The James Beard Foundation Awards recognize outstanding achievement within the food and wine industry. Considered one of the most coveted marks of distinction within the culinary community, Link Restaurant Group partners are honored to have been recognized for their culinary achievements. Link’s flagship restaurant Herbsaint earned him a James Beard award in 2007 for Best Chef South. The same year Cochon was nominated for Best New Restaurant; The James Beard Foundation also honored Link’s first cookbook– Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana (Clarkson Potter) with their top award for Best American Cookbook. Link was also nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the prestigious award of Outstanding Chef in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Stephen Stryjewski, chef/partner of Cochon, Cochon Butcher and Pêche Seafood Grill was named Best Chef: South at the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards. In 2014 Pêche Seafood Grill was honored with two coveted James Beard Foundation Awards Best New Restaurant and Chef Ryan Prewitt Best Chef: South.
Fish are beasts. Flounder resemble shrunken sea monsters, with their crooked lips and creepy migrating eyes. You can tell they hang in the murky shadows just by the color of their skin. It’s dark enough to show through miso chili butter. Redfish, speckled trout and red snapper are sleeker species but all still unmistakably animals, with tails, skeletons and spiky fins. That’s a representative sample from my scrapbook of Pêche Seafood Grill, where meals are lessons in piscine anatomy. Look up from your plate at any moment and you’ll find a room of diners taking to the food like Alaskan brown bears to spawning salmon. They’re tearing through whole gulf fish, grilled or roasted in the heat of a live hardwood fire. The fish, the flames, the bones everyone are pulling clean from their mouths: These are the visual signatures and culinary touchstones of this remarkable restaurant. Still, whole fish aren’t even the half of it. Pêche is the realization of a modest but still visionary vision: a traditional Louisiana seafood restaurant that owes little to any particular style of restaurant that has come before. Its chef and co-owner, Ryan Prewitt, is not prone to wild experiments. Whatever thought process goes into Peche’s food is concealed beneath a veneer of simplicity…
Pêche means “fishing” in French, but change the spelling to péché and it’s “sin.” In the case of the restaurant on Magazine Street opened earlier this year by chefs Ryan Prewitt, Stephen Stryjewski and Donald Link, the former is what’s intended, but you have to admit that both meanings are apt for a restaurant in New Orleans. Pêche was conceived as a seafood restaurant, but after the chefs spent time in Uruguay and Spain, they knew that a wood-burning grill had to be a feature as well. Factor in a raw bar and a serious drinks program and you get one of the most interesting restaurants to open in New Orleans in quite some time. It isn’t as though the place is immune to trends – there are small plates and bar food on the menu – but there aren’t a lot of other places doing whole fish on a wood-burning grill (redfish with salsa verde and American snapper with Meyer lemon on my last visit) and certainly none where the fish changes with such frequency that they print an insert daily. That insert also lists the oysters they have available and what they’re doing in the way of raw fish. There are always a few other items available on the raw side – a seafood salad, crab claws with chile and mint and a seafood platter, for example and highlights from the “snacks” menu include a smoked tuna dip served with saltines, hush puppies and fried bread with sea salt that’s completely addictive…. A few months ago I ran into chef Link while I was eating at Pêche. Link (and this is true of Stryjewski and Prewitt for that matter) is the kind of guy who lights up when he’s talking about food. What I remember most about that conversation was the way he described the Royal Red shrimp. He is fond of them, and justifiably so; they’re large, sweet-salty things that are cooked in a little butter but otherwise basically un-seasoned. They are the perfect example of what ingredient-driven cooking should be – not an excuse for a lack of technique, but the recognition that some things are best enjoyed simply.
This airy warehouse space is where Donald Link, who rose to prominence as chef-owner of Herbsaint, and Stephen Stryjewski, Link’s co-chef and partner at Cochon, are empowering their Peche co-owner Ryan Prewitt, Herbsaint’s former chef de cuisine, to run a restaurant of his own. Cut to the chase: At this stage of the game, the youngest member of the modern family that is Link Restaurant Group is as good as its sibling restaurants (both among the best in town). The concept is south Louisiana seafood dishes, much of it cooked over hardwood coals. The twist is that the food tastes thrillingly new without disconnecting from tradition. After a meal at Peche Seafood Grill, it’s possible to imagine a fantasy fish camp where ground shrimp is tossed with housemade pasta or embedded in buttery, cocktail-time toasts; where blue crab enriches eggplant gratin or chile-spiked capellini; where whole grilled redfish is draped in salsa verde and drum is baked with ginger and tomato. That place is, in fact, not a fantasy; just be sure to book a table in advance, because everyone in town appears intent on living it at once.
“Where have you been eating lately?” I get this question all the time. And luckily, it’s one of my favorites to answer, since I have the opportunity to try the most amazing restaurants around the country. So here’s a little update of where I’ve been recently. Pêche I stopped counting after 10: That’s how many whole fish I saw waiters carrying out to customers at Donald Link’s new restaurant. The whole-animal trend has now been embraced by pescatarians. Two friends and I shared a moist, flavorful grilled redfish with salsa verde. It could have served six!
Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski—along with chef-partner Ryan Prewitt—opened this homage to fish just down the street from their famed pork emporium, Cochon. The centerpiece here is a roaring wood-fired grill onto which most everything on the menu is tossed. Come here with a crew on nights when you want to eat a grouper as big as a fire hydrant.
Gulf Seafood has no truer companion than Donald Link, whose Warehouse District newcomer Pêche Seafood Grill showcases local catfish and shrimp – all cooked over a live fire.
In New Orleans, Donald Link, Ryan Prewitt, and Stephen Stryjewski recently revealed Pêche Seafood Grill, an open-fire emporium inspired by a trip to Uruguay. Don’t miss the smothered cast-iron catfish, a riff on a Cajun classic.
As we dug snowy-white meat from between the bones of a hog snapper at Peche, it wasn’t just the name of the fat, whole fish before us that brought to mind a Cajun boucherie. Rather, it was the bigger picture guiding this fascinating new restaurant from chef Donald Link. Like the pig made into charcuterie, chops and hams at a traditional boucherie, fish come to Peche whole and go out to tables as seafood salads and crudo dressed with oils and herbs, in fillets and steaks and, most dramatic, intact from tip to tail… Read more: http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/review-peche/Content?oid=2234994
Great seafood has never been hard to find around here, but an argument could be made for a certain lack of inspiration in the way many places prepare it. However, a new wave of seafood establishments have come onto the scene offering a different take on what can be done with the daily catch. They approach the same ingredients with a fresh perspective – and the results are rewarding. Pêche, the seafood-centric offering from the Link Restaurant Group, is one of the year’s more anticipated openings. In terms of design it shares more DNA with Cochon than Herbsaint, offering a dining room defined by floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed wooden beams, creating a feel that’s simultaneously contemporary and rustic. And like Cochon, the menu puts the focus on small plates, snacks and sides. But it’s the beast of a wood-burning grill, a custom-built iron and brick rig in the back that serves as the real engine of Pêche and is its most defining feature… Read more: http://www.myneworleans.com/New-Orleans-Magazine/August-2013/Fish-Dishes-of-a-Different-Kind/
A week before opening day, the Link Restaurant Group’s new restaurant Pêche Seafood Grill was still a hardhat zone. Crews carried boards back and forth. An Internet installer showed up looking for the foreman. The tables, stacked under tarps, had yet to be assembled. The green walls needed another treatment. And most importantly, the custom-built grill, which will turn out a big chunk of the menu, had yet to be lit and tested. Donald Link was not worried. “We’ll be laying bricks,” he said, “with people coming in the front.” “All the seafood places in the state are the same,” Donald Link said. “We wanted to do it differently.”That’s how it was when he opened Cochon back in 2006 with Stephen Stryjewski, and Cochon turned out fine. Link this time also has the help of Ryan Prewitt, a partner and chef at Pêche. The three of them have been planning this indoor exploration of open-fire cooking for two years: hitting the barbecue circuit, cooking in backyards, traveling to Uruguay to grill meat, and even to Spain’s Basque country to watch seafood cook over embers. “Somehow,” Link said, “we got on this track of cooking over wood. And then we got inspired by those trips and tried to make it work in a seafood model.” The Warehouse District building that houses Pêche started as a carriage house. Then it was a mortuary: Jefferson Davis was embalmed here. Next, the building stored coffee beans. Link and his team tried to preserve as much of the building as possible, and not just for the historic tax credits. The towering wooden doors are original. Look carefully and you’ll see their intricately carved brass hinges. The rough beams have been there from the beginning. And even the new furniture, built by chef Susan Spicer’s husband Chip Martinson, uses old material. For example, the dining room chairs with their charred surfaces and gently curving lines once were Old New Orleans Rum barrels. Inside the main door sits a massive wood bar lit by a crystal chandelier. The bar is a larger version of something the team saw in Uruguay, but it also is an homage to the classic wooden bars at local institutions such as the Absinthe House and Napoleon House. The drinks menu will be heavy on rum and light liquors. The wine list will be eclectic and designed to pair with fish. They might even get a daiquiri machine for a frozen rum punch. Link stopped the tour and asked for a pen. He looked at the back of the bar and scribbled an “M” on his hand. “I have to get a mirror,” he said. On the far side of the dining room, there is a large oyster bar in the corner. Along with oysters on the half shell, that area will turn out salads, boiled shrimp and plates of raw fish. It also will be a space to gut and clean whole fish. Pêche has a wholesale license, which allows it to buy directly from fishers. “That’s going to give us access to fish that you don’t normally see. Things like mackerel,” Link said. “A lot of fishermen throw that away, but, if you have a relationship with them, they’ll keep it for us.” And behind the pass, surrounded by pale green tile, is Pêche’s pride and joy: a massive steel grill custom-built by Link’s cousin Dwayne Link. “We haven’t gotten to play with this yet,” Link said, “so we’re not even sure if it works. We’re pretty sure it will.” There are commercially made grills for restaurants, but they weren’t big enough for what Link and company had in mind. Pêche’s grill is modeled on ones they saw in Uruguay and Spain. Link figures that other restaurants soon will be copying Pêche’s primitive kitchen. “I’m good at spotting these food trends,” he said. “We went from molecular gastronomy to cooking over fire.” The grill will let them cook seafood in a way not common in Louisiana. The opening menu includes grilled mussels, catfish with pickled greens, and grilled tuna with olive salad. In the future, they’d like to do a whole, salt-baked fish. “All the seafood places in the state are the same,” Link said. “There’s good stuff out there, but I’ve had it. I know where to get it, and it will always be there. We wanted to do it differently.” Pêche Seafood Grill officially opens Monday, April 22. The restaurant is located at 800 Magazine St.
It’s very late on an early-spring evening, and I’m sitting at the French farmhouse table in my mother’s house in Seaside, Fla., looking at the remnants of several astonishingly good seafood dishes and more empty wine bottles than people. It’s the sort of scene I’ve surveyed many times at Donald Link’s New Orleans restaurant Herbsaint, in the company of the same festive group: Donald himself, the engine behind a Crescent City culinary empire that also includes Cochon and Butcher; his top manager, Heather Lolley; Cochon chef-partner Stephen Stryjewski; and Ryan Prewitt, chef-partner at the soon-to-open Pêche Seafood Grill, the restaurant that’s a long-held dream of all four.
This particular meal, though, is about more than late-night camaraderie. It’s the culmination of a research road trip along Florida’s Gulf Coast to collect ingredients and inspiration for Pêche. The restaurant was originally conceived, not long after Katrina, as a homage to the rustic seafood joints that once lined the banks of New Orleans’s Lake Pontchartrain. Now, after seven years and similar missions to South America and Spain, the glorified-seafood-shack concept has morphed into a worldly, gutsy and thoroughly modern restaurant. Two key inspirations are what Donald describes as “the primitive, soulful way of cooking” over fire in Uruguay, and the grilling wizard Victor Arguinzoniz, of Asador Etxebarri, in the Basque Country. Still, the team has never lost sight of the fabulous fresh ingredients closer to home, on the stretch of beach known as the Redneck Riviera.
Our first stop is Burris Farm Market, in Loxley, Ala., where we stock up on the muscadine wine vinegar that Donald loves, along with loaves of fresh-baked yeast bread. Lunch at the Original Point (motto: “Not Fancy But Famous”), a landmark near Perdido Key, Fla., includes such old-style Gulf Coast classics as smoked tuna dip and fried mullet backbones (yes, you eat the bones, chased immediately by lots of cold beer), as well as Royal Reds, a ruby-colored deep water shrimp virtually undiscovered until the early 1990s and so sweet and salty that folks make the three-hour drive from New Orleans just to eat them.
A half-hour away in Pensacola, the enormous market Joe Patti’s specializes in all things seafood. A crew of fresh-faced female 20-somethings in matching baseball caps takes orders (“Have I asked you yet if you’re having a good day?”), while 80-something Frank Patti (son of Joe), is the barker in their midst, hawking specials with a hand-held mike one minute and taking a cleaver to a tuna filet the next. After the team stocks up on Florida clams, more Royal Reds, Spanish mackerel, red snapper and scamp, a superior member of the grouper family, we head down Highway 98 toward Seaside, 75 miles away.
The road to Pêche, slated to open on April 20, was a lot less direct. As early as 2006, Donald went so far as to nail down a location and mock up a menu, but parking was a problem, and everybody was already busy opening restaurants, writing books and collecting awards (a James Beard for Donald, another for Stephen and a third for Donald’s book “Real Cajun”). Still, they kept coming back around to seafood. So when a spot opened up in the perfect building, a one-time livery undergoing a meticulous restoration on a Warehouse District corner, they jumped. Not only did the space have great character and some weird history—Jefferson Davis was embalmed upstairs—there was room for a free-standing oyster and crudo bar as well as a wood-burning oven, modeled after the rigs used in Uruguay and built by Donald’s uncle Duane Link.
In the kitchen at the Seaside house, the cooks get to work while Heather and I uncork bottles of Txakolina, a dry, citrusy and slightly fizzy Basque wine she and the boys discovered on a pilgrimage to Etxebarri. At Pêche, one side of the oven will have a raging wood fire throwing off coals that will be raked to the other side beneath a low grill. On our deck, we have a cheap gas contraption instead, but Ryan manages to pull off a perfectly cooked mackerel accompanied by delicious grilled chard, and Royal Reds dressed with garlic, oil and lemon. Inside, Stephen and Donald work on a chili-glazed scamp and a clam stew that is the essence of what Donald says they hope to achieve at Pêche: “seafood in a ballsy way.” Enriched with the leftover fish heads, bones and throats, it’s a way for the team to cook seafood without relying on typical go-tos like pork stock or bacon to provide nuance and depth.
My favorite dish of the night is the raw seafood salad, enlivened by citrus and a dash of the farmers market muscadine vinegar, and served with grilled slices of the yeast bread that are deemed a great success. But then Ryan comes in with another accompaniment, snapper skin grilled to a perfect crisp and dusted with sea salt—an ingenious receptacle for the fish and the kind of productive playing around that all three chefs thrive on.
Lunch the next day features the time-honored combo of Budweiser and Apalachicola oysters on the half shell, and sparks a conversation between Stephen and Ryan about the possibility of making their own saltines. Even the perfectionist Donald rolls his eyes at that. Pêche is poised to be a world-class restaurant, but it’s still, in part at least, an oyster bar. In New Orleans. “Guys,” he says, “the crackers have to come in the cellophane packets.”
While seafood selections can be found on his masterful menus, a strictly seafood establishment has always been a dream of Louisiana born and bred Chef Donald Link. His dream is now coming to fruition, on the corner of Magazine and Julia in a 19th century historic building, former home of the American Coffee Company, in Peche. Under the direction of Best Chef- South James Beard award winner Link, Stephen Stryjewski and Ryan Prewitt have created culinary houses of Herbsaint, Cochon, and Calcasieu. The old world is a main theme of this new brainchild as the partners combine natural wood-fire cooking techniques and local seafood selections with a more contemporary approach. As members of the The Fat Back Collective, this group of fine dining aficionados has traveled the world exploring the practices of outdoor cooking in all corners of the globe. “It was all inspired by our trips to Uraguay and Spain and fell in love with their natural style of wood fire cooking. It’s an old-world style of outside cooking. We wanted to bring the outdoors, indoors. It’s a whole new ballgame at Peche, nothing like this has ever been done before,” said Chef Donald Link The menu is of original conception, taking wood-fire cooking with classic ingredients and the application of new techniques. The cornerstone of Peche is a custom built wood-fire stove and grill, which will be open to the dining room for patrons to marvel at the preparation. The live fire bi-level grill burns the logs down to wood coals for a South American and Spanish inspired smokiness. In addition, one element that Chef Link is especially excited for is the marble topped oyster bar; an addition he said he’s always wanted. Along with oysters to shuck, there will also be raw fish plates served. Fresh Louisiana fish will be seared, grilled and smoked on these one-of-a-kind dishes. The selections cover a vast range of flavors of Asian, European, South American and Spanish, all heightened with Louisiana flare. There is the Szechuan-inspired Ground Spicy Shrimp and Noodles, the French derived Crawfish Spring Onion Gratinee, over to the Southen favorite Stuffed Crab served with Pepper Jelly, even and all-American Fish Stick dish. In addition, the non-fish items share that diversity; from a Southern-themed Grilled Chicken with White BBQ Sauce to Thin Short Ribs with Garliky Chimichurri to a Grilled Lamb Sirlion with Salsa Verde. “This menu was a difficult one for us, we had some much we wanted to do and trying to whittle it down was tough. Even I can’t pick my favorite dish,” said Chef Link. The menu encourages a shared table experience with small plates so that everyone can get a taste of multiple items. Link describes their vision of satisfying every type of customer; “We wanted it to be for universal enjoyment, if you just wanted to come in for a couple bites at the bar or just really blow it all out style.” The food isn’t the only part of the worthwhile dining experience; the interior décor is designed to capture that old-world New Orleans character, keeping with the style of the centuries old building it resides, but with a more contemporary warehouse-y type feel. They’ve used antique wood in the posts and ceilings and even the chairs are all New Orleans, hand crafted from New Orleans Rum barrels by a local carpenter. The space is made bright and open with high ceilings and large, towering windows. Chef Link describes it as ‘Rustic yet Contemporary’ “We wanted to ride the line of being rustic without being kitschy and contemporary without being too modern. Truly a natural New Orleans style,” he says. Peche’s wide open space with spectacular views of the wood-fire grill and warehouse district is certainly the place where parties or individuals can nibble or feast, or just sip on their signature rum punch drink in a setting of sheer enjoyment inside the freshness of Peche.