Formerly the chef behind Shortall's BBQ at Twelve Mile Limit, Chris Shortall helms the kitchen at Latitude 29 (321 N. Peters St.; www.latitude29nola.com), Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's tiki bar and "PolynAsian" restaurant, opening this week. Shortall spoke with Gambit about his transition from Southern to South Pacific flavors.
How did you get your start working in restaurants?
Shortall: I moved to New Orleans in 2006, and my wife is originally from here. I got my degree in restaurant and hotel management, so when I moved here I went online and looked up the best restaurant in the city. I didn't really have any cooking experience, per se, but I was pretty determined to do that. I found Restaurant August and that it had quite a bit of acclaim, so I applied for a job there. I kind of BSed my way in the door.
That's where I met Mike Stoltzfus, and he asked if I'd be interested in helping him open Coquette. I worked at Coquette for two and a half years, and that's where I met Cole [Newton] from Twelve Mile Limit. I operated out of 12 Mile Limit for three or four years with Shortall's BBQ but was looking to move back toward the higher end of food.
How did you learn about Polynesian flavor profiles?
S: I worked at a Thai restaurant in college for four years, and I really love Asian food. I love how things like ginger are spicy and sweet at the same time. I'm taking the cooking techniques I've learned working at these higher-end places and incorporating them into food that's fast, approachable and well-rounded. That's what I've learned about cooking: In order for it to be well-rounded, it has to taste good and meld well. It's not an accident when things taste really good. It's a process to get to that point, and having a staff below you is kind of like conducting an orchestra.
I've never been to Hawaii, and we're doing a Polynesian-Hawaiian style of food, but Jeff's written a cookbook about it. There aren't too many restaurants in town doing that kind of food. It's been a lot of research, a lot of trial and error. Having Jeff and Annene [Kaye, Berry's wife and co-owner] here to say, "Oh, this is exactly how it should taste!" is very helpful.
What are some of the menu standouts?
S: One dish called "loco moco" is a very common Hawaiian dish. It's basically just rice, a hamburger patty and an egg. I heard that and thought, "Great, this doesn't sound like a very exciting dish to prepare." We spiced it up with shiitake mushroom rice and deglazed the pan with rice wine vinegar. I was surprised at how good it tasted the first time I ate it. It shocked me. The combination of texture and flavor was awesome.
Jeff's drinks are very easy to work with and extremely versatile. They're tiki drinks, but they're very approachable and good. In terms of pairing food with drinks, I really put the ball in his court to say something like, "These crispy ribs are going to go well with a mai tai!"
We're doing all our own homemade dumpling wrappers. We have a green onion wrapper, a mushroom wrapper, a Sriracha wrapper and a plain wrapper. We also have something on the menu that started out as kind of a joke, but it's so good we put it on the menu. It's a dumpling burger. I make my own bread, and it's a seaweed hamburger bun with something called "black magic" in it, so it looks like a wheat bun with flecks of nori in it and the darker color from the soy sauce. We take the dumpling filling and grill it and then serve it with our dumpling dipping sauce. It's a very plain burger and is kind of like a gigantic dumpling. — SARAH BAIRD