The hit Bravo reality show “Top Chef” came to New Orleans on Tuesday, April 7 in the form of season five contestant Chef Jeff McInnis. More recently, McInnis was a special guest of the New Orleans chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) at their monthly meeting, held this month newbie to the bar scene, Cure. You can read all about Cure in this month’s After Hours blog. The New Orleans chapter of the USBG is headed up by Ann Tunnerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail.

The last time McInnis was in the Big Easy, was for the season finale of “Top Chef,” filmed in New Orleans back in January. But unlike his last visit, McInnis was behind the bar instead of the kitchen door. He demonstrated a newer technique on the mixology scene, using liquid nitrogen, to some of the bartenders in attendance. McInnis served up a few cocktails, including watermelon mojitos, cucumber mojitos and spicy passion fruit mojitos. He says that he writes the drink menu for his restaurant, DiLido at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, himself each time it changes.  Since “Top Chef,” McInnis has kept himself quite busy with his booming restaurant and frequent traveling jaunts.
In between mixing and chatting with local bartenders, we were able to steal him away for a few quick questions:

What’s your favorite New Orleans restaurant?
Oh, gosh … August is just an amazing meal. I have a real respect for John Besh… Donal Link’s restaurant Herbsaint. I haven’t been to Bayona in awhile, but Bayona, too.

What’s your favorite New Orleans bar?
Oh, the Chart Room in the Quarter. It’s not cheesy like other bars in the Quarter. You walk in and it’s like stepping back into New Orleans 30 or 40 years ago.

Do you have a favorite drink when you come here?

Sazeracs- you can only get one in New Orleans. I’ll always have at least one. And Turbo Dog. You can get Abita a lot of places, but Turbo Dog, only here.

What’s your favorite “guilty pleasure” midnight snack?
Pickled okra!

We know you’re from the South, but what do you especially love about New Orleans?

The culture, the people, and really just the history of New Orleans. I lived in Charleston, South Carolina for seven years and I’ve found that there are only a few cities that have real culture. Charleston, New Orleans, New York – but their culture is a little different – Miami, Boston. But New Orleans, man, people sing about New Orleans. I mean, how many songs does Harry Connick, Jr. have about New Orleans?

What does the future look like for you?
I’ve got a book coming out, called Natural Course. It’s about local farmers, local fisherman and local produce. I buy everything for my restaurant from local organics, even pigs, chickens and eggs. It’s based off of taking care of nature and sustainable farming.

Chef Jeff McInnis is the Chef de Cuisine at the Dilido Beach Club inside the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami, Florida. Look for Jeff’s book, “Natural Course” in late 2009.