An odor of Champagne and sweat hung around him as he ambled through his cousin’s cabin in Alabama. He carried a bottle from his collection of Krug in his hand, one of the few items he’d thought to bring along when he evacuated. After one final swig, it hung half-empty – almost an extension of his arm – and chef John Besh came to a stop with a fresh, yet loose plan. As Hurricane Katrina continued to bear down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, he decided he wanted to return to the city.
A comedy of errors ensued, including a fistfight, chainsaws, running out of gas, an atlas, crooked firemen, running out of gas again, a $200 gallon of gasoline, and a return to Alabama for supplies before Besh and his pal, chef Alon Shaya, finally made it back into the city with the help of some of Besh’s Marine friends. “For me, growing up knowing what Betsy did,” Besh said, “what Camille did to the coast, I knew that this was more than me going bankrupt. This was going to mean an end to New Orleans.”
It wasn’t the end to New Orleans, and it definitely wasn’t the end to John Besh, then a young chef leading Besh Steakhouse in Harrah’s Casino and Restaurant August. Though Katrina devastated the city and its residents’ lives, New Orleans did not disappear as some said it would. From the destruction sprung a whole new cluster of restaurants and dining experiences, including the ten eateries in Besh’s restaurant group. Now many point to New Orleans as the center of the culinary revolution that is fascinating America.