New Orleans chef/restaurant mogul John Besh has long been familiar with the L.A. food scene.
“My roommate in culinary school 25 years ago was Neal Fraser,” says Besh, who was in town during Grammy Week with Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne and cooked the Only in Louisiana brunch at the Conga Room to celebrate the seven Grammy nominees from his state. “I’ve been friends with Suzanne Goin for 20-odd years.”
So, yes, Besh, who made gumbo with jumbo Louisiana shrimp, Mangalista sausage gravy, and baked burrata grits at the Goin-hosted Alex’s Lemonade charity event in September, is tight with some of the true OGs of L.A. dining.
But he’s also a man who is always looking for new inspiration. So on this L.A. trip, he took his chef Brian Landry on a tour of some of the city’s best seafood restaurants. Besh has a restaurant, Borgne, that he says is his equivalent of Son of a Gun. So he and Landry went to Son of a Gun and ended up eating most of the menu even though Besh didn’t call Vinny Dotolo in advance because he was worried about getting bombarded with food.
In just a few days of eating, Besh also was dazzled by Connie & Ted’s and Chi Spacca, the latter of which isn’t exactly focused on seafood but shares a sensibility with the other restaurants he visited.
“L.A. really is the most diverse food city,” Besh says.” Every restaurant is doing something different. In a lot of cities, a lot of restaurants are doing the same thing. What I love is the energy and enthusiasm and irreverence of the new generation. People are breaking rules.”
Coming from Louisiana, Besh is inspired by L.A. because he’s often had barriers when he cooked. “When I make gumbo, it has to taste like my mom’s gumbo.” he says.
What’s happening in L.A., where so many chefs are riffing on classic dishes and just making whatever they think tastes good, is “artistically liberating,” Besh says. “I’ve always been inspired by the L.A. food scene, but now there is so much diversity that I don’t think has ever existed.”
So after Besh cooked brunch at the Conga Room for a party where Grammy-nominated Louisiana artists Ledisi, Magnolia Sisters, Jo El Sonnier, and Bonsoir, Catin performed, it was time for the chef to eat. And as good as his brunch food–which included standouts like crispy crawfish etouffee fried rice (the kind of riff that would fit right into Los Angeles’ dining scene) and slow-cooked pork grillades–was, he wasn’t in L.A. to eat his own food.
So he got in his car and went across town to Manhattan Beach for some seafood at Fishing With Dynamite.