In October, chef Daniel Esses was hired to help reboot the stalled Jack & Jake's Public Market, now called Dryades Public Market (1307 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.). Esses, a co-owner at Three Muses (536 Frenchmen St., 504-252-4801; www.3musesnola.com) also runs a pasta company, Esses Foods. Esses was hired as a consultant on the market project with the goal of bringing fresh, affordable food to Central City residents. Esses talked to Gambit about the project and how working with a nose-to-tail philosophy can help make fresh food affordable.
How did you go from restaurant work to running a pasta company and consulting for a grocery operation?
Esses: I started the pasta business because I had a really bad experience at a restaurant where I was a chef and I realized I didn't really want to work for anyone else. I wanted to be the boss. I always wanted to transition into wholesale and retail. The hours are better, and the restaurant grind can really get to you. You can't be in the business your whole life. I did that and then transitioned into catering... I got back into the restaurant business because I was offered a partnership at Three Muses, so it was kind of a no-brainer.
(At Dryades Public Market) I was brought on to run the ship and bring in my vision of a market with food and to help manage the place and get it open. I came on as a consultant, but once all the pieces are in place, we'll sit down and figure out what my position will be from then on. My mission is to bring food to Central City in an affordable, interesting way — healthy food and local food when possible.
How do you make fresh food affordable?
E: It requires us to buy meat whole and break it down and distribute it department by department. It's a multipronged concept. Since we have a wholesale produce department, we can buy in larger bulk and get the price down a bit on the wholesale end. We can make sure we use every inch of that product, from retail to wholesale to prepared foods. We're going to do a lot of stuff in-house, so we can reduce the cost somewhat by doing that; the trick is finding the combination of people who can actually do it. We're going to offer it at a price that we can afford to sell, and it's not going to be all-local; there will be affordable options.
We also have the opportunity to do music and do other things to generate revenue and offset some of the costs, and we'll be doing some outside catering and working in partnerships with other organizations in community.
How do nose-to-tail cost-saving measures relate to restaurant work?
E: It gets you into that perspective. (At a restaurant) rather than looking in a dumpster and finding things out of date, you're going to find nothing. There's a lot of loss in grocery stores. ... (It's) my job as a chef to figure out ways to use that extra broccoli you have or that extra meat. It's a flexibility you have to have, and it requires a lot of coordination. I train my staff so that we all talk to each other. I've been doing the pasta thing for a while and that has a lot of retail aspects to it. You still strive for quality and you still strive for service. Where a restaurant strives to keep the customer happy, it's the same thing with our fishmonger or our produce guy or our butcher.