Chef keeps it simple during Aspen Food & Wine event |

Chef keeps it simple during Aspen Food & Wine event

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Chef John Besh and his assistant "Hot Mike" prepare a shrimp dish during the New New Orleans cooking seminar on Saturday morning at the St. Regis. (Patrick Ghidossi/The Aspen Times)
Patrick Ghidossi |

ASPEN – John Besh doesn’t have the pizzazz of Emeril Lagasse or the folksy storytelling abilities of the late Justin Wilson.But like those well-known chefs – based in Louisiana, as is Besh – he knows his way around a kitchen. And that’s all that mattered to the large crowd he entertained at the St. Regis Aspen Resort on Saturday morning during a cooking seminar titled “The New New Orleans.”The affable Besh talked a little about himself and a little about the post-Hurricane Katrina culinary world during his 38-minute demonstration, which was part of the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “I actually failed home [economics] because I couldn’t follow a recipe,” he said. He joked that he needs to go back home to New Orleans to get rid of the hangover he earned while partying in Aspen until the wee hours of the morning.Aided by an assistant whose name was given only as “Hot Mike,” Besh kept things simple. His main dish was shrimp creole, a common offering in the Bayou State, which has gained worldwide popularity over the last few decades. Besh’s variation on the standard recipe for shrimp creole was to use lemongrass, an herb most often associated with Thai and Vietnamese cooking. He noted that Vietnamese styles have seeped into New Orleans’ culinary culture: Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees moved to the Crescent City and surrounding areas in the 1960s and ’70s to work in the Gulf of Mexico seafood industry.The recipe also called for olive oil, garlic, salt, basil, cilantro, allspice, mint, heirloom tomatoes, celery, bell pepper, cayenne pepper, bay leaf and – of course – peeled fresh shrimp. “Eat domestic shrimp,” he told the audience. “Better yet, eat Louisiana shrimp.” The Gulf Coast seafood industry has suffered over the past decade because of the availability of cheap, frozen, imported shrimp from Asia, especially China.Besh mixed all the ingredients in a stewpot and let them simmer, then got started on two side dishes. He took some boiled crabs and flavored them in a skillet with ginger, onion, garlic and black pepper. He also soaked some large soft-shelled shrimp in a mixture of rice flour and water, and fried them in oil. His cocktail sauce was simple as well, relying on chili paste, vinegar, sugar, garlic, lime juice and salt. “Hot Mike” provided a few samples of the shrimp creole (over rice) to the delight of a few people in the audience, as well as the seasoned crabs and lightly basted fried shrimp with dipping sauce.An audience member from the East Coast asked Besh if he ever used Old Bay seafood boil – a non-spicy (some say bland) favorite along the Atlantic seaboard – in his recipes. “Lord, no!” Besh exclaimed. “I’m a Zatarain’s guy.”Besh, a native of Mississippi who was raised in south Louisiana, operates five restaurants in New Orleans, one in San Antonio and another in Lacombe, La. He closed his event with remarks about how the different cultures that shaped New Orleans – French, Spanish, African-American and others – also influenced its cosmopolitan cuisine.Though Katrina devastated much of the city nearly six years ago, New Orleans is thriving on many levels, he said, with “newer, better, hipper restaurants.” Besh also touted his 2009 solo-authored cookbook, “My New Orleans,” and joked about his loss to Michael Symon in the 2007 finale of the Food Network program “The Next Iron Chef.”

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