For nearly two years, John Folse and Rick Tramonto have been working on R’evolution, a restaurant slated to open in New Orleans’ French Quarter this April, right before the April 27–May 6 Jazz & Heritage Festival, in what will likely be one of the major fine-dining restaurant openings of 2012.
The restaurant, now under construction in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, is intended as an homage to the city’s traditional Creole cuisine, expressed in a modern context.
Folse operates a number of boutique food operations, including cheese making, through his Chef John Folse & Co. in Gonzales, La. He met Tramonto, who grew up in New York and has spent most of his chef career in Chicago, at a cheese dinner at Tru restaurant, where Tramonto was executive chef from 1999 to 2010. Their friendship grew in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Tramonto went to Louisiana to help cook for FEMA workers and others in need.
The restaurant will have 180 seats, plus 50 at the bar, and have a 10,000-bottle wine cellar. Chris Lusk, most recently executive chef of Café Adelaide, a Brennan family restaurant also in New Orleans, will be chef de cuisine.
The restaurant was designed by The Johnson Studio of Atlanta, which also designed Tru.
Nation’s Restaurant News recently spoke with Folse and Tramonto about their plans for the new restaurant.
What’s your vision for this restaurant?
Tramonto: We’re going back into the history of those dishes and looking at them again through a fresh set of eyes. I’m learning from John about the nuances of a roux, of turtle soup, learning from the ground up and then refiltering them through my own perspective.
Folse: New Orleans cuisine evolved from Native American, French, Spanish, German, African, English and Italian cuisines. As those different cultures arrived, they all adapted to what was there. Paella became jambalaya, bouillabaisse became gumbo. That evolution is continuing with new emerging cultures here, like the Vietnamese and other Asians.
We’re doing the same thing — reexamining local herbs and spices, such as sassafras. What made this cuisine exciting in the first place was the evolution as new cooks arrived.
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We’re both outsiders to New Orleans — I’m from 70 miles away. So we’re going into the swamp, looking at the products, meeting the fishermen and hunters and looking at the ingredients and figuring out what to do with it. We’re evolving exactly the way they did so many hundreds of years ago, using the swamp floor as the pantry of raw ingredient opportunities for us. We’re not trying to make a molecular gumbo or anything like that.
What’s an example of a dish you’ll be serving?
Tramonto: I tasted through all the turtle soups, which traditionally have turtle eggs as a garnish. We can’t do that anymore [for conservationist reasons], so we’re using quail eggs.
Folse: Loggerhead snapping turtles make the best soup. Traditionally the local Native Americans would push a 70-pound turtle on its back into the fire and bake it in its shell. So we’re serving the soup in a glass bowl fashioned after a turtle shell. We want our staff to know all about the eggs and the shell and the sherry that the Spanish added to it. We didn’t do anything to change the soup, but the whole story of the soup brings it to life.
Tramonto: The seven nations is a great subject area that’s worth really digging deeply into and exploring the roots of the cuisine.
Folse: And Rick will be bringing his caviar staircase from Tru. When the Russians came to Louisiana they discovered our choupique, a Louisiana sturgeon, sometimes called the alligator gar. It has magnificent black, tiny, beautiful eggs.
How did this project come about?
Folse: The Royal Sonesta approached me. I was busy doing a bakery, books, catering, manufacturing, but I started to talk to Rick about what to do in the next half of our career.
It’s a licensing deal. The hotel gave us full autonomy to design it, build it out, and create the menu. We’ve hired all of the employees and Rick has created standard operating procedures.
About 75–80 percent of the cooks and management are local. Rick also brought several of his key players and they all moved to New Orleans a year ago and are already on our payroll. We wanted to give them time to study the culture and eat in the restaurants.