He’s cooked in a number of top kitchens in New York and Paris — Michelin-starred restaurants like Nomad, Bâtard, and Daniel, to name a few — but now chef Ryan Pearson has returned to his hometown of New Orleans to help revive Couvant, the downtown French brasserie in the Eliza Jane Hotel that’s reopening after a two-year hiatus on Thursday, March 17.
Diners can expect a revamped menu as well as a new style at Couvant, which first opened in 2018 with Brad McDonald at the helm and has remained closed since the beginning of the pandemic. “The biggest difference between what Couvant was then and now, is that before it was a very literal interpretation of a French brasserie — moules frites, steak frites, Lyonnaise salad. Now, we’re embracing French technique, but making dishes a bit more modern, involving a little bit more creativity,” says Pearson. “And being from here, even though most of my cooking career has been in New York, I still have a strong relationship with South Louisiana food, so we’re incorporating those ingredients, especially seafood and produce. You’re not going to find scallops or salmon or lobster, but we’re really embracing what we have here.”
Pearson most recently worked for three years as the sous chef at Daniel in New York, a restaurant with two Michelin stars, following a stint at a “New Orleans-style brasserie” in Paris (prior to Paris, Pearson worked in the kitchens of Nomad and Bâtard in New York). “More than anything, my time in those kitchens just inspired a burning desire to find the best possible products,” Pearson says.
There are a few dishes in particular that nail the restaurant’s new concept, Pearson says, of applying modern techniques to create simple but modified versions of traditional brasserie dishes. One is the crawfish gnocchi, “a great mix of French and South Louisianan traditions,” says Pearson. It’s a starter of potato gnocchi crisped up in brown butter served with sauce Nantua, a creamy seafood sauce named for the town in southeast France where crawfish abounds. Pearson uses crawfish stock and crawfish butter to make a bright roux for his sauce, which is slightly aerated and served over the gnocchi with more crawfish and chili garlic crisp on top. The roasted royal red shrimp starter almost resembles New Orleans barbecue shrimp, but instead of a garlicky butter sauce, the shrimp are seared in a bisque-like, tomato coconut sauce made with brandy, served with parmesan black rice and drizzled with burnt scallion oil.
The rest of the menu doesn’t shy away from meat, though there a couple other fish dishes and a roasted Japanese eggplant and Israeli couscous entree. One of Pearson’s favorites is his cochon de lait, a version he came up with during his time in France. A confit of suckling pig with a crispy skin on top is served with sweet potatoes, roasted pearl onions, and a mustard sauce. The roasted duck breast is a dish that utilizes the entire bird — it’s served with snow pea salad and a duck dirty rice that uses rendered fat, ground duck leg, and duck liver, while the duck jus is made from the bones and incorporates pepper jelly. The brioche crusted veal entree is based on a technique Pearson learned at Bâtard, he says, rolling spinach-wrapped veal into thin brioche before cooking it in butter until it gets a crispy crust. It’s served with crushed potatoes and king trumpet mushrooms and topped with sauce diable.
“Obviously New Orleans is a really, really amazing food city, so I always told myself that I would only move back if I could bring something different if it was for something dynamic,” Pearson says. “I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to see things and learn things in other places that I can bring here, that will hopefully differentiate us.”
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