John Besh is on TV. To many diners, that makes him important enough. Wynton Marsalis is one of his lifelong best friends. That basically makes him the most New Orleans guy ever, other than, perhaps, Wynton Marsalis. Basically, the guy has some serious street cred, especially to those who have visited his famed Big Easy restaurants—legendary names such as Restaurant August and domenica.
It's big news indeed, then, that the chef's Besh Restaurant Group will open his first Houston restaurant at 3737 Buffalo Speedway in the fall of 2017. But Besh isn't the one who will make the strongest mark on Houston with the restaurant. The new eatery will be named Eunice, for the town where chef-partner Drake Leonards grew up. Currently executive chef at Lüke, Leonards will be the visionary behind the new restaurant.
And just what is that vision? Let him tell you himself.
Houstonia: What will Eunice have in common with Lüke? What will be different?
Drake Leonards: Like Lüke, Eunice will carry that soulful feel of a Creole brasserie and showcase the best of our Gulf seafood. Additionally, as Eunice is named after my hometown in Louisiana, we also plan to incorporate some of the Cajun-inspired ingredients and flavors of the dishes I grew up eating. The menu is still in development, but the cuisine will definitely be influenced by both the Southwest prairie of Louisiana and the Southwest region of the Gulf of Mexico.
Houstonia: Why did you choose Houston?
Leonards: Houston is such a close neighbor to my hometown. I've been fortunate enough to travel here often to visit close friends and I have always been impressed by its vibrant food culture and scene. It also has a strong growing season which we plan to take full advantage of on our menu. We have always thought of Houston as our sister city to the west in the sense that so many different cultures have settled here and contributed to its rich melting pot.
Houstonia: You and Besh are dyed-in-the-wool Louisiana chefs. How will Houston’s own cuisine influence Eunice?
Leonards: As with New Orleans, Houston is a port city and has been influenced by waves of cultures its whole life—whether that be French, German, Vietnamese, Spanish, and so many others. The different elements of these cultures have been woven into the culinary landscape. Moving to Houston will simply offer us a wider opportunity to experience and incorporate a larger variety of flavors.
Houstonia: It sounds like Eunice is, at its heart, your baby. What is Besh’s involvement?
Leonards: John Besh will be a chef-partner at Eunice with me and our managing partner Drew Mire. But, more importantly, John is a mentor and friend. I am fortunate that to have someone like John to talk food, flavors, dishes and techniques with every day.
As a restauranteur, John has been instrumental in shaping the careers of so many of the chefs within our group such as Alon Shaya and Kelly Fields, both of whom are chef-partners of their establishments [Shaya and Willa Jean, respectively]. I’m honored to work with someone like John who empowers us to grow and execute our unique culinary visions.