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Net Working: Baruch Rabasa

Chef, Mesón 923, New Orleans

James Wright
March 05, 2011

Quote: "Crudo is Italian, but the Spanish have their version. Borders are disappearing, though, when it comes to nationalities and cuisine."



Mesón 923 appears as if it should be nestled on the street corner of some sun-splashed Mediterranean village. And a quick study of the Spanish, French and Italian-inspired menu (an entire section of which is devoted to crudo) only confirms this notion. The restaurant, which only opened last April, is in New Orleans’ hip central warehouse district on South Peters Street and it’s making a name for itself, thanks in large part to the creativity of Chef Baruch Rabasa. 

Rabasa, 39, is a self-described “child of hippies, man of the world” who has lived in San Francisco; Marseilles, France; Cuernavaca, Mexico; Austin, Texas; Bethesda, Md.; and Ann Arbor, Mich., among other places. For the past 10 years, Rabasa has called New Orleans home and “couldn’t imagine leaving” now. If Mesón 923 ages like the fine wines it serves, the city won’t let him.

WRIGHT: What exactly is crudo and which nation can officially lay claim to its creation? 

RABASA: It loosely means Italian sashimi. We don’t necessarily keep to the Italian definition — we venture out. We use the term very loosely, we only have one or two crudo dishes that are Italian inspired, some are Korean. [Crudo is] Italian, but the Spanish have their version. Borders are disappearing, though, when it comes to nationalities and cuisine. My family is from Barcelona, and in Catalonia and all along the Mediterranean they eat a lot of raw seafood. It’s the same word in Italian and Spanish. The Spaniards like to have canned seafood items, like mussels. There are some that cost $100 a tin. 

How is crudo different from ceviche? 

Ceviche is actually cooked in an acid. So the protein is definitely changed — it’s not raw. Crudo has a light marinade like vinaigrette. Salt and pepper is the simplest form, with a squeeze of lime. 

What types of seafood are best for crudo? 

It depends on your flavor profile. We have a tuna tartare, hamachi, a scallop crudo — in the right setting, raw scallops are great. We don’t limit it to a specific type of fish or style, just combinations that work. 

Other than the modern-industrial décor, what sets your restaurant apart from others in town? 

We are doing very different things. I draw influence from my heritage and think outside the box for the area, but I use local ingredients when possible and employ techniques from places I’ve been and styles I like. I revert to Spanish and Catalan and Latin American styles.  

Do you use imported seafood?

We do sometimes, but we follow inspired [global] traditions and translate to local ingredients. We take the idea of a dish and maybe adapt it to where we are now, which is what Creole and Cajun food was when it started — immigrants wanting to keep their palates, but used what they had locally. 

Mesón 923 opened last April, just before the oil spill. What was that like? 

Prices were high. Availability was hard. I wouldn’t say quality was down, but maybe quality in terms of specs. You ask for U-10 head-on shrimp and you get U-15s, and you pay a U-10 price, you complain and it still doesn’t change, then you accept it.   

You stress the importance of ‘simple’ foods. How can you convince someone that seafood is simple? 

Because with good quality seafood all you need is olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. From a restaurant you’d expect more than that. But I couldn’t imagine anything simpler to eat.

March 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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