The Next Generation of New Orleans Chefs

By Chelsea Morse Posted August 17, 2012
Chef John Besh presents Syrena Johnson with her chef jacket.

John Besh presents Syrena Johnson with a chef jacket.
Courtesy Besh Restaurant Group

Here at F&W we’re crazy about the amazing food that our chef heroes make every single day, but we’re even more excited when they’re passionate about passing the torch on to the next generation of culinary leaders. Legendary chef John Besh has set out on a new mission: diversifying the chef community of New Orleans, enlisting native sons and daughters to preserve the city's venerable culinary traditions. "Most of our young professional chefs look eerily similar to myself," says Besh. "Our kitchens were missing the minorities of the inner city who were not enjoying the same success or chance to get the kind of culinary education that is priceless in a kitchen."

His commitment to diversity in the kitchen combined with his dedication to New Orleans cuisine led him to launch his new foundation Chefs Move!, which provides scholarships for minority New Orleanians to pursue their culinary aspirations at New York City's International Culinary Center. The foundation’s first scholar, Syrena Johnson, just completed her nine month program. She will be the honored guest at an event benefiting the foundation on August 21 at City Grit in New York City. The team behind Besh’s flagship restaurant, August, will prepare a New Orleans-inspired five-course meal to benefit Chefs Move!; tickets are available for $175 here. Diners will feast on dishes like crispy soft shell crabs with Louisiana popcorn rice risotto and chocolate chess pie with peppermint ice cream. It's enough to make us want to hop in Syrena's suitcase to join her when she moves back to New Orleans on Wednesday.

Prior to her training at the ICC, Johnson worked at August for four months, gaining baseline knowledge that served her well for future coursework. “I was scared going into culinary school because I didn’t know what to expect,” she says, “but working at August really had me prepared – I knew the terminology, the different types of food. It was a genius idea to put me there.” She plans to stay in New Orleans. “In the field I’m in,” she says, “it’s the best place for me. That’s the food I grew up on and that I love.” She tells F&W that she did love her time in New York City (particularly visiting Shake Shack), but that she can’t wait to return home and begin her eight-week internship in one of Besh’s restaurants. “I feel like I might gain a couple pounds when I get back,” she says. “I’m ready for a good home-cooked meal. But my first stop is going to be [Creole culinary icon Leah Chase’s restaurant] Dooky Chase for a shrimp po-boy.”

Related: Chefs Make Change Coalition
John Besh Recipes

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