top: Patrick Singley (owner)
and Sue Zemanick in
front of Gautreau’s
bottom: Seared sea
scallop, corn pudding,
bacon brown butter.
opposite: Red snapper, corn,
fava, crawfish succotash and
spicy beurre blanc
from the CIA to Commander’s Palace
to head of the kitchen at Gautreau’s.
How did you rise so fast?
sz: I was in the right place at the
right time. Gautreau’s owner Patrick
Singley has a knack for picking out
talent before they’re discovered. He
gave a lot of chefs, including Mat
Wolf, the chef under whom I worked
as sous chef, their first executive
can you define your culinary style?
sz: My concept of cooking depends
on what kind of mood I’m in.
Everyone wants to put a label on
things, but I prefer not to do that. I’m
pretty much of a traditionalist, but I
like to put my own twist on things. I
use fresh, local ingredients. Our wild-mushroom perogies with asparagus,
caramelized onions and creme
fraiche are really inspired by both my
grandmothers. One would stuff her
perogies with potatoes and cheese,
but in keeping with a fine dining
restaurant, I add wild mushrooms.
She did fried onions, I substitute
caramelized pearl onions. She used
sour cream, I use creme fraiche.
But even the wild mushrooms
refer to how my grandmother from
Czechoslovakia made a dish I
loved with foraged mushrooms and
sauerkraut juice. On Christmas
Eve, she’d do po bulki, little bread
dough balls made with stale bread
baked until golden-brown, then put
in a paper bag. After that, she’d
warm up milk, sugar and honey,
pour it over the stale bread balls,
then roll them in chopped-up poppy
seeds and walnuts. I don’t know if
anybody in the restaurant would be
willing to try them.
why is fish your specialty?
sz: There are so many different
varieties of seafood, so many
different textures and types
compared with pork, beef and
chicken. I love how skate floats
through the water, then I love to
eat it. I love our Parmesan-crusted
halibut because of how the crispy
fines herbes spätzle and crunchy
English peas contrast with the soft
caramelized onions and the tender,
fleshy halibut. Every day I learn
something new about cooking,
about how to treat my ingredients
with respect and to check quality. I
do a great crispy sweetbread with
crawfish, Southern braised greens
and hot sauce beurre blanc, one of
my twists on New Orleans fare.
Gautreau’s was in the family of
Amélie Gautreau, a famous 19th
century character from the belle
epoque who was notorious for
her wild life. John Singer Sargent
painted her in a provocative,
low-cut black dress. The painting
scandalized Paris, and she was
called Madame X. Ever wanted to
wear that dress?
sz: We have a copy of the picture in
the restaurant, and I’ve always joked
that I am Madame X. Maybe I’m
just like her, but if I wore that dress
outside the restaurant, nobody
would know me.
one hears that parts of New Orleans
are still in bad shape, while the
French quarter is revived. How is
New Orleans doing post-Katrina?
sz: New Orleans has such deep
culture, so I think that what we see
now is not a new New Orleans but
an evolving New Orleans. We never