Cooking School: Pastries with Chef John Besh (Traditional Home)

Chef John Besh

Recipes in this Story:

Basic Sweet Tart Dough
Blackberry Tart
Peach Galette
Walter’s Cheesecake with Raspberry Compote

There’s beauty in taking some flour, butter, and a little sugar and watching the simplest of ingredients become something elegant,” says chef John Besh, a New Orleans native son and the owner of nine restaurants. “If you pay attention to the little details, you’ll have the best pie dough.”

That trenchant observation stems from a time early in Besh’s career, when he interned at hotels and restaurants in Germany’s Black Forest and France’s Provence.

Besh studied pastry while working at the Michelin-starred Spielweg restaurant in the Black Forest. His mentors there could not have been more diverse: Edel, a soft-spoken Irish woman with a deft, graceful hand at dessert-making, and Walter, a gruff-with-a-heart-of-gold German pastry chef. Each taught Besh an important lesson: Strip away the layers and embellishments of cooking, and respect the recipe’s basic ingredients and traditions.

“I wanted to learn the gutsiness of Walter’s cakes and breads and the elegance of Edel’s refined pastries,” Besh remembers.

Nine restaurants later, including the award-winning August in New Orleans, which showcases his European training and Louisiana roots, Besh today is known for more than just cooking. Although he has been honored by the James Beard Foundation with nominations and awards, he is equally proud of the 2009 Food Arts Silver Spoon award for his work revitalizing New Orleans’ culinary legacy after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Besh used his experience as a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War to respond to the plight of those left behind and hungry.

“The war prepared me to operate in an environment that you can’t control,” Besh says. “I wasn’t given these talents just to win awards. I was able to marshal resources to feed people who were truly hungry. My marine buddies pitched in to rescue people who couldn’t get away. We cooked gallons and gallons of red beans and rice and sent them out in ice chests loaded onto boats. Later, we fed the oil and construction workers who were rebuilding the city.”

In 2011, he founded the John Besh Foundation to promote New Orleans’ culinary history and provide scholarships for aspiring young chefs and loans to local farmers. Can this work be built on lessons learned years ago in the far-off Black Forest? “Yes,” Besh says. “That time of my life shaped me forever. It led me to appreciate localism and preserve its culinary tradition. New Orleans, similarly, is the only city with its own indigenous urban cuisine. All of us need to work to perpetuate it.”

For more information on John Besh’s resturants and foundation, visit


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Goose gumbo in the Rockies, part deux (Vail Daily)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on goose gumbo. Visit to read the first installment. Read more...

Last week, we prepared a lovely smoked goose stock, our foundation for gumbo. Yes, we could have shortcut the process and used store-bought “manufactured” stock, but that would be cheating. Processed stock lacks the depth and richness resulting from hours of extracting flavors from herbs, vegetables and the marrow, fat and residual meat from a goose carcass.

The preface to many historic Creole and Cajun recipes: “First you make a roux,” the bedrock of gumbo, etouffee and many other Louisiana dishes. Simply put, roux is fried flour. That’s where the simplicity ends. However, before we get to the roux, there’s some work to be done.

Gumbo’s building blocks

My stock recipe yielded about six quarts. For the gumbo I made preparing this article, I used four quarts and froze the other two. Although the process of making gumbo is fairly standard, the types and melange of spices and ingredients are as varied as the Louisiana flora and fauna.

Key to success in any kitchen endeavor is thorough preparation. A well-prepared mise en place removes stress, an unwanted ingredient in any epicurean creation.

Dice two large onions, three stalks of celery, and seed and dice two green bell peppers and one tomato. Most Cajun and Creole dishes begin with these aromatics. If you want to play Picasso, substitute a red bell pepper for one of the green peppers for a dash of color. Mince three large cloves of garlic. Fresh okra’s a rarity in Colorado, so I’ve learned to live without it.

Pick leaves from a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme. Since I use California laurel leaves that are large and somewhat pungent, I use only one bay leaf. Grind a couple of tablespoons of black pepper and measure a bit of Kosher salt. A tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce provides a je ne sais quoi that would definitely be missing otherwise.

For spice, measure an eighth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, one teaspoon ground cumin and one-quarter teaspoon each of ground allspice, sweet paprika and ground coriander. Some recipes call for Cajun spice mixes that include onion and garlic powders, but I’m not a fan of store-bought spice blends.

A half-pound of andouille sausage will supplement the goose meat and add rich flavor. Andouille is a course, double-smoked pork sausage that’s a crucial ingredient in many south Louisiana recipes. Although it’s cooked, I slice the sausage, place on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes to render some of the fat. Since my goose was picked clean at Christmas, I ordered more smoked goose breast from Schiltz Foods and used about four cups of rough chopped meat.

As I mentioned last week, Jacob’s, located in LaPlace, Louisiana, “The Andouille Capital of the World,” is an excellent source for andouille; that is if you happen to live less than a day’s drive from the store. Shipping to Colorado costs more than the sausage, so I use Aidells Cajun Style Andouille. It’s a reasonable, good quality substitute with ingredients one can actually pronounce.


Alchemy of flour and oil

We should pay tribute to the alchemist who took flour and fried it in hot fat centuries ago. Although I don’t know what fat they used, today’s cooks choose from clarified butter, rendered duck or chicken fat, or oil, depending on the dish. I use canola oil. For four quarts of stock, a cup each of oil and flour works great. Humble, personable native icon of epicurean Louisiana, Chef John Folse, advocates using fresh flour properly stored and less than six months old.

There really isn’t a gluten free option for a thickener if you want the real deal in your bowl. Chef John Besh believes “only a flour-based roux yields that traditional flavor” of gumbo. Make soup, not gumbo, if gluten’s a problem.

Before you begin making the roux, take care of all calls and walk the dog, because there’s no stopping once you’ve started.

My 13.25-quart gargantuan Le Creuset Dutch oven is my go-to pot for a large batch of gumbo. It’s heavy and can easily overheat, but it’s fun to use and heats evenly. Key here is choosing a pot with a heavy bottom, but never a nonstick pan. With my mise en place complete, pot resting on high heat, my whisk and trusty 30 year-old wooden spatula in hand, I’m ready to go.

Chef Besh heats oil before whisking in flour. He believes it hastens the process and produces a deeper dark chocolate color. I concur.

“Dancing oil” — formation of surface ripples — indicates it’s time to add the flour. Sprinkle flour over the oil, whisking constantly until it’s completely dissolved. Lower the heat to medium and continue stirring. At this point, I switch to my wooden spatula that I find moves the roux around better than a whisk, preventing hot spots.

Initially, the flour will bubble and then settle down, releasing a fragrant nutty aroma as it begins to cook. It’s a smell from my childhood. For duck or goose gumbo, a dark chocolate-colored (black) roux is best. For seafood and chicken, the color should be akin to milk chocolate.

Although this is fun, it can also be dangerous. Hot flour and oil splashing on tender skin — like fingers and forearms, not to mention foreheads — creates pretty nasty burns. Take care to keep the roux in the pot, not in the air. Hot roux “spits” if you’re not careful, so it’s important to keep stirring not just to keep the roux from burning, but to keep the roux from burning you. It’s not a bad idea to have some Aloe Vera gel nearby.

Continue stirring until the roux is glossy and dark. For assembling the gumbo, I’ll share another great tip from Chef Besh. Instead of dumping prepped onions, peppers, celery and garlic into the roux at once, resist the temptation and first add onions and stir, cooking for about 5 to 10 minutes. As the hot roux cocoons the onions, a tantalizing, nutty aroma emerges. This technique allows onions to caramelize without interference from water that cooking vegetables exude.

Next, reduce the heat and add remaining vegetables, herbs and spices. Continue stirring while cooking for another few minutes. Now comes another critical point — adding stock.

After recently breaking my roux, I turned to Chef Folse for some troubleshooting advice. If flour separates and floats instead of mixing with the added stock, it’s broken. To avoid this, add liquid in one-quart intervals, stirring constantly to allow the roux to absorb the stock before adding more.

Chef Folse warned of another common mistake cooks make: adding cold stock to hot roux. The coagulation of fat as it rises traps flour particulars. To repair, he advises bringing the liquid to a boil, then briskly whisking to blend the mixture back into suspension. Problem solved.

Once you’ve successfully crossed that bridge, add andouille, goose meat, Worcestershire sauce, and balance salt and pepper. A few dashes of Tabasco will add some kick. Stir, bring to a boil then simmer for about an hour while the flavors meld. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf and skim any fat that floats to the surface.

Note that you’ll find many recipes that call for a different ordering of ingredient additions at this stage, but this is what I do. You’ll discover over time how gumbo can become your personal, signature dish.

To serve your painstakingly made gumbo, scoop a small amount of hot, steaming rice into a bowl, ladle gumbo over the rice and garnish with sliced green onions. My favorite finishing touch is a sprinkle of fresh, pungent file (“FEE-lay”) made from dried sassafras leaves, preferably homemade. Gumbo with a salad and hot crusty bread makes for a delicious meal anytime of the year.

If you’d like to know more about preparing gumbo using other meats, pairing it with the perfect wine and reading more personal experiences, visit my website at


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Pasta Milanese by Chef John Besh (The Catholic Foodie)

Pasta Milanese for a Friday Meatless Meal in Lent

There is only one week left in Lent, which makes tomorrow is our last Friday of abstinence from meat. Next Friday is Good Friday, which is a day of fasting and abstinence. Read more...

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated one of my favorite feasts: the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. I wrote and talked about our deeply Sicilian traditions here in New Orleans of honoring St. Joseph by setting up St. Joseph Altars. Though the feast is celebrated as a Solemnity, which trumps any requirements of fasting and abstinence, it is still customary for there to be no meat on a St. Joseph Altar. Some say that is because the feast day always falls in Lent, others say that the tradition stems from the historical dependence of Sicily on seafood for sustenance. Either way, it is still a feast, so meat or no meat, the altars are covered in delicious food.

Chef John Besh and St. Joseph Altars

I published an article on the eve of St. Joseph’s feast day about Chef John Besh’s Italian Feast Day Besh Box, which he put together in honor of St. Joseph. I was a happy recipient of an Italian Feast Day Besh Box, and I decided to create an “unboxing” video to show you what came inside the box. [If you haven't seen that video yet, I will embed it at the end of this post.]

One of the things I mentioned in that article is that I am not a big fan of anchovies. That can be problematic at a St. Joseph Altar since one of the traditional centerpiece dishes is, in fact, made with anchovies. I’m talking about Pasta Milanese. I’ll eat it, of course. But I have never ventured to make it myself. As a matter of fact, I ended up making Pasta al Tonno e Pomodoro for the feast day this year because I really like tuna.

But you shouldn’t have to suffer because I’m not a fan of anchovies. Lucky for us, Chef John Besh included a recipe for Pasta Milanese in the Italian Feast Day Besh Box. The recipe below is actually from his cookbook My New Orleans, and I am sharing it with you here with permission.


“This sauce is a classic for New Orleanians of Sicilian descent and those of us who love their food. What it has to do with Milan beats me. The recipe varies  from household to household, but I’ve found that good-quality canned tomatoes can be brought back to life by adding a little extra spice and a pinch or two of sugar.” – Chef John Besh

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10 Party Recipes from BNC Alums (Food & Wine)

Today, F&W revealed the new class of Best New Chefs! If you're not at the BNC party tonight, don't worry, BNC alums have you covered with these 10 incredible party recipes. Read more...

1. Smoked Salmon Crisps
For an easy version of BNC '88 Thomas Keller's salmon cornets, leave the tuiles flat like crackers.

2. Gargantuan Gougères
These golden French cheese puffs from BNC '88 Daniel Boulud can easily be made ahead of time.

3. Popcorn Shrimp with Corn Butter
For a movie theater popcorn taste, BNC '13 Chris Shepard makes a sauce with fresh corn, a touch of cream and store-bought, butter-flavored granules.

4. Oyster Tartlets
BNC '99 John Besh places oysters in mini tartlet shells, then tops them with a creamy horseradish sauce and crispy bread crumbs.

5. Cheddar Crisps
This one-ingredient hors d'oeuvre from BNC '96 Barbara Lynch is ready in just 10 minutes.

6. Fig-and-Prosciutto Flatbreads
Use store-bought pizza dough for an easy version of BNC '10 Todd English's incredible flatbreads.

7. DCV
This Calvados-based twist on a sidecar from BNC '09 Linton Hopkins was named after the Citroen 2CV, known informally as a Deux Chevaux.

8. Sunset Punch
BNC '08 Ethan Stowell's party punch features bourbon, white vermouth and ginger beer.

9. Chocolate Blackout Cake
This stellar cake from BNC '94 Gale Gand features an intense chocolatey custard and is coated with cake crumbs.

10. Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Pie
BNC '90 Nancy Silverton's incredible dessert is great with vanilla-caramel or mocha hot fudge sauce.


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Everyone's family has special recipes that are passed down from generation to generation on faded recipe cards, mainly because email access was hard to come by in the '60s. Read more...

Because family recipes are often delicious, we asked a group of the country's most renowned chefs to take us on a trip down their culinary memory lanes and share a dish that their family cooked growing up. From Korean taco truck king Roy Choi's braised short-rib stew to Grant Achatz of Alinea's birthday cake (no liquid nitrogen required!), read on to see what these superstar chefs grew up on -- and how you can make it yourself.

Shrimp Creole

John Besh, August (New Orleans)
"I was blessed to grow up in a family that encouraged me to cook -- that's when I first saw how food could make people happy. I saw how happy my dad was when I made shrimp creole for him. Family dinner time was when we all dropped what we were doing, and gathered together. We began with a prayer and ate good, home-cooked food that connected us to where we came from -- the South. South Louisiana in particular."
See the full recipe here...

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