Chef Follows His Roots Back to the Future
John Besh buys La Provence, Chris Kerageorgiou remains the Toque‘n Chef
Edited by Madelyn Miller, the TravelLady
It was over ten years ago that the ambitious young Chef John Besh arrived at the door step of Chef Chris Kerageorgiou’s legendary restaurant, La Provence, to be his student, protégé and second in command in the kitchen. Today he has returned, bringing great promise to the establishment where he got his start.
In a move both sentimental and seemingly almost inevitable, Chef John Besh has purchased La Provence in Lacombe from his longtime mentor, making it a part of his growing family of restaurants. The arrangement represents the fulfillment of a shared dream, re-connecting Besh in a very real way to the place where he began his career, and providing long-term security for Chef Chris, who will continue to operate the restaurant in the foreseeable future.
La Provence, the acclaimed restaurant that Chef Chris opened in 1972 on a quiet stretch of highway in Lacombe, Louisiana, nearly an hour outside New Orleans, is where John Besh held his first position as a Chef de Cuisine, beginning in 1995. Chef Chris and La Provence have received numerous prestigious awards including Four Stars from the Mobil Travel Guide, and a coveted 5-Bean rating from The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Gourmet magazine has referred to La Provence as “Worth the trip” - and indeed, dignitaries and celebrities from Ronald Reagan to Lindy Boggs have made the pilgrimage.
After meeting John Besh at Restaurant August, I can sort of understand how this all happened. He is the kind of chef you instantly have great confidence in and know he will always serve very special foods. His commitment is obvious—even to a mere dinner. But to have a man this dedicated working in your kitchen must be a dream.
Besh has done his mentor proud, rising to the top of his field since leaving La Provence. As he was making his mark on the Northshore, Besh was named Best New Chef by Food&Wine Magazine in 1998; the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef in the Southeast in 2006. His New Orleans eatery, Restaurant August [opened in 2001], received the highest 5-Bean rating from The Times-Picayune, and in October 2006 August was honored in Gourmet magazine’s “Guide to America’s 50 Best Restaurants.”
The two chefs have remained close friends over the years, often spending holidays together. For Besh, taking over the business and allowing Chef Chris to do what he does best will contribute to his mentor’s well-being. For Chef Chris, John Besh is the only chef of the next generation to whom he could entrust his restaurant. As he says, “This is what every restaurateur dreams of; John Besh, my protégé, continuing my vision for La Provence long into the future.” As Besh agrees with a smile, “Chef Chris and I have discussed this for years, and it’s very exciting for us both to see the realization of our passion come true.”
That future will feel very familiar to the loyal patrons of La Provence. Chef Chris’ team includes staff that has worked at La Provence for decades. With Chef de Cuisine Joey Najolia, they will continue to run the restaurant as it has been, taking a break in Summer 2007 when the restaurant will close briefly for renovations.
During that time, Chef Chris and John Besh will travel to France to visit Chris’ hometown, the inspiration for La Provence. “When I worked for Chris,” says Besh, “he would send my wife and me to France to experience the true Provence. Now he and I will finally travel there together to create the future of La Provence -- our restaurant.”
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Madelyn Miller is a food and travel writer who founded www.travellady.com
You can also read her stories on www.chocolateatlas.com, www.cocktailatlas.com, www.TeaAtlas.com and www.carladynews.com
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