If her birth name is any indication, Susan Spicer was destined to be a chef. But as a little girl who worshipped Nancy Drew, her aspiration was to be a detective. Fortunately for foodies everywhere, Spicer’s career path led her to kitchen knives and sauté pans rather than spy cameras and digital tracking devices. Growing up in a family of seven children, Spicer’s mother “always cooked interesting food and did it well,” so she and her siblings all developed adventurous palates early on. However, it was through a close girlfriend that she discovered her passion for food and talent in the kitchen. “A friend of mine, who is a wonderful cook, started in the business and drew me in,” Spicer explains. “I helped her with cooking classes, then catering, then she offered me my first restaurant job, then I was hooked!” Now a nationally recognized award-winning chef, picer lists renowned chefs Nancy Silverton, Daniel Boulud (“he had faith in me”), Daniel Bonnot, Roland Durand and her mentor, Paul Prudhomme, as role models. The ever-gracious executive chef of Bayona is quick to add to this impressive lineup Jeremy Gresham, her chef de cuisine, who, she says, “is a better cook than I am, and much more organized!” New Orleans Living had the chance to catch up with this
culinary icon, proud wife and stepmom, generous supporter of local and national charities and humble talent. What is your greatest culinary challenge? Staying inspired after years of being in my restaurant. Also, trying to find the spark in each new batch of cooks and trying to figure out where each individual will best perform within the kitchen.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with and why?
Probably lemon and lime. They add so much life to food.
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
My husband, Chip, because it makes him so happy … or Viggo Mortensen.
What is your ideal meal?
Anything at Frontera Grill in Chicago or eating at an outdoor café somewhere on the Turkish coast, or a good steak and fries with aioli and some arugula or just Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.
Are there any foods you really dislike?
Jerusalem artichokes and white truffle oil.
Last year we saw the debut of your first cookbook, Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes From Susan Spicer’s New Orleans. What was it like to see your recipes in print? It is very gratifying to hold a body of work in my hand. The best part is to know that people are actually cooking from it and the recipes work.
Was it hard to give away your trade secrets?
Not at all—I gave them away for years—now I’m just selling them!
Any plans for a follow-up cookbook?
If I can think of a good focus for it, maybe something a bit more specialized. Got any ideas?
What is the most gratifying aspect of being a chef?
Teaching young cooks who “get it.” The collaborative effort of putting together a wonderful menu and then
having guests say “it’s so hard to choose!” Peeking out from the service area on a
busy night, watching our guests drinking wine, eating, talking and having a great
time. And having a staff that is skilled, motivated and proud to work here.
What bit of advice would you offer aspiring chefs?
Taste everything! Do more than expected, always.