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.
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.
845 N Carrollton Ave, New Orleans