New Orleans, LA – Musicians are usually the ones praised for their ability to improv in this town, but lately local chefs and restaurant people have been showing remarkable flexibility when the tune of their career changes.
For instance, last month Craig and Kim Giesecke made the tough decision to shutter their Uptown barbecue and breakfast joint, J'Anita's. They were making money, though not enough to survive the impending summer, when utility bills tend to skyrocket and customer traffic shrinks. But closing the doors wasn't the end for J'Anita's.
Encouraged by a chorus of well-wishers bemoaning the loss of the restaurant, the couple soon worked out a deal with the Avenue Pub, a 24-hour watering hole on St. Charles Avenue. The upshot: less than two weeks after closing their own restaurant, the Giesecke's were back in business, serving a limited version of their old menu from the pub's small kitchen. It's called J'Anita's at the Avenue, and it's just one example of local restaurant professionals making a go of it in unconventional ways around town.
Enterprising chef Daniel Esses is also cutting an unorthodox path. He's cooked at many fine-dining restaurants around town, and he wants to open his own restaurant. But he's discovered it's more than a little difficult to find people willing to front the start up cash these days.
So in the meantime, he's built a busy schedule of his own freelance food ventures, and he is incubating a few ideas he believes may lead to stand alone businesses in the future. He now cooks tapas at weekly wine tastings for shops like Cork & Bottle and Swirl in Mid-City and Bacchanal in the Bywater. He hosts supper clubs for small crowds gathered in private homes. He's teaching cooking and wine-pairing workshops, and he's selling fresh pasta at the Crescent City Farmers Market. He rents a commercial kitchen to prep all this food, and will soon start a pizza delivery service a few days a week for the Marigny and Bywater.
And then there's Neal Swidler, a veteran chef of local restaurants like NOLA and Emeril's Delmonico. As his young family grew, the famously hectic life of the restaurant world became less appealing. His solution was to create Chef Neal Feed Me, a service delivering restaurant-quality meals to people's homes or businesses. This isn't your typical take-out, but rather creatively-prepared and thoughtfully-presented dishes like pepper-glazed pork with mushroom spoonbread or pesto grilled Gulf shrimp with risotto. They arrive ready to eat, and are designed to reheat well the next day for lunch. He's now delivering 50 to 60 such dinners a week and is planning to expand with a new delivery lunch service.
As these and other local restaurant people build their own niches, we diners get to enjoy creative cooking in more and much different types of places. So look for J'Anita's redfish sandwiches at the Avenue Pub, for tapas from Daniel Esses at a wine tasting near you or for Neal Swidler with dinner at your doorstep.