The Hospitality Guru
John Besh’s titles and accomplishments are as numerous and diverse as the dishes at his twelve restaurants—from a pizza joint that offers chicken liver pate to a Franco-German brasserie where you can order shrimp and grits for breakfast and flammkuchen for dinner. Besh grew up in southern Louisiana and quickly established himself as an award winning chef and restaurateur. In 2014, the James Beard Foundation inducted him into their “Who’s Who in Food & Beverage.” Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America.” Besh has authored four cookbooks and currently hosts two national public television cooking shows. He established The John Besh Foundation to support the culinary community.
This fall, Besh will open Marsh House, the seafood-centric restaurant; rooftop bar L.A. Jackson; and coffee shop Killebrew at our newest location, Thompson Nashville. Besh told us what he loves about the city and what locals can expect from his newest venture.
You’re from Southern Louisiana. What elements of the region’s cuisine are you bringing to Nashville?
The one most indigenous element that we’re bringing to Nashville is our sense of hospitality—it’s all about creating an environment in which guests and diners feel welcome and at ease. The Marsh House will be an extension of “our house,” offering a taste of the coastal south.
What are your favorite fall events in Nashville?
Other than several Vandy football games, I don’t get to Nashville much in the fall. That’s why I’m so excited the Thompson Nashville is opening this fall. I can’t wait to spend more time here. I hear the city has a killer Oktoberfest…
Nashville’s a big music town. Who are three of your favorite bands or singers right now?
I came to develop my relationship with Nashville through the guys of (rock band) Kings of Leon and my buddy Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra. And, of course, I grew up listening to Johnny Cash.
Your initiatives, Chefs Move! and Milk Money, aim to diversify kitchen leadership and provide farmers with micro-loans. How did you become passionate about these causes?
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we found how fragile our culture in New Orleans was. It seemed logical to create a foundation that would help sustain the indigenous and important culture by making sure our food could continue to grow and flourish through microloans and that inner-city kids who had the smarts and the drive to become professional chefs were given that chance.
When you visit Nashville, what are a few of your favorite destinations—museums, specific neighborhoods, city landmarks, etc.?
The Gulch is certainly my favorite neighborhood—that’s why I’m so excited to be opening here in particular. Grimey’s record store is definitely not to be missed. I have a soft spot for the Grand Ole Opry as well.
How would you describe the culinary community in Nashville?
Nashville has its own flavor, wrapped up in the history, culture, and cuisine of the city. This is due in large part to some of my favorite chefs such as Tandy Wilson and Hal Holden-Bache, as well as more recent imports Sean Brock and Philip Krajeck. It seems as though every time I come, there’s something new and exciting. I’m just thrilled to play some small role in that.
What led you to become a chef, and who were some of your influences?
When I was 11 years old, I had the chance to meet Paul Prudhomme. He inspired me to follow my passion for food and to use food to make a difference. While in the Marine Corps serving in and out of combat as an infantry squad leader, I kept diaries of food, recipes, and restaurant ideas. That pretty much describes where my heart was leading me. Some of my other influences are talented chefs like Alain Chapel and Karl-Josef Fuchs, who have both taught me so many valuable lessons.
What’s the most exciting part of opening a new restaurant?
I love the creative process, and I’m inspired by passionate people. It makes me crazy proud to see a chef reach his or her fullest potential.