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Chef John Besh on Borgne, Now Open Inside the Hyatt

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Borgne, the new restaurant by chefs John Besh and Brian Landry, is now taking reservations. They had a soft open this weekend in time for the Saints game, just opening the doors for whatever foot traffic would come through on the way to that and Monday night's BCS game.

The restaurant is supposed to evoke the outdoorsy culture of Southeast Louisiana, especially that of the Isleños, descendants of Canary Islanders who settled St Bernard Parish along Lake Borgne. Led by Landry, formerly of Galatoire's and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, this is communal, down home eating?a far cry from the fine dining at Besh's flagship restaurant August.

The team at Borgne was pretty serious about not allowing interior shots of the restaurant until they're totally satisfied with it, but Eater did get the chance to chat with Besh by phone yesterday to talk about his vision for the restaurant, his relationship with Brian Landry and opening weekend.

Did you watch the LSU game the other night?

Can't you tell from my voice that I did? Yeah I watched it. It was awful, awful, awful. But we still have our Saints, so it's okay.

So how's it going, other than that? Busy with the opening?

Yeah, it's been crazy. We opened a couple of days ago, and on day one we did over a thousand people. Then day two was Sunday, day three was the national championship game and again we had so many people coming through.

But Brian Landry, the chef there, he's not only one of the best chefs I know but he's so grounded and one of the best people I know, so this has been great. This is really his passion: the great seafood restaurants that we were raised on growing up in Louisiana. With the evolution of restaurants, places like this no longer exist, but I wanted to help him achieve his goals and bring back these great New Orleans seafood restaurants. Working with him has been unlike any other opening I've been a part of.

His background must really help, of course.

Well, working at Galatoire's, he's used to working in busy kitchens. Stuff like this, it always sort of throws my system into shock. I've always wanted to keep things simple. Like when I bought August from the investors, I removed 5 tables from the dining room in order to just streamline things, make it simpler and more intimate. Borgne isn't like that at all, and Brian's handled it really well.

So you actually got it open this past weekend?

Yeah, we just opened the doors?not for reservations but we just let people come through. We found that a lot of people wanted to come and hang out and then head to the game, but ended up just staying. Our general manager said it was like a Saints clubhouse in there Saturday night, with people crowding around the TV screens and yelling and high-fiving and just hanging out. And that's really what this is all about. A good portion of the menu, especially the appetizers, is meant to be shared. We're trying to introduce duck and fish camp food into a restaurant atmosphere.  We haven't opened it up to reservations or business lunch yet, but we'll see how that goes.

So far, though, people get it. Sean Payton and Kenny Chesney came in on Saturday after the game and had a private party with some snacks and just hung out. And people who were there eating and knew each other would put the tables together and share food and have fun. This place, it's all about people coming together over food.

When did you start thinking about opening up a concept like this?

Well, Brian and I have been friends for years. I've known him since he was in high school?I was well out of high school by that time, but I've known him since he was 15 or 16. His family and my family, they're really close. I've loved the guy since day one. When we started thinking about this, he really wanted to do a restaurant for him, a quintessential New Orleans seafood restaurant. I like that really refined stuff, you know, I love a place like August, but this is what I grew up eating. And when we started to really think about it, we asked, "Well what are we missing in New Orleans?" This is really what made sense.

And the owners of the Hyatt have been friends for years. We were talking about doing something there, but then the hurricane happened and all plans got put on hold. When they came back and started talking about their plans, I thought, "Oh, you're crazy," because there wasn't anything there. But as it came along, I think it's come at the perfect time for the city. The city's grown as much as it could grow out towards the Superdome, and I think this is the perfect restaurant for the occasion. You know, it's not a restaurant for a romantic dinner, gazing into each other's eyes, that sort of thing. You can do that of course, but here it's more about people coming together in this other way.

And now, what's the Isleños influence on the menu?

It's just because of Lake Borgne. I've always thought that we discounted the Spanish influence on Louisiana culture, especially in St. Bernard. So Brian took his sous chefs to the Canary Islands to get an understanding of that food and where it came from, and then be able to produce food that really honors that influence. I've never been to the Canary Islands?I've been all over France and to Spain, but never to the Canary Islands. But he's the chef, so I wanted him to get that experience.

And there's a lot of stuff there that he found in that trip that's really pretty familiar, that feel like things you could get here or you would see in Mexico or wherever [...] For example, they've got ropa vieja, which is very different there than it is in Cuban restaurants. Or there's suckling pig empañadas, which are basically just like our meat pies?there's lots of little things like that speckled throughout that don't seem like Spanish food because it's Louisiana food.

And y’all start taking reservations [today]?

Yeah. We still have a little work to do, some things are still missing. We wanted to open this past weekend but not do a big grand opening with all the bigwigs and stuff. With the holidays, a lot of deliveries got slowed down, and then with the National Championship, it just made sense to do it this way.

· Borgne Restaurant [Official Site]
· All John Besh Coverage on Eater NOLA

Borgne

601 Loyola, New Orleans, LA 70113 (504) 613-3860

Borgne

601 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA

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