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3-course interview: Mason Hereford of Turkey and the Wolf

The restaurant was named one of Food & Wine's best new restaurants

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Chef Mason Hereford and Lauren Holton opened Turkey and the Wolf (739 Jackson Ave., 504-218-7428; www.turkeyandthewolf.com) in the Irish Channel in July 2016. Hereford was chef de cuisine at Coquette and worked at some renowned restaurants around the country before returning to New Orleans to open the sandwich shop. Along with his kitchen staff — including Colleen Quarls, Nathan "Nate" Barfield, Scott Yelity and Michael "Swade" Swadener — he takes a refined approach to casual fare in decor highlighted by retro and kitschy accents. It was included in Food & Wine magazine's 2017 list of the 10 best new restaurants in the country. Hereford spoke with Gambit about Turkey and the Wolf.

Can you explain the success of your upscale casual approach?

Hereford: I wouldn't say we are upscale. I'm just lucky to have badass cooks with the sensibilities of a more expensive style of food. They all have backgrounds in fine dining. Here, we can feed people at a much more relatable price point.

  It started with the idea of a sandwich shop that does the things we like to do — buy pork from our friends that sell the pork (Marhsall Bartlett and Jordan Proctor at Home Place Pastures). Buy beef from our friends who sell beef (Charlie Munford at Two Run Farm). We try to be flavor-forward and creative; we just do it with sandwiches.

  People talk about how we deal in nostalgia. We do like to take things we grew up eating and favorite things from different times of our lives that were memorable and do it our way. Whether that means dress it up or use the flavor combination to make something that is more exciting than the sum of its parts.

  Our ham sandwich is a direct knock-off from my favorite sandwich that I ate growing up a couple times a week from a yuppie gas station in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia called Bel Air Market. Theirs was turkey; we switched the meat to ham we make in house that we've worked really hard on. Other than that, I did everything I could to reproduce my favorite childhood meal. I went so far as to call them and find out the bread and the bakery from Atlanta to have the bread shipped in for this one sandwich. They make an herb mayonnaise that I love and to the best of my ability recreated. The sandwich has really sharp cheddar and cranberry. I made that because I wanted to eat it and liked it enough to sell it to other people.

So it's a shared vision?

H: When we got started, I had a lot of friends that were available. All of the cooks are involved in the creative process because we have this ridiculous staff. Nate, Scotty and Swade hold down the kitchen. We know how to work with each other. Colleen Quarls is my chef de cuisine. She is young, badass and can cook my food and her food side by side. Bona fide badass.

  The key to what is going great at Turkey and the Wolf is that we do this for each other, and that has taken us to where we are. I can be cool because Colleen is cool because she knows Nate, Scotty and Swade can run it by themselves. I'm the luckiest dude there is.

What can you tell us about being recognized by Food & Wine?

H: It was a total honor. We knew we were going to be on a list but had no idea what the list was and who was on it. It ended up being people that I really respect. It was a really cool feeling for the whole staff.

  During the photo shoot, they made a pretty awesome video. I'm eating a bologna sandwich — my favorite — and drinking a 40. It was 10 a.m. and I was on a double, gotta give it up for the cause. The bologna is probably my favorite, we cut it in quarters and the kitchen eats at least one per day. We eat a lot of quarter sandwiches around here.

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