Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Louisiana Chef Cody Carroll vies for title of King of American Seafood, Aug. 3 at EXPO

Chef Cody Carroll represents Louisiana
in the 2013 Great American Seafood
Cookoff, August 3 at the Louisiana
Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO.
Chef Cody Carroll, owner of Hot Tails Restaurant in New Roads, carefully breaks down a large tuna under the attentive gazes of Louisiana ProStart® instructors.

“That’s the beauty of living here,” Carroll tells the crowd. “This fish was caught just yesterday.” The teachers smile and nod their heads, jotting notes as Carroll continues his demonstration, “Fishes of the Gulf: Identification, Fabrication & Cooking Methods,” during the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation ProStart Educator Summer Training at Grace King High School in Metairie last month.

A Louisiana boy through and through, Carroll, grew up on his family’s farm in Batchelor, where they raised pretty much all of the state’s crops—grain, wheat, soybeans, corn—and arguably its most delicious export—crawfish.

“I grew up hunting, fishing, growing things,” Carroll remembered. “It’s hard work, though and I knew I wanted to go to college and see what else was out there.”

So off to LSU he went, majoring in business and entrepreneurship, while he went back home to the farm during the summer. When he left college, Carroll, 29, had a dream to open a restaurant, but he felt he was missing a skill set.

“I knew 90 percent of what I needed to know to get started,” Carroll said. “I knew I’d learn the other 10 percent in culinary school.”

So off to the Louisiana Culinary Institute (LCI) he went, where he learned about food costs, profit margins, insurance and honed his technique. It would also be where he would meet two very important people in his life and work, his wife, Samantha—Chef de Cuisine at Hot Tails—and his Executive Sous Chef Owen Hohl.

After graduating from LCI in January 2010, the three young chefs found themselves the owners of Hot Tails by that April. The restaurant, serving what Carroll describes as “hardcore south Louisiana cuisine,” was once a drive-through convenience store, ensconced in the business section of New Roads, on Hospital Road. While their kitchen is small—only a six-burner stove, a 24-inch grill and two fryers—they have already had to expand, doubling their original capacity to 100 seats.

Their patrons have welcomed the restaurant with open arms, if not adventurous palates in the beginning.

“I like to think that part of my job is introducing our customers to different preparations of the food they grew up eating,” Carroll explains. “There are more ways to eat fish than to just fry it. We suggest dishes, they trust us and a lot of the time, end up loving it. It’s exciting to win them over.”

That competitive drive will serve Carroll well, as he and Samantha Carroll prepare to represent Louisiana in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off August 3, 2013, during the Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO. He earned his spot in late May, winning the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. Carroll was the first to present his offering and was confident in his flavors and preparation. His winning dish, Louisiana Speckled Trout Perdu, stayed true to his origins.

“This year was actually my second time competing in the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off,” Carroll admits. “Last year, I wanted to try something new and I veered off course from what I do best. I didn’t even place. I knew this year I was going to stick with a recipe that was all ‘me,’ with each ingredient telling a story.”

After portioning the tuna, Carroll hands over the demonstration to Hohl, Hot Tails’ resident “Tuna Master.” Hohl carefully sears the tuna filets, after seasoning them.

Carroll beams with pride when speaking of Hohl, a former Grace King ProStart student. “Owen impressed me from the beginning [at LCI]. I remember thinking he should be teaching the class! He knew so much about everything we were learning about.”

Lots of ProStart and culinary students have dreams of working in a restaurant, or opening their own restaurant one day. Carroll has sage advice, as someone who made that dream a reality.

“Focus on the food,” he advises. “Develop your menu, learn the business and keep your food and labor costs steady.” Carroll pauses and grins, “And pay attention in math class.”

Don’t miss seeing Chefs Cody and Samantha Carroll in action at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, Hall J, at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center Saturday, August 3, 2013, 11:15 a.m.

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