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Chef chat with Chefs & Champagne Honoree John Besh

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Chefs & Champagne has evolved into one of the most coveted events in the Hamptons. To be fair, you really can’t go wrong when you combine killer food with beautiful people. Held at Wölffer Estate Vineyard, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) is honoring celebrity chef John Besh. He’s won several James Beard Awards, and he’s known for his philanthropy as well his prowess in the kitchen. The fundraiser and tasting party takes place on Saturday, July 23, 2016 this summer. Featuring more than 40 chefs serving up tasty bites, libations will be flowing from Champagne Barons de Rothschild, Goose Island beers, and Wölffer Estate wines. We caught up with honoree John Besh to discuss everything from the perfect picnic cuisine to his new restaurant. Here’s what the man who has conquered the world of New Orleans fine food had to say…

We know that your heart belongs to New Orleans, but what’s your favorite thing about coming to the Hamptons?

Well, for starters, I've never been to the Hamptons and so as you can imagine, I am anxiously awaiting my visit. We're renting a house and making a long weekend of enjoying the company of dear friends outside of the heat and humidity of NOLA.

Now that summer is in full swing, what are your favorite ingredients of the season?

Summer to me means soft shell crabs, silver queen corn, celeste figs, heirloom tomatoes, cobia and all those delicious squash blossoms.

Since the East End is such a beach culture, we’re curious what do you think is the perfect picnic food?

It's all about simplicity and ease of enjoyment. Beach food is social, so think of a clambake—which I’m so craving or in our neck of the woods— it's royal red shrimp, steamed with butter, ice cold beer and or rose!

And, what about your newest venture in Houston, what made you pick that city?

Houston is like a cousin to New Orleans and they have been big supporters of ours over the years. My partner Drake Leonards of Luke will be moving there to open Eunice, (name comes from his little Cajun home town) and we'll serve food inspired by our childhoods in South Louisiana, cooked and served in a more modern way, focusing on the ingredients and foodways of our shared gulf coast.

What can you tell us about the menu?

Drake has worked for me for years, prior to that he's worked for Daniel Boulud in NYC and Karl-Josef Fuchs in the Black Forest as well as being raised on a rice farm in Cajun country, so you can expect to see and taste much of his influences.

Will there be many New Orleans influences on the food?

You can take the boys out of New Orleans but you can't take the New Orleans out of us boys… Naturally, we want to evoke a sense of place in Eunice, which will remind us of our home.

Lastly, when we think of fine dining in New Orleans, your name just comes to mind; do you have additional plans to expand your empire in Louisiana?

I'm sad to say, none of our expansion was planned, it just happened organically by investing in those talented people that invested their heart and soul in me over the past two decades. I love to identify talented cooks, who love to [communicate] good through food and then support them so that they are able to realize their fullest potential. I've got no such plans at the moment but never say never.

Please note, general admission for JBF members is $200 and $275 for nonmembers. General admission includes all tastings, silent auction bidding, and a gift bag. VIP premium admission is $375 for JBF members and nonmembers. VIP tables of 10 cost $4,000. The VIP experience includes a reception with early access to all tastings, an advanced silent auction preview, reserved seating, access to VIP after party (8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.), and a gift bag.