Contemporary Cajun Cuisine with Chef Isaac Toups

We caught up with the man behind New Orleans' Toups' Meatery to learn how he's giving indigenous Louisiana grub a modern spin.

  • Don't mess with Chef Toups. He's the boss.
  • Amuse: "This is cracklin. It’s fried pork belly—double fried like pommes frites. The difference between cracklins and pork rinds is that pork rinds is just tough skin, whereas with this you get the skin, you get the fat, and you get the meat all in one bite."
  • Chef Joshua Wilkins frying up the pork cracklin amuse. "In Louisiana, you get a bag of cracklins when you go to the gas station and you sit there, watch a high school football game, and drink a six-pack of beer. This is our snack food," says chef Toups.
  • First course: "I wanted to bring some of that rustic, real Cajun feel into this cold pasta with Louisiana crabmeat, Louisiana caviar, and good tomatoes that come from y’all’s farmers market in Union Square."
  • Second course: Charcuterie board with: hogs head cheese; "choriz" (a fresh, Cajun-style chorizo); Sazerac terrine with Luxardo cherry, fennel, and orange zest; cold smoked duck breast smoked with the oak stage from the Makers Mark 46.
  • Third course: North Louisiana duck served with petite chaudin. Chaudin is stuffed pig's stomach with rice and boudin-style stuffing.
  • Chef Toups in his element, plating the Louisiana duck.
  • Prepping the caul fat-wrapped chaudin.
  • Fourth course: Bone Marrow with braised duck hearts, traditional  bordelaise, and chicken liver mousse. "This is the over-the-top decadence that I just love," says chef Toups.
  • Chef Wilkins ladling the bordelaise sauce onto the bone marrow, seconds before the waiters whisk the dishes away to the dining room.
  • The friendly and efficient service is an essential part of what makes City Grit so spectacular.
  • Dessert: "This is my grandmother’s style of hand pies. I take steamed syrup and thicken it up with eggs and cream and put that in a good, flaky pastry crust and bake it. This is very simple, very Cajun. We serve it with some fresh ricotta and strawberries."
  • Guests enjoying themselves at City Grit.
  • The Toups team runs like a well-oiled machine.
  • And chef Toups only wears truly badass bandanas in the kitchen.

All photos by Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay)

Much of New Orleans’ culinary lore is inextricably linked to its history—the classic cocktail renaissance pays constant homage to the influence of Crescent City bartenders, and at this year’s James Beard Awards, it was the 133-year old Commander’s Palace—not any hot new upstart—that took home a medal. But not everything about the city’s scene is trapped-in-time—just ask Isaac Toups, whose made a name for himself by giving the native foodways of Louisiana a distinctly modern spin.

The burly, amicable chef grew up in Rayne, a small Cajun prairie town, where he learned to cook rustic delicacies like cracklins, boudin sausage, crawfish, and dirty rice. Before opening his own restaurant, Toups’ Meatery, in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans last year, Toups earned his fine-dining chops working for Emeril Lagasse for nearly a decade.

Last month, we had the pleasure of feasting on chef Toups’ contemporary Cajun cooking when he made an appearance at City Grit culinary salon in Nolita. City Grit is a place where well-known and emerging chefs from across the country come to cook—the dinners are curated and organized by City Grit founder and chef Sarah Simmons, who was named one of America’s Greatest New Cooks by Food & Wine Magazine at the beginning of this year. Every night at City Grit is like a rollicking dinner party—one where you’ve made 10 new food-obsessed friends by the time you leave.

city grit toups 31 500x265 Contemporary Cajun Cuisine with Chef Isaac Toups

During the course of the dinner, we spoke with Toups about his culinary journey. “I opened Toups’ Meatery because I was tired of busting my rear-end for other people, and I knew that, as a chef, I was going to have to do that no matter who I was working for,” he says. “People ask me what my style is. For lack for a better word, I say my style is ‘contemporary Cajun,’ or what a guy from Cajun country would do with access to incredibly fresh, seasonal ingredients.”

Toups’ family originally hailed from Switzerland before immigrating to Louisiana centuries ago. His father’s side of the family comes from the Thibodaux area in Cajun country, which is near to the coast. “This is where I get all the recipes for seafood and crawfish,” he says. His mother is part Choctaw Indian and hails from central Louisiana. “That’s where I get the dirty rice and the pork side of my culinary repertoire. In Cajun country, we were doing whole-hog cooking before it was called whole-hog cooking. You were going to use the whole hog—you didn’t have a choice—or you were going to starve. In my family, everybody cooks.”

Click through the gallery above for a course-by-course recap of the meat-centric, contemporary Cajun feast chef Isaac Toups created for the guests of City Grit culinary salon.

Toups Meatery
845 N Carrollton Ave, New Orleans
(504-252-4999, toupsmeatery.com)

 

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