Chefs on Boats Program Brings together Fisherman and New Orleans Restaurateurs

For the past year, Louisiana seafood experts have had engaging conversations about the Louisiana coastline aboard fishing boats. These individuals who have an active stake in the sustainability of the Louisiana coast weren’t coastal scientists or researchers, but Instead, according to this article from, they were chefs from famed New Orleans seafood restaurants meeting with the fishermen who stock their very kitchens. The program that regularly brings together Louisiana restaurant professionals with the fishermen who harvest their seafood is a New Orleans-based program called Chefs on Boats.

The planned meeting between fishermen and restaurateurs isn’t simply for the novelty of it, but it’s an opportunity and an actively growing effort to connect the two coast-concerned parties with the aim of building a collectively better understanding and making stronger allies as the Louisiana coast grapples with historical change.

Centered around a well-intentioned and simple goal to quite literally “get people on boats to see firsthand the work of fishermen and the challenges facing Louisiana’s coastal environment from land loss and climate change,” the Chefs on Boats project is aimed at bringing restaurant people of all types, such as line cooks, managers, bartenders, chefs, and owners straight to the source so that they can bring that experience and knowledge back with them to their French Quarter kitchens.

The Chefs on Boats project is representative of an evolution of a nonprofit effort that formed quickly in 2020 calledChef’s Brigade. The Chef’s Brigade nonprofit is a “united coalition of independent restaurants, purveyors, and chefs working together under a culinary brigade system to feed healthy and amazing food to the citizens, front line responders and healthcare workers of New Orleans on a daily basis.” Initially forming when the pandemic closed restaurants and imperiled hospitality businesses, the grassroots Chef’s Brigade group began to pay otherwise idled restaurants to cook for the pandemic’s essential workers such as first responders and health care workers.

By its conclusion, the program had supplied approximately 3.7 million meals to those in need, and Troy Gilbert, the co-founder of Chef’s Brigade had built a reliable network across the restaurant industry, causing him to think about bringing many seafood professionals together. Gilbert characterized this transition by saying, “we had 90 restaurants in the program that I was talking to once a week, and it blew my mind to discover the disconnect they had from the seafood industry. In New Orleans, we consider ourselves a maritime people, but we built all these barriers to the water around us and there’s a disconnect, including with chefs; it just made sense for us to do this.”

Dana Honn, the founder of the New Orleans-based tropical restaurant and bar Carmo, recently participated in an oyster harvesting outline along with Lindsay Allday and Jeff Spoo, both oyster sommeliers over at Sidecar Patio and Oyster Bar. Honn reflected on the experience by stating that the restaurant people who make their living through the seafood heritage of Louisiana essentially have a nonexistent relationship with the “people who make it tick.” Honn said, “it’s shocking how little information is provided to people in the culinary field and how much they want to learn. There’s a gap, and this (program) is a step in the right direction.”

Since beginning the project only last year, over a dozen trips have taken place, meaning approximately 60 restaurant professionals have been taken out to the source of their livelihood. Although the general design of Chefs on Boats is small in scale with each outing limited to only a half dozen occupants of partnered captain Richie Blink’s skiffs, the close quarters allow more one-on-one time between the restaurant workers and fishermen. Blink appropriately emphasized the importance of these outings by saying, “these waters, the seafood industry, the fishing families, it’s part of Louisiana culture that makes us who we are. It looks like it’s going away but there’s still that can-do spirit, and I think that will get us through these challenges.”

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Top Two Louisiana Chefs That Have Stood the Test of Time

Louisiana Travel has compiled a list of their Top 10 Louisiana chefs and the list is nothing to blink your eyes at.  Louisiana is known for our unique foods and exquisite restaurants that rank in the upper echelon of the entire world, so to make it among the best of the best is a true honor.  We wanted to give homage to the chefs that make it all possible. Chefs are the behind-the-scenes magic makers with complex palates that require creative, out-the-box thinking, and maintenance of close-knit, local relationships with food distributors, farmers, and the like.  Their job descriptions are varied and far-reaching, including being business savvy, working well under pressure, managing line cooks and servers, hobnobbing with local entrepreneurs and business owners, all while creating the next best dish for the customer. It’s harder to remain a chef than to become one- the industry’s cutthroat competitive nature is made even more difficult by the sheer rate of restaurants popping up every year, every month.  Only the good ones survive, and we have compiled a list of the Top 2 Louisiana chefs that have stood the test of time.

1.    Emeril Lagasse

Emeril is probably one of the most widely known Louisiana chefs as his resume includes Television Personality and even Author.  Chef Emeril Lagasse’s passion for food was ignited as a young boy growing up in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, where he spent time in the kitchen with his mother, Hilda. As a teenager, he worked at a Portuguese bakery where he mastered the art of bread and pastry baking. After high school, Lagasse turned down a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. He earned a degree from the respected culinary institution, Johnson and Wales University, and later received an honorary doctorate degree. Wanting to broaden his culinary horizons, Lagasse then traveled to France where he honed his skills and learned the art of classic French cuisine. Returning to the United States, Lagasse practiced his art in fine restaurants in New York, Boston and Philadelphia until a job offer from Dick and Ella Brennan lured the young chef to New Orleans, where Lagasse helmed the kitchen for nearly eight years at their legendary restaurant, Commander’s Palace.

In 1990, Lagasse set out on his own, opening Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. Two years later, he opened NOLA Restaurant in the French Quarter. In 1995, Emeril brought his “New New Orleans” cooking to Las Vegas and opened Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, located in the MGM Grand Hotel. In 1998, Lagasse opened Emeril’s Delmonico in New Orleans’ historic Garden District. He opened two restaurants in 1999 including Emeril’s Orlando at Universal Studios CityWalk and Delmonico Steakhouse in the Venetian Resort, Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He later opened his first restaurant in the Northeast, Emeril’s Chop House on May 22, 2009 at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, and Lagasse’s Stadium, a restaurant and sports entertainment venue opened on September, 25 2009 at The Palazzo. He opened his first-ever burger restaurant, Burgers And More by Emeril, in 2009 at the Sands Bethlehem. In 2016, Lagasse opened Emeril’s Fish House, making this the third restaurant by Emeril at the Sands Bethlehem. Currently, Lagasse is the chef-proprietor of 12 restaurants in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Orlando, Miramar Beach and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Lagasse’s 11th restaurant, Meril, opened in New Orleans in September 2016. Most recently he opened his 12th restaurant, Emeril’s Coastal Italian, in Miramar Beach, Florida.

2.    John Folse

Chef John Folse, born in St. James Parish in 1946, learned early that the secrets of Cajun cooking lay in the unique ingredients of Louisiana’s swamp floor pantry. Folse seasoned these raw ingredients with his passion for Louisiana culture and cuisine, and from his cast iron pots emerged Chef John Folse & Company.

When Folse opened Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant in 1978 in Donaldsonville, he set out to market his restaurant by taking “a taste of Louisiana” worldwide. He traveled all over the world bringing tastes of Louisiana with him.  He introduced Louisiana’s indigenous cuisine to Japan in 1985, Beijing in 1986 and Hong Kong and Paris in 1987. In 1988, Folse made international headlines with the opening of “Lafitte’s Landing East” in Moscow during the Presidential Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1989, Folse was the first non-Italian chef to create the Vatican State Dinner in Rome.

The international success of Folse’s cornerstone property, Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant, spawned the incorporation of several other Chef John Folse & Company properties. White Oak Plantation in 1986 established Folse’s catering and events management division. Chef John Folse & Company Publishing, since 1989, has produced 9 cookbooks in his Cajun and Creole series, plus a novel, two children’s books and a religious memoir by other authors. “A Taste of Louisiana” is Folse’s international television series produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting since 1990. The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., opened in October 1994 and is dedicated to the preservation of Louisiana’s rich culinary and cultural heritage.  In 2014 a brand new facility was built for the program.

In August 1996, Folse expanded his professional repertoire and began broadcasting his radio cooking talk show, “Stirrin’ It Up” which eventually turned into a television cooking segment.

The bakery division was launched in 1996 to create specialty desserts, pastries and savories. In October 1998, a fire destroyed the 200-year-old Viala Plantation, which housed Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant, and in May 1999 Folse opened his former Donaldsonville home as Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant at Bittersweet Plantation offering fine dining and bed and breakfast accommodations. In the year 2000, Folse incorporated Digi-Tek Productions, a full service digital recording studio.

Folse has received numerous national and international accolades including but not limited to: In 1987, the Louisiana Restaurant Association named him “Louisiana Restaurateur of the Year.” In 1989, Nation’s Restaurant News inducted Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant into its “Fine Dining Hall of Fame.” In 1990, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) named Folse the “National Chef of the Year.”  In 1995, Folse was one of 50 people recognized in Nation’s Restaurant News’ “Profiles of Power.” In 1999, the Research Chefs Association (RCA) named Chef John Folse & Company “Pioneers in Culinology” because of the efforts of Folse and his culinary research team. In 2001, Folse was elected to RCA’s Board of Directors and served as RCA president from 2005-2007. In 2006, Folse was inducted into National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s College of Diplomates.  In 2007, Folse served as the American Judge for the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France.

In August 2010, Folse announced his partnership with Chef Rick Tramonto and the formation of Home on the Range: Folse Tramonto Restaurant Development, LLC. Their first joint venture, Restaurant R’evolution, opened in June of 2012 at 777 Bienville St. at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. Restaurant R’evolution offers modern, imaginative reinterpretations of classic Cajun and Creole cuisine.

More than thirty years of culinary excellence later, Folse is still adding ingredients to the corporate gumbo he calls Chef John Folse & Company, which is as diverse as the Louisiana landscape, and he would not want it any other way.

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