We had a chance to chat with Sue Zemanick, the talented and personable chef at Gautreau’s in New Orleans. Sue is one of five nominees up for Rising Star Chef of the Year. The winners will be announced at Lincoln Center, NYC, on May 3.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with a fellowship in seafood/fish, Chef Zemanick has accumulated quite a cache of accolades in her young career. She was a 2008 Food & Wine “Top 10 Best New Chef,” named 2008 “Chef of the Year” by New Orleans Magazine, and one of “5 Chefs to Watch” by Louisiana Cookin’, among other honors.
Here are her answers to our 10 questions.
1. How long have you been in the restaurant business?
I started cooking when I was 15, and I’m 29 now, so, how long is that?— I guess 14 years!
2. Where are you from?
I’m from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a small coal-mining town in the Northeast. I had an uncle in the catering business and that’s where I got started. I popped around at, like, three different restaurants when I was in high school there, so I could get into culinary school.
3. What were the restaurants from those early days?
I worked at K Medici, the Sabre Room, and the Westmoreland Club.
4. Are you married/do you have any children?
5. Where did you first learn to cook?
From my grandmother and my father. I was about 9-years-old at the time, baking cakes and taking pictures of them. I received my professional training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
6. How did you get the news that you’d been nominated for the James Beard award?
The owner of Gautreau’s walked into the kitchen and gave me a high five (laughing). That’s how I found out.
7. What are some of your favorite/signature dishes? What makes them special?
I think one of our signature dishes that’s very popular is the Duck Confit. Our little trick that makes it different from some other places is that, after we cook it slowly in the fat, when we pick it up for a customer, we crisp up the skin in duck fat.
Another one is the jumbo lump crabmeat with gnocchi, English peas and Parmesan Cream. People just love the crabmeat down here and it just flies out the door. I think everybody loves crabmeat and it’s so plentiful down here in Louisiana. Kind of why I moved here (laughs).
8. What do you like most about your job?
I like making people happy. In the restaurant business, you know, every day we come in, and the customers come here, taste the food and hopefully they have a good time and come back for more. It’s gratifying.
9. Why do you think you were nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year?
To be honest, I don’t know, have you seen my competition? I don’t know if I’m even at the same level as some of these people! They’re all so very, very talented.
10. What will you do to celebrate if you win?
I don’t know. Hopefully work a lot, because the restaurant should be busy if I do win. Just probably have some drinks and celebrate. I’ll be in New York to find out.
Tomorrow: 10 questions for James Beard Award nominee Gabriel Rucker.