinger appeared on the first episode of the most recent Netflix season of “Iron Chef,” going up against celebrity chef Curtis Stone in a street food-themed battle. Between his restaurants, TV appearances, national and international acclaim and a shipwreck incident that delayed the release of his first cookbook “Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans,” we cover a lot with this month’s big personality.
Q: Where did the idea of Turkey and the Wolf come from? I didn’t start thinking, “Oh, we’re gonna reinvent this sort of food from our youth.” I think, sometimes we fall in the category of comfort food, and that wasn’t necessarily the original idea, either. The idea was just creative sandwiches to some degree. I grew up in a small city with a dozen places where you get a sandwich, that was not a deli sandwich…That just didn’t really exist in New Orleans, and that was one of my favorite ways to dine. So I immediately saw an opportunity there.
Q: Did you imagine you’d become as popular as you did as quickly as you did? Not in my wildest dreams! The first year hasn’t worn off at all, because it is so unexpected. It was just one thing after another that first year and we had such a good group of people that were all really excited to be with each other. So every time something happened, it was just this like, epic party, fountain of happiness moments, and it was pretty incredible to be in that restaurant that first year because it was fucking nuts. I think it was timing. I mean, we joke when we say, you know, we are literally the most overrated sandwich shop. Granted, we do try really hard for consistency, and I do think we put out a good product. I 100% believe we’re overrated; it’s impossible for one place to have gotten all that that first year. But it was just where the dining scene was. Food media was excited by the prospect of this casual joint. I think that if we’d done it a different year, it wouldn’t have been the same recipe for success, if any one person wasn’t in that room. As far as the team working like every single thing was perfect pieces to a puzzle that just erupted. I think if you took anything out from the person working the counter to our managers, to the timing to the, to the timing of the food writers who were dining there, like everything just happened in a way where it became bigger than it probably deserved. It was pretty incredible.
Q: You can definitely tell that y’all are having fun doing what you’re doing! Thank you for saying that. That is one thing that we go for. It is a vibe we purposely put out but also it is the way we are trying to live it there. I realized early on when we’d get an inquiry for something saying “hey, are you interested in being interviewed for this fall article for Food & Wine” about restaurants that do updates on after-school snacks; instead of writing back a very formal email, we just wrote back, “fuck yeah!!!” And I think that was refreshing to some people being like, “Oh, these people are like in the middle of service responding on their cell phone into this text.”
Q: Why was now the time to write a cookbook? I didn’t assume that there was a group of people that were on pins and needles waiting for some of these recipes. My brother is a very talented photographer, probably a more properly established photographer than I am a cook. He’s done a few cookbooks and been nominated for some awards and shit. My coauthor JJ moved to New Orleans for a year. We became buddies back when I was working at Coquette and he would dine there. He was also friends with my brother, so the two of them said it was time to write a book. They basically came to me casually, and were like, “Dude, it’s time let’s do something.”
Q: Tell us about “Iron Chef.” Somebody called me and said, “Hey, you want to be on the show?” And I said, “honestly, we don’t do competition, cooking shows, they seem hard.” And, you know, the very real possibility of losing doesn’t sound very fun. But we realized with “Iron Chef” is it’s like about people at the height of like their game. And it’s going up against people that would be, not to sound cliche, but like almost an honor to lose to and it’s like, well, we can deal with that. I made sure they were down with us really being ourselves and they were so we said we’d give it a try.
Favorite restaurant (besides yours): Tân Định
Favorite bar: a bunch, but my wife and I got married at Bacchanal and had the after party at Barrel Proof.
Favorite activity around the city: When I was younger, I was definitely rollerblading around the skate park. And I like disc golf.