By industry standards, Anthony Scanio got a late start in the restaurant business. The Arabi native took his first kitchen job at age 30 as a line cook at Vaqueros, a now-defunct Mexican restaurant. Later he worked at Cafe Indo (also since closed) and Herbsaint. In 2005 he joined Emeril's Delmonico (1300 St. Charles Ave., 504-525-4937; www.emerilsrestaurants.com), where he was promoted to chef de cuisine earlier this year. The restaurant itself dates back to 1895 and has been through many incarnations since. Emeril Lagasse bought the Delmonico property in 1997, and now Scanio is leading its latest evolution.
What's guiding the new menu at Delmonico these days?
Scanio: What we're focusing on now is the history of Delmonico, not in a museum way but to embrace its heritage and make it a 21st century Creole restaurant. What that means is looking back at the Old World that shaped New Orleans, and bringing in the influences from the history of Creole cooking, and finally looking at Creole cuisine in the context of the Creole world today. In New Orleans, I think we have a great deal of kinship with points south and that goes into what we're exploring now.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
S: Part of it is going to the Tulane (University) library, where they have a great menu collection. These old Creole menus were huge, and some dishes don't really translate well, like pineapple and cheese plates or turkey and cranberry sauce. They served these dishes every day. But spaghetti Bordelaise or coconut cream pie? Those are dishes we can work with.
What has it been like moving up the kitchen ranks from line cook to your position today?
S: You get out of culinary school and have all these visions of how food should be — and then I'm at Vaqueros microwaving quesadillas. But being a line cook is intense and I learned that I had that intensity. Cooking is still a craft where you start off as an apprentice. It's like an Old World guild system and I was lucky to work with great people. I didn't think it was always fun working for Donald Link (at Herbsaint), but it was mentally rewarding. I learned a lot from him about simplicity and ingredients and not trying to overarticulate something. — IAN MCNULTY