Justin Devillier was a beach rat growing up in southern California when he discovered a copy of an old Paul Prudhomme cookbook that belonged to his dad, a fourth-generation Louisianan. In its pages he saw glimpses of his heritage — and his future. Reading the lengthy ingredient lists reminded him of the Cajun-Creole flavors that had thrilled him on trips to visit relatives in New Orleans. He began tinkering with those formulas for fun, and after graduating from high school, got a job working at Disneyland at the Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen outpost. At 22, he relocated to the city that seemed to be calling his name.
Working on the lines of various restaurants, he set his sights on Peristyle, where he aspired to cook the kind of contemporary cuisine grounded in French-Creole tradition winning sterling reviews for chef Anne Kearney. He applied, got hired, and now as chef-owner of La Petite Grocery and Justine, channels those methods into menus that won him a James Beard Foundation award in 2016.
Devillier brings the same goal-oriented focus to “The New Orleans Kitchen: Classic Recipes and Modern Techniques for an Unrivaled Cuisine” (Lorena Jones Books/Ten Speed Press, $40). The structure is as straightforward as that of a well-run kitchen, beginning with core instructions for preparing stocks, sauces and dressings, including step-by-step photos of roux-making. Conventional chapters from appetizers through dessert follow, with dazzling-looking recipes that marry fundamentals and traditions with innovation.
Crawfish and mascarpone form a filling for pierogi based on the ones his Polish mom made. Flavors of quintessential New Orleans café au lait transform into ultra-rich ice cream. For New Year’s Eve, I made his Brisket and Kale Stew with Oven-Dried Tomatoes and Horseradish — as unctuous as a pot roast, with a wow factor that exceeded the fireworks.
“That flexibility and willingness to experiment is what New Orleans cuisine is all about,” Devillier writes. That would explain why my bookcase can always accommodate one more good cookbook from the Big Easy.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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