John Besh is a chef and a native son dedicated to the culinary riches of southern Louisiana. In his restaurants, entrepreneurial pursuits, and public activities, he preserves and promotes ingredients, techniques, and heritage one mouth-watering dish at a time. His eleven acclaimed restaurants (August, Besh Steak, Lüke, Lüke San Antonio, La Provence, Domenica, Pizza Domenica, Borgne, Johnny Sánchez New Orleans, Johnny Sánchez Baltimore and Shaya) celebrate the bounty and traditions of the region.
From the outset of his career, Besh’s talent and drive have earned him continuous kudos. In 2014, the James Beard Foundation inducted him into “Who’s Who in Food & Beverage.” Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America,” and he won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southeast in 2006. In 2009, he was awarded Food Arts’ Silver Spoon Award for revitalizing the culinary legacy of New Orleans. His flagship restaurant, August, is a Gayot Top 40 Restaurant and a Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Restaurant, in addition to being a 2012 and 2013 James Beard Nominee for Outstanding National Restaurant (eligible only to restaurants open for ten years or more).
How did you get into the culinary industry?
This industry attracts people that are passionate about serving other people. Unless one truly loves to serve people through food and drink, then this isn't the right career path. But I do love that, so I that's what drew me towards working in the culinary industry.
Tell us about The Besh Restaurant Group. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
I invest in the incredible people that invested so much in me. From my young cooks who become chef/partners to the bus staff and waiters who become our general managers, for me it is all about investing in beautiful, talented people that truly want to make the world a better place by serving others. My vision is to continue to grow the company while weaving in and out the fabric of our philanthropic efforts. It's not enough to just make money and grow. The real payback is to know that we make a difference wherever we are.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to The Besh Restaurant Group's success?
Business is truly about connectivity. Before I create a restaurant I think of the yin and the yang that will run the restaurants on a daily basis. We chefs are passionate and creative and often times need a very pragmatic counterpart. Like wise after we have formed a brand we look for ways to cross market our brand with other brands, such as Lufthansa, Lexus, Longines and Samsung. Food is the common thread that allows us to connect. These alliances help us connect to a broader audience that we would normally not be able to.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
We are now able to use technology to identify the needs and expectations of every guest. It allows us to have real time numbers to precise temperatures. Technology has evolved at such a rapid rate that it can be both exhilarating and freighting at the same time.
To use my God given talents in a way that makes my slice of the world a better place.
The Besh Restaurant Group's Motto?
Serving others is noble. When a guest comes to a restaurant we are all in charge of their happiness while they are with us.
Your greatest success as Proprietor of The Besh Restaurant Group? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
My greatest success would be measured by the success of our scholarship recipients. Just the other day our first recipient who was homeless after hurricane Katrina is now a proud homeowner and talented chef. The most difficult moment was the devastation and wake of hurricane Katrina leaving my city in shambles. It was the first time I ever fed someone that was truly hungry and it changed my life forever.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur/restauranteur?
Don't have a back up plan. If you have a back up plan you will be forever backing up. Be passionate about what you do and jump with both feet in. It takes that enthusiasm to be a winner.
Describe the ideal experience at a John Besh restaurant. You're welcomed and served with warmth from the heart, you're surprised beyond your expectations and you walk away knowing you had a special experience.
How important are architecture/design to the success of your restaurants?
As a chef its hard for me to say but food is not the only factor. A great ambiance paired with heart felt service and soulful foods have to all exist in equal proportion. Ambiance sets the stage for a festival that should dazzle all senses.
How do you motivate your employees?
We try to inspire every employee to give us their full heart knowing that in return they will continue to grow with us. By hiring people that truly love to serve, whether you are a dishwasher or hostess, it's not very hard to motivate by setting high expectations and communicating those to the company.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
As a New Orleanian I love my sazerac and my pomme soufflé dipped in a decadent Béarnaise sauce.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Start up Nation and The Republic by Plato
Role model - business and personal?
Personal- My father had been a hard driven great santini fighter pilot who was paralyzed at 44 and went back to school accumulating 5 degrees and raising 6 kids from a wheelchair. He embodied tenacity, passion, enthusiasm, faith, love and humility.
My business mentor was my chef, Karl-Josef Fuchs, from the mountains of the Black Forrest in Germany who taught me how to balance work and family while being a Michelin starred chef.
Family. I am raising four boys with my wife on the same little stretch of bayou that I was raised on. Not only do I love cooking for them but so enjoy hunting, fishing and scuba diving with them.
(Johnny Sanchez New Orleans, Photo Credit:Rush Jagoe)
Favorite travel destination?
That changes on a regular basis. But I can't wait to return to Jerusalem.
What's next for John Besh?
I'd like to continue to grow in business but not girth. I love to mingle work and philanthropy, and I hope to truly make a bigger difference one day in New Orleans.
In August 2014, Besh partnered with his longtime friend, chef Aarón Sánchez, to open “Johnny Sánchez,” a farm-to-table taqueria. There are currently two locations: the flagship in New Orleans, and a second location in Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino.
In 2015 Besh will nurture a new opening within the BRG family: Willa Jean Bakery. Willa Jean Bakery, a collaboration between BRG Executive Pastry Chef Kelly Fields and Pastry Chef Lisa White (of Domenica and Pizza Domenica), will open in 2015.
“Hungry Investors,” Besh’s latest television endeavor, premiered in May 2014 on the Spike network. The show sees him traveling around the country alongside Chef Tiffany Derry and Jon Taffer to seek out and assist “diamond in the rough” failing restaurants to meet their potential. He has also appeared on top television programs on The Food Network and the acclaimed Sundance Channel “Iconoclast” series alongside his longtime friend, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis.
Besh has authored three cookbooks: My New Orleans (October 2009) My Family Table (November 2011), and Cooking from the Heart (November 2013) (Andrews McMeel Publishing). The books were recognized by John’s peers and the culinary industry by being awarded the prestigious IACP Award in the American category (2010, My New Orleans) and the Children, Youth and Family category (2012, My Family Table), with a nomination in 2014 for Cooking from the Heart.
He is the host of two national public television cooking shows, based on his award-winning cookbooks: “Chef John Besh’s New Orleans,” and “Chef John Besh’s Family Table.”
A U.S. Marine, Besh is proud to have partnered with Baton Rouge-based emergency reconstruction specialists Arkel International, for which he creates high quality ready-to-eat meals for distribution to thousands of emergency response teams and sustained strategic operations in the U.S. and around the world; the initiative promotes the Gulf Coast’s food culture as it elevates the Louisiana economy.
Besh's non-profit organization, the John Besh Foundation, works to protect and preserve the culinary heritage and foodways of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area. In 2011, as part of the Foundation, the Chefs Move! scholarship was established to send a minority recipient to the International Culinary Center in New York City. The scholar pledges to return to New Orleans and work in the restaurant industry for five years, promoting and supporting diversity in the kitchen. To date, seven Chefs Move scholarships have been awarded. The Foundation also started a microloan program, in partnership with the Tulane School of Business, to financially assist and advise farmers and artisanal producers within 200 miles of New Orleans to grow their business.