Susan Spicer Spices It Up In New Orleans
“Our restaurant gives you New Orleans. Our menu gives you the world” is the tagline of Bayona, one of the most famous restaurants in New Orleans, nestled in a 200-year-old Creole cottage in the French Quarter. You’ll be surprised to learn that many Indian spices from garam masala to kalonji are used in its cuisine.
Its star chef Susan Spicer, who has received every honor from the James Beard Foundation award to the Mondavi Culinary Excellence Award, has herself never been to India; yet many Indian spices find their way into her eclectic cuisine.
“I grew up in Holland and my mother often cooked curries which had Indonesian influences,” she recalls. “When I was about 22, I visited London and tried the food in the many Indian restaurants.” She was hooked, and over the years through eating at various places and experimenting with recipes in books, she made these spices her own.
It’s serendipitous that Susan’s last name is Spicer for she has embraced spices of many countries. At Bayona she has many unique dishes and there are several with an Indian spirit. Having eaten the authentic Indian bhajees, she creates an onion and tomato mix, using carrots. She often uses an eggplant raita over fish, and her crawfish with a curry paste enhanced sauce is particularly popular at the restaurant.
Spicer has a reputation for transforming traditional dishes and turning them on their head. An innocuous peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her hands becomes a smoked duck, cashew butter and pepper jelly sandwich. Amongst Indian spices her favorites are cardamom and coriander that are prime ingredients in a dish like Grilled Shrimp with Black Bean Cake and Coriander Sauce. She’s also used ready curry sauces like Pathak in inventive ways. Taking inspiration from commercial Indian pickles, she makes her own salted lemon pickles for the restaurant.
Spicer would probably be like a kid in a candy store were she to visit the spice markets of Cochin!