Chef Ryan Hughes has been waiting for Purloo to open its doors for a while now, but he's been lucky enough to share the Southern regional food on a weekly basis at his popup in residence at the New Orleans Cooking Experience on Carondelet St.
With the upcoming opening of the new and expanded Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB) facility on OC Haley Blvd. on the near horizon (ribbon cutting is scheduled for September 29) the adjoining Purloo permanent location is finally mere weeks away from becoming a reality.
The Johnson & Wales grad and passionate food historian has built up a loyal customer following with his Purloo pop-ups, showcasing regional themes like "Alabama Getaway," "South Carolina Pig Pickin'," and "Barrels and Bell Jars." Read on to see Hughes' vision of Purloo's future.
What's the inspiration behind the name "Purloo"?
Back when I was a pastry chef in Charleston, South Carolina, about 17 years ago, I worked at the Charleston Place Hotel with Louis Osteen, who was like the Paul Prudhomme of lowcountry cuisine. I noticed that there were several women working as room attendants who wore tignons and spoke to each other in a language I couldn't quite place. I'd try to get to know them, but they weren't interested in chatting with me... but the best way to a women's heart is through pastry, so I started leaving treats for them in their service kitchen, where they also did cooking of their own. I discovered that they were Gullah, from the islands off the coast of South Carolina. They started cooking for me, and there was this one shrimp and rice dish they made, a precursor to jambalaya, called purloo. So that's where that came from.
How long have you been doing the Purloo pop-up?
About a year and a half. Doing well enough to open a restaurant, looks like. (laughs). I started out just talking to Liz Williams from SoFAB about doing this, and now it's been 124 pop-ups I've done.
Can you explain the concept behind creating the menus and theme?
Each meal takes on a different Southern region. To do this, I reach out to different farmers in each community to arrange for food from their farms to cook, as well as understanding the culture a little better. I do a farm trip every couple of weeks. Most recently, I was in Jackson, Mississippi, at Pickett Farm where the owner raises organic lambs, goats, and cows. It's important to educate myself in order to prepare the cuisine of these regions respectfully.
How will the region-specific focus of each pop-up come together in a cohesive menu for your everyday restaurant?
It's going to be a a southern regional restaurant, with different regions represented. I don't want it to be fine dining - my background is classical French, I've done that - but just showcasing food traditions and people who have been faithful to those traditions over generations. For example, I met a second generation whole hog BBQ guy in South Carolina, he made his own smoker, and learned everything from his previous generation. I did a couple pop-ups around that, and learning that kind of culinary history is what it's all about. I want to bring people in to cook and teach as well as eat and learn.
How will your restaurant be part of the SoFAB museum?
Right behind the restaurant will be a teaching kitchen, which is designed as a horseshoe so people can watch what's being cooked while visiting the museum. It's all totally integrated.
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Ryan Hughes, photo courtesy of Purloo/Sarah Essex Bradley