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World Chefs: Besh focuses on simple, family cooking

American chef John Besh looked to his wife and four sons for inspiration for his second cookbook book which contains tips and recipes for busy parents and couples to cook simple, delicious meals.
/ Source: Reuters

American chef John Besh looked to his wife and four sons for inspiration for his second cookbook book which contains tips and recipes for busy parents and couples to cook simple, delicious meals.

Besh, who has won various awards for his modern New Orleans cuisine, said "My Family Table" was created to help people in the kitchen. His ninth restaurant Borgne, a seafood eatery inspired by Canary Islanders who live in southeast Louisiana, is in the Hyatt Regency in downtown New Orleans and opened last October.

The 43-year-old spoke to Reuters about cooking at home and the importance of families eating together.

Q: How is your second book different from your first?

A: "In the first book, there was a collection of stories and recipes about this one particular city. I like to call them the tribute food of New Orleans, which makes them special and different, and which could be somewhat complex. It's not uncommon for a New Orleans' recipe from shrimp-and-grit to jambalaya to gumbo to have some 20 ingredients in a single dish.

"People loved that book. However, for the most part other than special occasions it's a book that people are talking about but not in terms of its recipes. I want to create a cookbook that really helps people in the kitchen and helps people find the time to cook at home and have a meal at their family table."

Q: Why are families eating together so important to you?

A: "Today's families are different. As humans, we still have the need to actually commune at table. That's the underlying message of this book. I have a busy life, as does my family. This is the way we find time to get together. If we can do it, you can do it. This is the prescription for doing it. So it's every bit as much a cookbook as it is a lifestyle book."

Q: Who inspired you to write this book?

A: "The genesis of the book came when I asked my wife what she was feeding our boys."

Q: Was she surprised that you asked her that? Did she want to throw something at you?

A: "I'm sure she wanted to. But her sharp witted reply was that if I paid half as much attention to what my family was eating as I do to customers who visit my restaurants then we would be much better off. That hit home to me. It made me realize as a fine-dining chef, I fall into so many traps that other people have been falling into. We have become so busy and so caught up with the day-to-day. We have failed to pass it to our children with communing at the family table."

Q: Is your approach to cooking for your family different from your mother's when you were growing up?

A: "I want my children to understand what red beans and rice taste like. Through this book, I'm trying to show that no matter where you are, you need to cook in a way that represents you, your family, your culture. I grew up at a time when a lot of mothers didn't work. My mother didn't work so she took care of the family. We had these big meals. The times were different when everybody went home for dinner. Practices and recitals and all the extracurricular things would end in an earlier hour than when they end today. Now when I'm cooking for them, it's a little faster, a little quicker and it's eaten on the go. Whereas Sunday, I would cook this big feast. That's what I would have every day at my home. So our lifestyles have changed."

Q: What are your 'go-to' dishes you make for your family?

A: "It starts with Sunday suppers. Those are the building blocks to my week. If I do this big pork roast, I would dice up the pork and make a pasta dish. I could make a ragu with any kind of meat I have. If I'm already making this big roast, I've already heated up this kitchen and started to make this small mess. I would throw an extra chicken in the oven so the chicken could be used later in the week. I could take the carcass from the chicken and make a stock. With that stock and a bit of leftover ratatouille and chopped up green beans from Sunday, I could throw that together and make a hearty soup which is a good one meal for the boys later in the week. I could make a great Italian wedding soup with leftover mustard greens or collard greens from the Sunday supper."

Q: It's Mardi Gras season in New Orleans. What were your favorite foods from this time of the year?

A: "The Mardi Gras foods of my childhood are fried chicken, red beans and rice, jambalaya and king cakes, which is what we primarily eat today, one pot meals that are brought out and shared on the parade route."

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese (Serves 8)

1 pound penne pasta

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup flour

1 quart milk

1 pinch nutmeg


Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese

1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese

3/4 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese

1 cup or so cooked cauliflower

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta for 12 minutes, uncovered, then drain in a colander.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, then stir in the milk and bring to a boil. Keep stirring and when the white sauce is well mixed, reduce the heat to simmer. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ricotta cheese. Add the pasta and toss well, then stir in the Swiss cheese and half of the Cheddar.

4. Scatter the cauliflower in an ovenproof dish and spoon the pasta and cheesy sauce on top. Smooth the top with a spatula and sprinkle on the remaining Cheddar. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is nicely browned.

TIP: Be sure to add the cheese to the sauce at the last minute and then immediately remove the pan from the heat. If you continue to cook the sauce after adding the cheese, the fats will separate from the proteins and the cheese will become gritty.