There’s a bit of longing in Scott Serpas’s gritty voice. He talks about growing up in a large family and how they made red beans, rice and tamales at gatherings. He talks about what his grandmother did with milk. He talks about one particular food item his mom prepared for his dad that happens to be the same one he doesn't like.
The executive chef and owner of Serpas True Food , his eponymous restaurant in Old Fourth Ward, will tell you that despite the obvious Louisiana influence, the menu overall is contemporary American. Whatever it is, it’s good, if the often-booked reservation list is any indication. Brunch lovers (like myself) who happily wait for a table on a sunny Sunday afternoon can look forward to Tuesday, since Chef Serpas now serves a section of sweet and savory breakfast specials including beignets, fried oyster eggs benedict, chicken and French toast.
In between outbursts of laughter—he’s really funny—he talks about life as a chef and restaurateur, cooking icons and one thing he finds therapeutic. He talks about food too. Get the full serving below.
Of all the chefs in the world, who would you like to cook next to in his or her kitchen?
Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. Even though he’s very famous, his cooking style is not so gastro molecular like a lot stuff is these days. He’s pretty down to earth as far as technique.
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On the flip side, who would you invite to cook next to you in your kitchen?
(laughs heartily) Let’s move to the next question. (Eventually he returns with "Julia Child or Alice Waters. I grew up watching Julia Child [on television] and she looked like she would have been fun to cook with.")
If you only had three ingredients to prepare a meal, what would they be and what would you prepare?
I could do a fried shrimp po’ boy with French bread, shrimp and mayonnaise. French bread is key.
What’s the best thing about being a chef and a restaurateur?
I like the freedom of creativity and seeing new people everyday. I like the challenge of it too. There’s always something to learn. Cooking is the easy part.
Since Krog Street Market is in the same neighborhood now, how does that affect your business?
It’s definitely brought a lot of people to the area. A lot of people didn’t know about Serpas, so it’s a great thing. I just found out a few weeks ago that a boutique hotel will be built right behind us. [The neighborhood] is growing fast.
What’s one thing that you won’t eat?
I’m not big on calf liver. It’s too irony and strong. My dad loved it. When we had red beans and rice, my mom would always pan-fry calf liver for him. That turned me off as a child. A little of it is okay, but I can’t eat it straight up.
What do you always eat?
Bread. That’s a big one for me.
Are there any new dishes on your fall menu?
We have a venison scaloppini served with ricotta and roasted mushrooms as well as Berkshire pork chops with greens and smoked cheddar grits. That’s really popular. And, we’ll start introducing gumbo soon.
When you’re going to eat, where to you go?
In the neighborhood, I’ll go to Mi Barrio.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
My parents inspired me. I come from a large family in Louisiana and we had a lot of family gatherings. We would make everything from crawfish boil to red beans and rice. We’d do our own tamales. There’s a ton of stuff that we use to do. I miss that; things are fast-paced now, so there’s no time for that.
What do you do at the end of the day to relax?
I try to get on a treadmill or elliptical to release tension. Plus, I need to lose weight (laughs). It’s a good thing to do. It’s therapeutic too if I have a lot on my mind.
...I like “Barefoot Contessa.”
...is used to soak venison, duck or any kind of game meat to pull out the gaminess of the blood. Growing up, my grandmother used to soak [the aforementioned] in milk for up to 24 hours.
What are you currently reading?
“Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” by Danny Meyer
What’s your favorite drink?