By: Michalene Busico, Robb Report
Community of Cooks
Rebuilding and preserving New Orleans’s culinary heritage has been a mission for John Besh since the early days after Hurricane Katrina, and he is quick to note the recovery’s successes. “We have nearly 50 percent more restaurants than we had prior to Hurricane Katrina, if you can believe that, with a smaller population,” he says. “Truly, our hospitality industry is more responsible for bringing New Orleans back than just about anything.”
Yet Besh also sees that many of those in the inner city are not making the same strong comeback. He and a friend, the food blogger Jessica Bride, spent several years studying the problem, and in 2011 he established the John Besh Foundation, which he chose as his beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition. The nonprofit group mentors young culinary talent in New Orleans and provides microloans to farmers and artisanal food producers within 200 miles of the city.
Its scholarship program, cofounded with Bride, is called Chefs Move! It is open to minority applicants from New Orleans and provides full tuition to the International Culinary Center in New York City, including supplies and housing, as well as a paid internship in a top New York kitchen, such as Gramercy Tavern. Afterward, the students are required to return to New Orleans, where they work for Besh for six months and then move on to another elite kitchen in the city for at least two years. “I set them up with somebody who can be a mentor to them,” Besh says. “Susan Spicer and Emeril Lagasse and the Brennans have stepped up. And I would like to call upon Justin too, to see if he will take in one of our returning students. If we’re going to truly sustain this beautiful culture, people of every race, color, and creed have to participate in it.”