by Tara Ambrose
Foodie Excursion – Destination: New Orleans, LA
Food is best described as an expression of the chef or cook, and that expression is plated with heart and soul – these expressions are my foodie passion and what makes me who I am, Tara’s Taste of the Town.
Born and raised in Northern Louisiana, I am the mother of five wonderful kids, grandmother of one amazing little ball of energy, and wife to a wonderful man who supports my adoration for everything “foodie” with vigor. With hands-on experience in almost every facet of the food service/hospitality/restaurant industry, I have loved almost every minute and memory I have had in it.
Starting out as an eager (bigger than Dallas in my own mind) teenager wanting nothing more than to earn a quick buck for a weekend of folly with my fellow cohorts in teenage mischief – thankfully that’s not where my path ended. Busing tables, washing dishes in a three compartment sink, washing down steam tables after closing, listening to the quiet hum coming from the motor of the meat slicer as it “swished” with every stroke of my arm, the “sizzle” of a flat-top grill after the yearning for those plump patties was satisfied, the “clink-cling” of the spatula as it tapped the refuse tray on it’s way to flip hot seared buns, or even standing behind the counter being taught the old-school-way of counting change back to a customer after they’d paid their tab – these are all memories that stand out with me each and every time I pull out a chair, slide in a booth, or pick up a menu to order a meal – the sheer respect for those in this industry always carries with me.
Nowadays my adoration of all things “foodie” lead me down paths less taken, to places in corners and locales that most wouldn’t normally venture, but these are the locations that drive me and feed my indefatigable curiosities – one such location was during one of my most recent trips to “The Big Easy”.
Over the years, NOLA has seen her people devastated by crime, poverty… and two massive hurricanes- Rita & Katrina, but it wasn’t just the combination of one or more of these events that shook the great state of Louisiana, it was all of them.
At the onset of my last trip to New Orleans, my husband Vince and I couldn’t help but contemplate all of the work that has gone into rebuilding NOLA to somewhat of her former glory – but there is still a great amount of work yet to be done, and this was one of the reasons for my trip down, but first it was time to EAT!
Walking down NOLA’s city streets and blocks still isn’t for the faint of heart, or the easily wearied. The damage to this great city is still very clear and paramount, especially when traveling the streets “less traveled”, but this will never stop me from taking time out of my visit to roam.
Twenty-two blocks away from the famed Bourbon Street was my destination. Briskly walking past Jackson Square and all the eclectic restaurants frequented by tourists, I point my compass downward to Bywater, trekking the path lain before me to unearth on of NOLA’s hidden treasures and visit with my friend, Chef Octavio Ycaza at Booty’s Street Food.
Wiping the sweat from our brow – Chef met me at the door and we quickly ordered refreshing adult beverages from the dark-horse bar as we pulled up a seat and strapped ourselves in for the culinary journey Chef Octo had prepared for us on this maiden voyage.
Glancing around at the rustic, yet simplistic décor gave me an immediate feeling of comfort – like pulling up a chair in the home of family. Guests in attendance are mostly local folks at Booty’s, gathering for fun, food and fellowship – without the stiff vibe that some of the “tourist traps” often given off.
Like a long lost brother, Octo gladly invited me into his galley and allowed me to see how he and his crew worked – like a well oiled machine, gears in perfect synchronization. The tickets rolled rolled in and papered the line, while Chef Octo and his staff pulled each one, passing verbal commands as if directing a symphony, exuding serenity as they hummed along to the melodies playing from the 90’s rock in the foreground.
Now let’s get real… this guy is like a clash between Joe Bonamassa and Bill Withers – calculated, methodical and everything coming out of his kitchen is a veritable masterpiece, worthy of the culinary worlds’ greatest award, but this man… he is the “black sheep” of the culinary world, so it just ain’t gonna go down like that!
Ecuadorian by birth, but badass by choice, Chef Octo started out at the ripe age of 17 waiting tables. In September of 1999, Octavio gained his first “big boy” experience in the kitchen at Hemingway’s in Lake Charles, Louisiana where he was given the last minute opportunity to forge his roots as an assistant to the chef – after that, it was like being at a Rolling Stones concert and “Time was on MY side”!
Like a bull in a china closet, Octo ran through D.C. As a sous in 2004 after he graduated from the prestigious Gregoire Ferrandi Culinary School in Paris, France where he worked under renowned Chef/Owner Le Chateaubriand, Inaki Aizpit-arte.
Looking sly with his hands folded and propped under his chin – a younger spitting image of the adored Marc Anthony – Octavio no doubt turns heads and was a beautiful blend in when he decided to take a “vacation” of sorts for 3 years in his birth place – Ecuador. Spending every free moment in the markets, chef learned techniques from local merchants that exposed him to a lifetime that he couldn’t have dreamed coming into his own in this amazing country older – more appreciative of this ethic land and what she had to offer.
Octavio compares New Orleans to Ecuador – in that is is a truly a “melting pot” for all things wonderful and food related … it is culinary chaos brought together by the loveliness of the Spanish influence woven throughout this city that can only be described by her people as “CREOLE”!
Food – that is what this is about, not a diatribe laundry list of here and there… food… so it was no surprise that Octo interviewed with Booty’s Street Food. Mastermind Nick Vivon and his culinary team (with co-Chef Daniel Volponi) open Booty’s to anyone venturing for “foodie booty” which is a culinary equivalent to a palatable pirates treasure with a menu featuring tastes from all over the globe! Should you feel like grabbing your bollocks and running with them – such sapid concoctions as pupupas con cerdo” would be a start. El Salvador inspired ceviche de camaraoni will thrown down with the best with a flavor profile inspired by Playas, Ecuador – poached Louisiana gulf shrimp, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime and served with a spastic twist of popcorn – a veritable farrago.
At the end of my less than indefatigable journey, and with a feeling of being “home”… I will always make it a point to visit my compadre – my partner in culinary crime – Chef Octavio Ycaza and I highly suggest if you’ve got an ounce of badass in you – you’ll do the same!
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