When chefs Indigo Soul Martin and George “Butter” Lopez met working together at downtown hotspot Maypop in 2018, they knew there would one day be an opportunity to fuse their respective culinary passions — creative vegan cuisine for Martin, and bold Asian-meets-Southeast Louisiana flavors from Lopez. Four years later, the talented friends are indeed becoming collaborators, joining forces on an exciting, seven-course “earth and turf” feast at New Orleans’s Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFab) on Saturday, April 9.
Martin, 28, who started as a busboy at the Market Cafe on Decatur Street in the French Quarter and worked his way into the kitchen from there, first discovered an affinity for plant-based foods in 2013. “I saw people in my family having so many health issues and I didn’t want to go down that road,” he said. His family, seeing how much better he felt eating a vegan diet, fully supported him in the transition. “[The] improvements aren’t just physical but emotional and mental too,” he explained.
Martin’s dream is to one day open his own plant-based restaurant. He started gaining attention a few years ago with his catering business, Indigo Soul Cuisine, which he’s run for close to five years, and from popping up at spots like Pagoda Cafe, Good Eden three days a week, as well as at vegan-friendly restaurant Sneaky Pickle in Bywater. His menus take the diner on a journey to regions like West Africa, with the snack akara, a fritter made with black eyed peas that is a savory cousin to the calas rice fritters. “The chance for us to collaborate and create multi-course experiences for guests is something we’ve talked about for a long time. I want to show similarities in cultures, not just through food, but who we are as people. We like to let ingredients speak for themselves.”
Lopez, 27, whose nickname “Butter” comes from his smooth action on a skateboard, is born and raised in New Orleans, with Asian and Garifuna roots. He’s been working at Lazy Betty, an acclaimed three-year-old restaurant in Atlanta, and holding pop-up dinners at other restaurants in the city since evacuating New Orleans during Hurricane Ida in 2021, coming back and forth to see his tight-knit family and friends. “It was a tough time, with the pandemic then the hurricane. I didn’t know anybody in Atlanta. But I was open to learning and going to the next level.” Before Atlanta, he was sous chef at Maypop and also became known for his pop-ups, like a collaboration with chef Serigne Mbaye for Mbaye’s Dakar Nola Juneteenth dinner series last summer. Lopez came up in family kitchens, he says, and cooking is all he wants to do. “I love leading, executing food; it’s where my heart is. I want to travel around and work for talented chefs, to be a student and a teacher too.”
Martin says of Lopez, “He’s my boy, I know how he rolls.” Martin is creating the first, third, and fifth course; Lopez, the second, fourth, and sixth, with both weighing in on dessert; there’s the option of replacing each fish or meat course with a plant base upon request.
To start, Martin is offering bites, tastings like shisho leaf with mushrooms, Asian pear, kimchi, and chives; or Korean ddukbokki, a spicy rice cake flavored with holy trinity, gochugaru (Korean chili powder), and fried and fresh scallions. Jackfruit “ribs” are treated with a sweet and hot Shanghai barbecue sauce kicked up a notch with misbelief and fermented black been salad — misbeliefs are what New Orleanians call the fruit of the japonica tree, Japanese plums or loquats. Red fish is served in a Southern Thai tom yum broth, with okra and roe. A course of spicy dan dan noodles mixed with mustard greens gets its heat from citrus chili oil. There’s duck breast, cured for 24 hours then roasted, and served with charred eggplant with orange consommé; and a dessert of pain perdu with caramelized plantains, makrut leaf, and coconut ice cream.
Although the friends have different styles, their common ground is putting the emphasis on simple, clean, and explosive flavors. “That’s our game, no matter what,” said Martin. “Mutual trust and respect lets us be creative and take things to the next level.”
The dinner, capped at 30 diners to keep the experience intimate and priced at $150 including wine pairings, still has a few openings left to book.