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Food & Drink

John Besh on fine dining, celebrity chefs, and puro San Anto

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Chef John Besh holds court.

You probably know John Besh, but you may not be able to put your finger on where from. It might be from his PBS cooking show, Chef John Besh's New Orleans, or his cookbooks. Maybe it's from his appearance on the last season of Bravo's Top Chef. Or perhaps it's because you dined on the patio of Lüke San Antonio and a blue-eyed man waved at you. Though Besh is a familiar name in kitchens, he doesn't have the household power of Rachael Ray or Emeril "BAM!" Lagasse. But he's beginning to be more well known around San Antonio, thanks to his restaurant Lüke San Antonio on the River Walk, sister restaurant to Lüke in New Orleans. Over a glass of white wine on the patio at Lüke, he waxed rhapsodic about San Antonio and the state of the restaurant industry.

Le Rêve closed in San Antonio a couple years ago; The Lodge of Castle Hills shut down last year. Is fine dining dead?

There will always be fine dining. But the Millennials are eating out now, they have money. They want to experience good food, and not in the same way their parents did. As a chef, you have to pay attention to what people want. You can't create food in a vacuum. You can't make people have an experience they don't want to have. I'm not saying you can't have standards. But you have to listen to what people want and expect. Dining is becoming more casual. We do fine dining at Restaurant August [in New Orleans], but Lüke is much more of a brasserie feel, a place that tourists, business people, anyone can come in and feel comfortable. That's where dining seems to be going these days.

You have restaurants in New Orleans and San Antonio and a cooking show on PBS. You were a judge on Top Chef: Texas. How does it feel to be a celebrity chef?

I don't really think of myself as a celebrity chef. It's a weird thing to think about, chefs as celebrities. I guess it means that food is becoming more important to people, they're taking more interest in it. People care more about what they're eating and where it comes from. So it's not a bad thing, but it's odd. All of us chefs in the limelight, those of us on TV with our own shows and cookbooks, we have a duty to do something with that power, to use it to help the industry and give back. Through the John Besh Foundation, we send students to the French Culinary Institute to train in the industry. It gives them an "in" into the restaurant field. Helping others in the food business is what makes it worth it for me.

What kinds of foods do you serve at Lüke San Antonio that are different from your other restaurants? How has San Antonio influenced your food?

San Antonio has more farming, so we offer more meats at Lüke San Antonio, like goat and boar. There's a lot of German influence here, so we try to honor that. One of my favorite food memories that reminds me of San Antonio is hunting all day for boar and then cooking simple dinners over a fire, like really good chorizo in a tortilla. That, to me, is San Antonio — simple, good food that's nourishing and reminds of you of a wonderful time in your life. •

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