While interviewing with medical schools, Brian Landry chose a different path: Hospitality. He tackled a culinary degree at Johnson & Wales while working at the notable Charleston Grill. He returned to his native home, New Orleans, and trained under distinguished chefs René Bajeux, Kevin Vizard and Gerard Maras. After Hurricane Katrina, then-29-year-old Landry took up the reins as executive chef at Galatoire’s. An avid outdoorsman who’s passionate about seafood, he left to serve as head chef and spokesperson for the Louisiana Seafood Board after the BP oil spill—and put all that science education to work!
In 2011, Landry’s friendship with John Besh, and their mutual seafood obsession, opened the door to restaurant collaboration. At Borgne—named after a lake both chefs have fished since childhood—Landry is part owner as well as executive chef. His menu showcases a passion for the diversity of Louisiana seafood, with a nod to the culinary influence of Spanish Isleños people who settled in nearby St. Bernard Parish in the 1700s.
We asked Landry about his focus shift, the ups and downs of restaurant ownership, and his advice for aspiring chefs.
You have dual degrees in biology and philosophy from University of Alabama. What prompted the about-face to the restaurant industry and culinary school?
In my medical school interview I had to answer in great length why I wanted to be a doctor. I found myself contemplating what would truly make me happy: continuing to work in restaurants or pursuing an entirely new career as a doctor. I ultimately determined that making people happy through food and hospitality was the best choice for me.
You’re not just the executive chef for Borgne, you’re business partners with John Besh. How did you know you were ready to take the leap and become a restaurateur?
After presiding as executive chef at Galatoire’s in the six years following Hurricane Katrina, I knew I wanted to take on a new challenge, and wanted to have my own restaurant. I have been friends with John Besh for the last fifteen years, and over that time we would regularly check in with each other. I mentioned wanting to pursue having my own restaurant, and he presented me with an opportunity to become partners. After we talked in greater detail, it appeared that both of us were looking to open very similar restaurants and thought it a great idea to collaborate.
What frustrates you the most about being a restaurateur?
Finding balance between work and personal life is a real struggle. I am very driven and want my restaurants to be successful, which requires a great deal of time and energy. But I also have a wife and three kids that I would very much like to spend more time with.
What’s the biggest challenge on your plate right now?
Staffing. As the restaurant industry continues to grow at an extremely rapid rate, finding enough experienced, qualified individuals to staff the restaurants is a challenge we face on a daily basis.
You’re very involved in the culinary community and especially mentoring young chefs. Are there topics or skills that you particularly enjoy passing on?
Professional cooking requires a variety of talents, in addition to being a great cook. I think it’s very important to teach the management and business skills required to run a successful kitchen/restaurant.
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently? Opportunities you’d recommend to aspiring cooks?
I thoroughly enjoyed working my way up the ranks in the kitchens that I grew up in. I chose specific chefs to work under, to hone a variety of skills. I would tell aspiring cooks to focus on the cuisines or kitchens or chefs that they most admire and respect, and don’t stop until you get your foot in the door.