Mason Hereford, Chef de Cuisine at Coquette, is leaving town at the end of the month to travel around the country staging (or interning) in kitchens from San Francisco to Brooklyn. When he and his partner, High Hat co-general manager Lauren Holton, return to New Orleans, the pair plan to open a high-end yet casual sandwich shop called Turkey and the Wolf. His last service at Coquette will be January 28.
Hereford has been with Coquette for more than five years. "It was my first kitchen job," he says. "I really came into my own there." He rose through the ranks by executing Executive Chef Michael Stoltzfus' visions as well as contributing his own ideas. His lunch and brunch sandwiches, made with house cured meats such as ham, pastrami, and bacon married with artisinal cheese, pickles, and spiced spreads and served between slabs of "big, chunky, white bread" were beloved by customers and sought after by those in the know.
"I like to mess with playful combos," he says, "but then stick 'em between two slices of bread." He sees his sandwich creations as fine food but presented in a rustic fashion. With his plans to open his New Orleans restaurant in the future, he says he's "getting back to the sandwich zone."
But before he does that, he's going to be working in kitchens across the country, doing a culinary "stage" in 8-9 kitchens in two months before he and Holton return in April. Staging is basically interning in a kitchen for free from anywhere from a couple hours to a couple of months, and Hereford will be doing mostly 1-2 day stages with a couple week-long gigs as well.
"I'm confident in creating, but I haven't seen how other kitchens work," Hereford says, adding that he believes that getting an idea of how other kitchens are run will help in opening his own establishment. Hell be at Bar Tartine in San Francisco, Rose's Luxury in Washington D.C., and Butcher and Bee in Charleston, SC for a week each, with shorter stints at Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, Bunk Sandwiches and Lardo Sandwiches, both in Portland, and Fette Sau and Talde, both in Brooklyn. Holton will also be staging with bars and bartenders in these cities, such as Gina Chersevani in Washington D.C.
When the pair returns, the plan is to open Turkey and the Wolf, which will feature sandwiches made on locally sourced bread with product from local farms like Covey Rise, Chappapeela Farms, Two Run Farms, and St. Roch Forage. Holton will be creating an adult beverage menu for the shop, with a focus on bottled cocktails.
They don't have a location for Turkey and the Wolf yet, although they are actively looking in the hopes that they find something before leaving the city. "It's a crazy life and changing time right now," Hereford says.