John Besh ’92, John Besh Restaurants
Acclaimed Chef John Besh grew up hunting and fishing in Southern Louisiana, learning at an early age the essentials of Louisiana’s rich culinary traditions. At the age of 11, John met Chef Paul Prudhomme and knew he wanted to follow in the great chefs footsteps. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, his talent and drive have earned John critical kudos from the outset of his career: in 1999, Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America.” In 2003, Gourmet magazine included Restaurant August in its “Guide to America’s Best Restaurants,” and in 2006, it cited Restaurant August as one of America’s Top 50 Restaurants. In 2005, John received a nomination for a James Beard Award, and he won the Beard Award for Best Chef: South in 2006. Also that year, he defeated Chef Mario Batali on Iron Chef America on the Food Network, scoring a victory in the andouille sausage battle. On November 11, 2007, John went head-to-head against fellow alumnus Michael Symon ’90 in Food Network’s series finale of The Next Iron Chef.
Hungry Investors, John’s latest television endeavor on the Spike network, premiered in May 2014 on the Spike network. The show saw him traveling around the country alongside Chef Tiffany Derry and Jon Taffer to seek out and assist “diamond in the rough” failing restaurants to meet their potential. He has also appeared on the acclaimed Sundance Channel Iconoclast series alongside his longtime friend, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. He is the host of two national public television cooking shows, based on his award-winning cookbooks: My New Orleans and My Family Table.
John’s appreciation for local ingredients and local cuisine has only increased since Hurricane Katrina, as he considers these essential to the survival of the peoples and cultural heritage of New Orleans. No one is more keenly aware of the fragility of the region’s culinary culture. In addition to getting his own restaurants, the elegant contemporary Restaurant August and chic Besh Steak, up-and-running as soon as possible after the storm for the benefit of his staff, as well as the morale of his loyal local guests, he was also instrumental in rebuilding other establishments such as Willie Mae’s Scotch House, one of the city’s venerated culinary landmarks. In 2009, he was awarded Food Arts’ Silver Spoon Award for revitalizing the culinary legacy of New Orleans. In 2014, the James Beard Foundation inducted him into “Who’s Who in Food & Beverage.” In 2015, John was inducted in to the Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Hall of Fame.
With his friend and business partner Octavio Mantilla, he acquired the charming and rustic La Provence in Lacombe, LA from his late mentor, legendary Chef Chris Kerageorgiou; and also opened Lüke, a brasserie in the grand New Orleans tradition, a cultural legacy that Besh could not allow to slip away. In addition to restaurants Lüke, August, and La Provence, he owns Besh Steak, Johnny Sanchez New Orleans, Johnny Sanchez Baltimore, Borgne, Domenica, Pizza Domenica, Willa Jean, Willa Jean Bakery, and Lüke San Antonio. John recently signed on to run the food and beverage program at the historic Pontchartrain Hotel, which reopened in spring 2016 after a long renovation with a resurrected version of the Caribbean Room. He will reopen two other historic amenities at the hotel, the Bayou Bar and the Silver Whistle coffee shop, and will develop a new rooftop bar on the hotel’s penthouse level.
In 2015, John partnered with Chef Alon Shaya and opened Shaya serving authentic Israeli cuisine. The same year the restaurant was voted Best New Restaurant in America by Esquire magazine and the Daily Meal. Alon took home the 2015 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: South and, in May 2016, Shaya won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant.
In 2016, John purchased the Central Business District restaurant Le Foret in New Orleans, which he will turn into an event space called Pigeon & Prince. “We get people who want to host special events, but we didn’t have a dedicated space. Now we do,” John says.
An award winning cookbook author, John has penned four books, Besh Big Easy in 2015, Cooking from the Heart in 2013, My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking in 2011, and My New Orleans: The Cookbook in 2009. He was co-author with David Newsome of New Orleans Program: Eat, Exercise, and Enjoy Life.
The John Besh Foundation was established in 2011, providing scholarships, grants, and loans to individuals in the New Orleans community with the passion, creativity, and knowledge to enact change in New Orleans and Louisiana. The foundation was created to protect and preserve the culinary heritage and foodways of both New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. That same year John set up a micro loan program to aid New Orleans farmers in rebuilding their businesses. Giving out low-interest loans ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 he continues to support and promote sustainable local farming and dining. The loans are available to farmers within a 200-mile radius of New Orleans.
A U.S. Marine, John is proud to have partnered with the Baton Rouge-based emergency reconstruction specialists Arkel International, for which he creates high quality ready-to-eat meals for distribution to thousands of emergency response teams and sustained strategic operations in the U.S. and around the world. The initiative promotes the Gulf Coast’s food culture, as it elevates the Louisiana economy.
John is an been the energetic spokesman for the Louisiana Seafood Council, as well as a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance; and a Board Member of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. He is active in a state promotional program created by former Lieutenant Governor and current New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, who tapped the chef to prepare meals with the media in an effort to showcase the cuisine of Louisiana.