by Lolis Eric Elie
When we met Janette Desautel in Season 1, she was cooking at her eponymous restaurant, Desautel’s. Later, after moving to New York in Season 2, she passes by her former space: It’s become Patois, a new restaurant. In the first episode of Season 4, Janette sits down for meal and the bar and extends her compliments to the chef, .
Burgau is a real life New Orleans chef and his restaurant is one of the city’s best -- which means I had to get a recipe from him for “Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans.” He chose Oyster Stew with Pan-Fried Grouper and Fried Parsnips.
I got a chance to talk to Aaron recently about his experiences in front of the camera and behind the stove.
It was fun. Originally, they got me to be a site rep and I made friends all those guys. Then I started getting more involved because the props guy at the time didn't really know the kitchen that well. was the main consulting person. She came up with the menus and I cooked the food. I got to learn a lot about how it works behind the scenes, and how they shoot one scene four different times from four different angles. I learned about the fake ice the use in the drinks on set so it never melts.
How did you get into professional cooking?
I went to Johnson & Wales in Vail, Colorado. I already had a college degree from LSU. I got a psychology degree from LSU and said the only thing I really know how to do well is cook -- I started working in restaurants in New Orleans when I was 14. I knew I had to go to culinary school. Every kitchen job I’ve ever had, waiter, bar back, bus boy, I’ve excelled at it. I never left a job on bad terms. I did all rudimentary things in high school and all during college. If I wasn’t reading school books, I was reading cookbooks and recipe books.
It was rough. I came in and got the job as the grill person and I was the low man on the totem pole. After about four months of working there I was voted on by my sous chefs to become a tournant, or roundsman, which meant I worked all the stations, helping out anywhere someone was behind or absent. It was a great honor considering it was my first job out of culinary school. Susan was a great teacher. She taught me to have an eye for detail, to think like a cook. Most home cooks, people who learned to cook at home, they read a recipe and they follow a recipe, but a recipe doesn’t have all the answers all the time. Thinking like a cook means thinking about what you are doing, not just going through the motions. It’s OK to deviate from recipes unless you’re baking. You’re not really inventing the wheel.
I got to spend a lot of time Susan -- she even invited me to the Taste of the NFL with her which was a highlight of my young career. Since I was up and coming, I was scared to mess up. Some kids, they fuck up and they don’t care. Around her, I was afraid to fuck up! Ten years after I had worked with her, I was freelancing before I opened Patois and she asked if I could fill in because she was shorthanded. It was fun to see things kind of come full circle.
How would you describe your approach to food? How do you combine your New Orleans roots with your other influences at Patois?
I just like good flavors. Patois means being a mishmash of different things; when I read what the name meant, it made sense. I didn't want to pigeonhole myself into being just a French restaurant. I wanted to be able to have a wide range of food on the menu. I like when it’s hard to decide what to order. I could to a whole French menu and a whole Asian menu. But that’s not what I want to do.
There are so many of them now, but I had a couple of ideas. We opened that whole place for $120,000. It was a challenge to figure out how cheap we could open up for and still do great food. We serve the same beef that serves at and what serves at
Tell us about the restaurants you’re affiliated with now.
really not mine. I helped out with the menu and helped hire some people. I’ve had people come to me to open a barbecue place or with ideas for an Asian place. The latest thing on my mind is opening a seafood restaurant -- anything’s possible.