If there is a chef to keep your eye on, it’s Monroe, Louisiana, native Cory Bahr. Last April, Bahr was named “The People’s Best New Chef 2015” by Food & Wine magazine, a score settled by votes narrowing down 100 chefs from all over the country. He’s a self-taught natural talent who earned his degree from the “School of Grandmother’s Kitchen” and has had internships at New Orleans powerhouses Commander’s Palace and Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse.
With two restaurants in Monroe — Restaurant Cotton and Nonna —Cory is the unofficial king of north delta cuisine, a regional rock star, if you will. He’s the buzz about this year’s Oyster Cook-Off. Everyone is looking forward to working with him.
Andy MacDonald: I’m certain you’re excited to be down in Gulf Shores with these fantastic chefs. Word is they are just as excited to be working with you.
Cory Bahr: The talent pool for this is amazing. All of the chefs — from my great friend Wesley True, to Ryan Prewitt from Peche and all these amazing guys I get to see — really, I learn from all these guys every time I’m around them. You see these different viewpoints and techniques. Not only is it fun for the camaraderie, but to show all the people how wonderful the Gulf oyster is. I know we’re not just promoting the Gulf oyster, but I’m a little bit partial. To show how versatile and beautiful the Gulf oyster is, it’s just an amazing thing to be a part of.
MacDonald: We all love New Orleans but we also love finding gems as we travel north. What is it about Monroe that makes it that magnet for people traveling in that direction?
Bahr: Monroe has a truly entrepreneurial spirit. Delta Airlines began here. The family that first bottled Coca-Cola settled here. Century Link, which is a Fortune 50 company, is headquartered and began here. People are real self-starters, and for me great food is found all over the South, not just in major hubs like Charleston or New Orleans or Atlanta. From Cleveland, Mississippi, to Montgomery, Alabama, to Duluth, Georgia, to here in Monroe, Louisiana, that’s really where the soul of our Southern cuisine resides, in these small enclaves of cooks that are preserving and improving these heritage recipes and these things my grandma did.
MacDonald: Sourcing locally seems to be one of the keys to your cooking style.
Bahr: If “farm to table” was a flour sack and people were beating on it there wouldn’t be any flour left. We’re not really farm to table so much as we are just using what we’ve got at our fingertips. We try to source as locally as possible, whether it be pigs, ducks, chickens, turnip greens or, right now, gourds. All those things, they just taste damn good when they come straight from a field to your plate. Sourcing locally is not only economically sound, it tastes good.
MacDonald: What is your role in the Oyster Cook-Off?
Bahr: I’m on this oyster-tasting panel. We will be tasting oysters from all across the country, and it should be super eye-opening, and I can’t wait. Should be amazing. Then I’m doing a demo with my good friend Wesley True, who’s the chef at The Optimist in Atlanta. If you know anything about seafood, The Optimist is one of the most well-regarded seafood restaurants in America. He and I are working on some future projects together, so I can’t wait to lay eyes on him.
I’m also emceeing the awards ceremony. So that’s going to be fun, handing out the trophies to all those guys who cooked their hearts out with all these amazing oysters.
MacDonald: Do you have a favorite oyster recipe?
Bahr: Straight out of the water, a little Crystal hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon and right down the throat. That’s truly my favorite. This time of year I like a grilled oyster. It’s kind of cold and the oysters are really briny. Something really simple is to pop them on the grill with a touch of really high-fat-content butter, a squeeze of preserved lemon, some chive and some fresh-ground pink pepper. Oh, man.
MacDonald: Do you have a favorite region for oysters?
Bahr: The most amazing oysters I’ve had in the last year — and my people in Louisiana may burn me at the stake for this — but they’re called Murder Point oysters, from you guys. They’re like these cookie-cutter briny bombs of deliciousness. I mean they are beautiful, clean and uniform in shape and size and my God, are they good.
The only thing else I’ve got to say is how honored I am to be a part of this thing and I look forward to being a part of it for many years.
MacDonald: Thanks for doing it. We will see you at the demo with Wesley!