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Networking: Cory Bahr

Executive chef, Cotton, Nonna Monroe, La.

By James Wright
April 01, 2014

You wonder how a guy like Cory Bahr can sound so relaxed when he’s got so much going on. The laid-back 37-year-old chef from Monroe, La., is a TV star, appearing on Food Network’s show “Chopped” (which he won); he’s got an acclaimed North Delta cuisine restaurant in his hometown and opened his second — an Italian-influenced spot called Nonna — just a few months ago. He’s also opening a bakery, yet unnamed, this summer; and he’s a former King of Louisiana Seafood (2011) who’s constantly being called to represent his state at food-and-wine events far and wide. But to hear him speak, you imagine him driving down a country road, in no particular rush (maybe that’s because that’s exactly what he was doing when we talked in late January). 

Bahr has had enough of cooking contests — he recently turned down an opportunity to be on “Knife Fight,” the Esquire network show. “It’s not really where I’m at in my career anymore. I want to work on what I’m passionate about: gracious service and wonderful food and the people that come along with that. Man, I get out of bed every day and it’s competition!”

Define North Delta cuisine in 20 words or less.  

Seasonal. Local. Simple. Basically, what was on my table growing up with my grandparents. 

What’s your signature dish?  

I really don’t have one. The seasons tell me what my signature dish is. I don’t feel I need one — a signature dish boxes a chef in. I’m constantly reinventing what I want to be and what I want to put on a plate. It’s based on what I can get. 

What’s your favorite seafood to eat and cook?  

I like freshness — things that are available all year aren’t necessarily as good. I don’t want strawberries in January, you know? Wahoo are really killer, incredibly fatty right now with the cold water. Into summer, I steer clear of shallow water fish and go for amberjack and deepwater grouper. All hook and line. Into the fall, it’s black drum again, the doormat-sized flounder; cobia later in the fall. That’s my fishery, it’s what I live in. 

Has buying seafood gotten easier or harder in recent years?  

It’s no different. It’s a competition to find the best product. That’s always a challenge, no matter what. The quality of the fishery is there, but the competition is going up with more restaurants looking for high-quality Gulf seafood. 

How many seafood vendors do you work with? 

I use three. I’m also an avid fisherman in south Louisiana. Some of my friends are charter boat captains who do some commercial fishing. During the BP oil spill I had to rely on them.

What are you hearing about the Gulf oyster supply?  

It’s not necessarily what I’m hearing — it’s what I’m eating, all these beautiful oysters from all over the Gulf! We’ve got oysters from Louisiana, Aransas Bay in Texas — I’m seeing beautiful things. The most impact I’ve seen on the oyster business was post-Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the habitat. Our fishermen and governments have rebuilt them and used a lot of restraint to allow them to grow and give us a steady stream of beautiful Gulf oysters. It’s a hard job. 

I’m doing an Oysters Voisin dish, in memory of Mike. He was such a great character and activist for all fishermen, not just in the Gulf but nationwide. He could fill up a room with his voice and presence. 

How did shrimp and grits become a culinary phenomenon?  

It’s comfort food, man. It’s just a blend of wonderful briny shrimp with the acidity and creaminess of the grits. It makes for the perfect bite. We use a locally produced Andouille sausage and grits from about 100 miles away, milled from organic yellow corn. Gluten free, too. You have to be conscientious of every diner and every need.

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