The Moonrider Inn on Monkhouse Drive in Shreveport isn’t the first place you’d think to stop to sample some true New Orleans style cuisine, but on the first floor, a restaurant promises to transport you to the heart of the Big Easy.
Owner and Chef Darrell Johnson, with his wife Anna Marie, opened Crescent City Bistro 11 months ago and has steadily made a name as one of the top chefs in the area. In September, he competed in the Louisiana Food Prize Golden Fork competition, and in August, appeared on the Food Network television show Cutthroat Kitchen, where he placed second in the cook-off style show.
A New Orleans native, Johnson cooks what he loves and what he loves is the food he grew up on, the food that takes him back to the kitchen where his beloved great-grandma, Aslee Brumfield, ignited his passion for food.
“On early Saturday mornings, we would get up and make these huge, elaborate breakfasts. And, of course, we would cook red beans and rice on Mondays, since that’s a tradition in New Orleans,” he said. “There were so many different things that I had the pleasure of tasting and eating because my great-grandmother was a wonderful cook.”
At 8-years-old, Johnson would stand on a stool to help stir the pot while his great-grandma made sure her young apprentice learned the importance of using fresh ingredients and preparing dishes from scratch. He said it was a deal he made with her that prevented him from falling through the cracks in their dangerous neighborhood. Aslee promised Johnson that if he stayed out of trouble, she would teach him how to cook.
Shortly after high school, Johnson would go on four interviews before securing a job as a dishwasher at New Orleans’s famous Commander’s Palace. Always observant, he would watch the cooks on the line and study the recipes that they were preparing. When the sauté cook didn’t show up to work one day, he got the opportunity to show the chef that he could do the job.
Johnson continued to excel at the restaurant but after receiving advice from the chef, he decided to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School. He earned his degree in culinary management and journeyed to Paris, France where he worked at Sous Maison for 10 months.
When he returned to the U.S., his path to success took him to Memphis where he worked as the culinary manager of six T.G.I. Friday’s locations. He then moved back to New Orleans, then to Dallas and ultimately to Shreveport, where he worked as a corporate chef for Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. But after working at the restaurant for a year, the long hours started to wear on the family man. He needed a change and he wanted to be in business for himself.
In a chance encounter with the general manager of Moonrider Inn, he discovered that the hotel had a diner but it had been vacant for quite some time. It wasn’t long before Johnson struck up a deal and opened Crescent City Bistro.
“Everybody knows that it’s hard to get your own business started. I’ve always known he was a go-getter, able to get what he wanted,” said Anna Marie Johnson. “It’s his temperament. It has success all over it.”
Less than a year later, Johnson is feeding the hungry masses at his restaurant and giving them an authentic taste of New Orleans. Some of the items from his menu include eggplant Napoleon, shrimp and grits, jambalaya pasta and trout St. Charles. He also recently started a culinary school out of his restaurant called the Culinary Council of America. Partnering with other culinary professionals in the area, Johnson said it would eventually evolve into a free program.
“Traditional culinary school costs a lot, and a lot of times it doesn’t give you the practical application you need. We want to teach people the whole gamut of the restaurant business,” he said.
Johnson currently is offering cooking classes through Culinary Council of America at his restaurant on Mondays and offers business classes on Tuesdays. For people interested in learning about the Council, visit www.crescentcity-bistro.com.
MEET THE CHEF
If he could invite anyone over for dinner it would be: Napoleon Bonaparte. “He was a great genius and strategist. But I think it would have to be a table of three: Napoleon, Genghis Khan and Shaka Zulu because of their military background, intelligence and how they changed civilization. They basically conquered the world. I want to be like those guys. I want to conquer the culinary world.”
Most bizarre food ever eaten: Bull testicles (while in Paris). “As a human being we can eat almost anything, as long as it’s cooked right and at the proper temperature. But just the phrase ‘bull testicles…’ I was hesitant, but I worked for a very angry French chef. He said ‘eat it’ and we ate it. It wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t eat it again.”
His culinary idols: “Emeril Lagasse for one. He was the chef and owner of Commander’s Palace when I started. He was a very good guy; very intense. He would throw a plate at your head in a second. Robert Irvine is another one of my culinary idols. I’m really into bodybuilding and the lifestyle of a chef kind of gets to you after a while. He maintains his physique, so he’s my role model as far as chefs being in shape. He has that balance. I would also probably say Bobby Flay. Not many people know that he dropped out of high school, and he still pushed himself to be successful. And my great-grandmother, of course. She’s my number one inspiration. She’s the one who got me started.”
All-time favorite dish: Fried shrimp po’boy, all the way. Dressed with hot sauce and ketchup on it. “My favorite place in New Orleans is a little neighborhood corner store in the worst part of town near the city jail. It’s called Main Street Food Store and it’s a gas station. You can get a 36-inch shrimp po’boy sandwich for $12.”