Mason Hereford and his partner Lauren Holton are opening the casual sandwich and cocktail spot Turkey and the Wolf (739 Jackson Ave.; www.turkeyandthewolf.com) in the Irish Channel this month. Hereford was chef de cuisine at Coquette for several years. He spoke with Gambit about his work.
What made you decide to go from fine dining to a casual concept?
Hereford: My style in creating dishes — I don't really know whether you'd define it as taking really fancy ingredients and turning them into something a little more redneck and a little more playful, like the food you ate when you were a little kid, or taking more casual food and trying to elevate it and trying to make it more refined. So I figured instead of constantly doing one or the other, I'll just do what I really want to do and just cook casual food, because I love it. You can still have strength of flavor and creativity without having to charge $15 for an appetizer. I still like doing that, but it's not necessarily the way I like to eat. I like to cook the way I like to eat.
I think we're filling a void. We're not trying to make po-boys, we're not trying to be a delicatessen and we're not trying to be a meat store. We're just trying to get creative and have a really good time. The menu is going to have five or six sandwiches, five or six nonsandwiches — be it a side or an entree or a salad — and then desserts based around soft-serve ice cream: one flavor with different stuff on top.
You traveled and worked all over the country. What did you learn and how has that changed your outlook on cooking?
H: That was a really cool thing, and it was a big step — leaving Coquette after I'd cooked there a number of years. It was a life-changing experience and I learned a ton, but I'm still cooking as a guy from New Orleans, not cooking like a world traveler or anything like that. But it was awesome. It's just: How much stuff can you learn in California and bring back to New Orleans? I mean, they're cooking with different ingredients.
I learned more about the way people carry themselves in their own kitchens and about the way they did things there. At Bar Tartine (in San Francisco) — that one was a game changer; it was my first stage and I had been cooking in the same kitchen for years. Coming from (Coquette) as the chef at my last job, I felt like I had big shoes to fill, and it was nerve-wracking. But it was just so cool and so enlightening. They had a new way to do everything; it was a really great experience.
And Butcher & Bee, a sandwich shop in Charleston (South Carolina) ... that was on the other side of the spectrum. I think I worked there for a few days, maybe a week; it was just cool to see a place doing really, really good food, but mostly sandwiches and casual (food). The owner was super nice and the chefs were super nice — laidback and happy and hardworking — the kind of staff I want coming out of my restaurant.
Every job you take and everywhere you go, you pick up things along the way. I've been making breakfast over at HiVolt (Coffee) for the last two months, and I've learned things there too. There's no place you're going to go and not pick up something.
What does the name Turkey and the Wolf mean?
H: The only way to really explain it is: Lauren is the wolf, and I'm the turkey.