It’s a word a lot of folks toss around without knowing what it really means. Unless you’ve worked underneath one, it’s an extremely difficult concept to grasp. Well, it means “head” in French, but I’ve always thought of it more like Emerson’s over-soul. The chef is one with the place, and bigger than one person. A restaurant’s chef should be its over-soul — its heart, its compass, its power and its support. And if you’re the chef at any restaurant worth its salt, you know that being head of that place definitely means more than being a “cook.”
Chef is a big word. It’s respect. It’s decency within the literal and figurative heat of the passionate and physical creative process that happens behind the scenes in restaurants around the world. There’s a lot more to that word than most people will ever understand.
Chef Jason Goodenough is one of the folks who does understand.
Jason and I went to undergrad together, and he recently opened his own restaurant in New Orleans, Carrollton Market. He was gracious enough to create a little tasting for my husband and me on the restaurant’s second night while we were visiting the Big Easy. He also indulged me in a little Q&A. But first, you simply must see what he served us. I would go into detail about the mouthfeel of each morsel, but honestly, the pictures are really all you need. I’ll just say I’m super proud to know this chef right now.
Pan-Roasted Sea Scallops Buttered Corn Bread/ Roast Beef “Debris”
Grilled Mississippi Quail Brioche Pain Perdu/ Pepper Jelly/ Warmed Frisee
Pan-Roasted Speckled Trout Shrimp Fried Rice/ Thai Yellow Curry Broth (poured tableside)
“Chicken ‘n’ Dumplins” Housemade Potato Gnocchi/ Country Ham/ Crème Fraiche/ Tarragon
Crisped Berkshire Pork Belly Sweet Potato Puree/ Collard Greens/ Steen’s Glaze
Chocolate Pot de Crème
And now, to pick the brain of the chef:
Jason, saucing the trout
ML Lots of folks fantasize about opening their own restaurant. You’re living their dream. Do you have any words of advice for serious contenders?
JG It is essential that you take what you do VERY seriously and have a lot of experience doing it. This is not an industry in which people with little or no background that lack passion tend to have much success. It is also completely essential to surround yourself by people that are talented, dedicated, passionate and most of all trustworthy. If you plan on doing every single thing yourself, you’re kidding yourself that you won’t work yourself to death. There is just too much minutiae involved in opening a restaurant for one person to effectively handle alone. You also have to be able to roll with the punches. So many curve balls were thrown our way from the moment that we started looking for a space all the way until the department of health showed up with a light meter the day before we were hoping to open and informing me that my kitchen didn’t have enough light to pass inspection.
An expertly prepared Rye Manhattan, in the works
ML Have you always wanted to start your own place?
JG I have always wanted to start my own place. I was fortunate while growing up to be able to eat at a lot of great restaurants and really developed a love of food and a fascination of the restaurant business. Now I find that the deeper I get in to the biz, the less fascinating and more taxing I find it. While, to a certain degree, I do feel that I’ve accomplished a life goal in the last couple of weeks, there is still so far to go and so much we want to achieve that it’s very anti-climactic.
A perfect garnish
ML Where do you draw your culinary inspirations from?
JG Everywhere. I can eat something anywhere or at any time and eventually watch it turn in to a dish on the menu. That being said, at the end of the day, it’s really in ingredients where I find a lot of inspiration. When you source great product, you really don’t have to do that much to it to make it taste good. The scallop dish currently on our menu is in a way inspired by the Surf ‘n’ Turf poboy at Parkway Bakery in Bayou St. John. It is made up of fried shrimp piled high on French bread, then covered with roast beef debris and gravy as well as the other requisite poboy fixtures. The shrimp and roast beef go so fabulously well together that it led to our putting scallops with “roast beef debris”, which is currently Two Run Farms oxtail French-braised with a lot of caramelized mirepoix, tomato paste, red wine and brown veal stock.
Rustic yet elegant signage outside
ML How did you decide on the location for your place?
JG The one thing that I insisted on when looking at locations was that it was essentially turnkey. In that, I mean I wanted the kitchen exhaust system installed and functional as well as having a grease trap already plumbed in. I looked at a number of spots, but the one that we settled on seemed like a workable size, in a great old New Orleans building. It was in a neighborhood that seemed to have a decent amount of wealth, but at the same time lacked the kind of product I was hoping to introduce. The fact that the St. Charles streetcar line is half a block away didn’t hurt either. Finally, I was able to purchase the building, which I viewed as a significant long-term advantage.
Perfect ice spheres for the Yakuza — a lightened Scotch on the rocks, pairing 12-year Yamazaki whiskey with Amaretto
ML Going from cook to owner is a big transition. What’s the biggest surprise you’ve encountered as a self-starter?
JG The amount of minutiae that I have to deal with, from the permitting process to sales tax issues to payroll complications. It never seems to end.
Jason’s general manager, putting the finishing touches on several orders of “Oysters Goodenough”
ML You’ve done some stints as a personal chef. Would you recommend it?
JG It depends on the situation. I had a very unique job that only required me to work about ten weeks per year while paying me an annual salary. I also did not have to cook the day-to-day meals for my employer; I would only fly up to his ranch in South Dakota when he was entertaining and really wanted to go big on the food to impress his friends. It was a good run while it lasted, I would definitely do it again, more for the lifestyle than anything. If I had been in a situation that required me to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days per week year-round then I know I would not have been happy. I was essentially running a small restaurant in South Dakota while I was there, working out of a restaurant-caliber kitchen and using world-class ingredients that a lot of chefs can only dream of working with because it is almost impossible to do it cost effectively.
The opening weekend menu
ML Your line-up seems to combine southern comfort and haute cuisine with great fluidity, but how do you decide what dishes are menu-worthy and which ones work better for family meal?
JG Much to the chagrin of my employees, we’ve been so busy to this point that we’ve only put out one family meal. When I decide whether or not a dish is menu worthy, it first of all has to be delicious. It has to be something that I would be willing to pay for if I saw it at a restaurant. It has to have a certain level of sophistication in terms of concept and execution. Its flavors have to be balanced, in terms of salt, sweet, and acid. I also seek the input of my staff. If the majority of them don’t like something about it, then the majority of customers that order it will most likely feel the same way.
Jason and his dream team, going over the game plan
ML What do you make for yourself, for a snack, when you’re at home alone?
JG I rarely cook for myself at home. My favorite quick meal is spaghetti aglio e oglio. It’s a super-simple dish that a surprisingly small number of people are able to execute properly. If my wife and daughter are out of town, I cook a nice, big New York Strip alongside Boursin and Parmiggiano Reggiano dauphinois potatoes.
The menu Jason made for his daughter, Eloise, who was also a guest that evening
ML What do you make for your daughter?
JG She tends to eat whatever Amelia and I eat. Her absolute favorite food is my red beans and rice, her favorite aspect of which is the big chunks of smoked sausage. She also loves my gazpacho, which to her disappointment I only make during the summertime when tomatoes are really beautiful and at their peak. She also eats a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with homemade and home-canned Pontchatoula strawberry jam, of course.
Whether you’re just the “chef” of a tiny studio apartment kitchen or you have your own restaurant, the food coming out of the kitchen at this restaurant is sure to impress. Thanks, Jason, for giving us a glimpse inside the head of the “head” at Carrollton Market. I can’t wait to see what’s next from this friend who has definitely earned the title of chef.