David Guas is a New Orleans-born and -bred pastry chef, owner of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Shop & Eatery in Arlington, VA. Calling it a "bakery on steroids," Bayou Bakery replicates both sweet and savory Louisiana cooking as closely as anyone can without being here. (He even has an exclusive contract with Abita.) Author of a James Beard-nominated cookbook, DamGoodSweet—Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth New Orleans Style, and with recent appearances on Chopped and the Cooking Channel's Unique Sweets, his star, as the Times-Pic's Susan Langenhennig put it in an interview with Guas about desserts, "has been rising for several years." Guas is currently in town for the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, and Eater caught up with him by phone yesterday morning to talk about cooking New Orleans food outside of Louisiana and what he's most looking forward to on this trip home.
So you literally just touched down, huh?
Yeah. Well, I just left the airport. I'm in my rental car on I-10, heading towards the Monteleone right now.
Glad to be back home?
Oh yeah, always.
So, for background for people who might not be familiar with your whole story, what took you away from New Orleans to the DC area?
Well, I landed my first culinary gig in town at the Windsor Court Hotel and worked there just over two years. At the time, the executive chef there was Jeff Tunks, who was the executive chef there, I don't know, three, four years, something like that. I worked in the pastry department. I actually applied to the kitchen, I wanted to work on the line. They didn't have any positions open in the main kitchen. Needless to say, I had zero pastry training and very little in school. It was completely new to me. I'd made apple pies growing up and that sort of thing, but nothing to the extent of the Windsor Court.
So yeah, that was it. I was there a year and a half, doing everything. Then Jeff asked me to move to DC to help him and two of his partners who were already in DC open their first restaurant, DC Coast. And myself and Jeff's executive sous chef at the time, along with one other cook, made the journey. We moved there in February of 1998 and then we opened the first restaurant of theirs in June of 1998. And then I was with that group for 10 years. I opened up five of their restaurants for them. So I was the executive pastry chef for their group and that was it.
And then it became time to open up your own place?
Well, I left that group in '07 and started writing my cookbook, all about growing up eating in this fantastic city and the desserts that sort of make New Orleans unique, and [in the process] I developed the concept for Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar and Eatery. I wanted it to be much more than baked goods. I wanted it to be a bakery on steroids. And we are. We're open breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. We serve gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, shrimp creole, all the way to things like cheese straws and deviled eggs. And we're exclusive with Abita, so we have all their beers, couple on draft, the rest in bottles. We have wine and the whole nine yards. We opened up in November 2010, so been open a year and a half now.
Have you had any challenges trying to do authentic Louisiana cuisine in somewhere that's not Louisiana?
Nothing that I wasn't already used to. Being from New Orleans, all right, there's a certain arrogance and pride around how we cook and how we do things. That comes to the surface when the Louisianians come in my front door who haven't heard of me or don't know the restaurant and they're walking in blind. I can see them a mile away, coming in with a big puffed-up chest and they've got all these questions. And that was a big part about opening my restaurants: training my staff to get ready for those types of people. All those sort of drill sergeant type of questions about specific dishes. My staff went through a rigorous training by myself to get ready for that. We needed to represent New Orleans not just in the food but in the way we talk about the food. Regardless of where you're from, if you're gonna be part of the team then you've got to talk it and own it. It's a pretty big deal. And now we've been around for a little while, people know my background, know my history.
And plus there's the TV shows you've been on recently.
Yeah, I've had some recent TV appearances so we're reaching a broader audience. The funny part was that I don't have the list of re-air dates, so we'll have these groups of people that'll come in, all of a sudden we're seeing 10% of the people walking through the front door are new faces. It's fantastic. And they'll kind of look at me and giggle and point at me. It's one of those things that we know they just saw my on Chopped. My question is always, even though it's a re-air, "Well, how did I do? Did I win this time?" But it's great for business, it's fun to do. Some of my boys down here who are chefs saw it and it's cool.
So now that you're back home, are there any places that you have to get to while you're here?
Man, that list is so long. It's so long that what happens is I start spinning my wheels and I only end up going to about half of them. But this trip, for me, it's not about the places I always go. It's about the places I haven't been yet.
What's happening in New Orleans right now is amazing. Not just post-Katrina amazing. There's a new blood, a new generation of chefs that are doing unique things. It's awesome to witness. People like Aaron Burgau who are continuing to open new places. It's just pretty cool. It's no longer just a pound of jumbo lump crabmeat and a butter sauce and a heavy cream-based dish. Those classics will continue to be around and we don't want them to go away. But at the same time, we need to see these?I don't want to use the word "trendier"?more innovative comfort foods happening. The sort of more casual eateries that are doing some fun things, like the burger joint thing with The Company Burger and TruBurger and all these places. Hot dog stands, too?it's about time somebody started making their own hot dogs. We know that there's so much more out there than Lucky Dogs.
It's so great we've got more than Lucky Dogs.
I love them, though. Ignatius O'Reilly was onto something. I can't tell you how many of those I ate in high school. But this city is ready for the next thing. That's what's pretty cool about it. The whole Freret Street scene, I'm looking forward to going up there, seeing Adolfo [Garcia]. I saw him in Atlanta a few weeks ago and he basically threatened me with my life, that if I didn't come in to his pizza joint or his other place where he keeps promoting it as the Delta-meets-bayou. What's the name of that one?
High Hat Café.
Yeah, High Hat. So yeah, he was pretty jacked up about that, I met his chef [Jeremy Wolgamott] there, because he was with him in Atlanta. It's just neat. And I saw Adam [Biderman] in Atlanta. Linton Hopkins is the guy he used to work for in Atlanta, and Linton was part of my New Orleans history. We were roommates together here. But yeah, like I said I hit the same places every time I come home. It's been a long time since I've been home so it's nice to come back and have there be these places I've never eaten at before. I still haven't gotten to Coquette and Root and all these places that have popped open. I feel like I'm dragging.
How often are you able to make it back here?
Aw man, before I opened the restaurant I was here a couple times a year. Sometimes even three. But, god, since the restaurant opened? One of my cooks told me that I've been back since I opened, but I don't think I have been back. You know, I did, I came back for my cousin's wedding for two days. That was four months after we opened. It's been, easily, 14 months since I've been home.
Anything to add? Any closing thoughts?
No, man, I just love being back in the Who Dat Nation. It feels good. It feels like I never left every time I touch down.
· Bayou Bakery [Official Site]
· New Orleans Native and Chef David Guas Returns Home to Take Stage at NOWFE [TP]
· All Bayou Bakery Coverage [-EDC-]