John Besh

By The Editors
April 8, 2013 9:00 am

He defended a casino with an M4 carbine. He founded a New Orleans restaurant empire. And as he prepares for the debut of his cooking show, chef John Besh is facing his biggest challenge yet: how to spend more time with his kids. Here’s how he’ll do it. Introducing InsideHook’s second Man of the Month.

John Besh isn’t cooking for once.

He’s standing in the bright kitchen of his Louisiana home telling us about the time he defended a Harrah’s casino with his M4 carbine. This was during Hurricane Katrina.

“There was $10-20 million in cash in there,” Besh, 44, says.

Also in there: his restaurant, Besh Steak.

Streets were flooded. Phone lines down. No police. “So we caravanned out there and basically made sure there were no bad guys or looters.”

That job done, Besh and his Marine friends launched boats into the city, rescuing the stranded and delivering meals. Then he arranged a series of contracts for emergency personnel, feeding thousands of workers for months. 

If before Katrina he had been merely a popular N’awlins restaurateur, afterwards Besh was something more.

You could say he became a civic icon.


Food – to Besh – equals family.

He recently published his second cooking book, My Family Table. His new TV cooking series Chef John Besh’s Family Table debuts on public television this month.

As a kid, he cooked for his dad, a former fighter pilot paralyzed in a car accident.

“I’d make him some strangely concocted omelette, and he’d love it,” Besh remembers.

And of course, in Louisiana, food was king.

“Outside of Archie Manning, the biggest people in our area were chefs,” says Besh.

After his stint in the Marines (he rappelled out of helicopters during the first Gulf War), Besh studied at the Culinary Institute of America.

He learned some harsh early lessons in the food business.

Besh’s first restaurant opened the week of 9/11, and “for all intents and purposes, it shut down.”

He powered through. Then, Katrina.

But that tragedy focused him.

“I had this talent, but I think I needed a mission — and that became feeding people.”

Today, Besh owns nine restaurants. Each serves up its own wildly distinct cuisine, from the Louisiana French of August to the Italian of Domenica. All “honor the culture of New Orleans.”

He’s also involved with several non-profits, like Chefs Move! (which provides inner-city youths with culinary opportunities) and the John Besh Foundation (which promotes “the preservation of the culinary history and culture of New Orleans”).

“Whenever I do something, I ask ‘does it have what I call a worthy factor?’” he says. “It needs to fit within the greater goal: creating a better city.”


These days, the warrior chef faces his greatest challenge.

How does a successful father make time to eat dinner with his kids?

“So much of our culture is passed down at our family table,” says Besh. “As aggressive and efficient as we’ve become, we’re losing that face time.”

So the cook with Marine training concocted a plan.

Step one: film the TV show in his home kitchen. That’s where the family is.

Step two: end the interview.

Besh is about to take one of his regular duck hunting sabbaticals with his four boys. He’ll be off the grid for a week.

This is his life now.

And he’s only wavered once.

“That night when I was defending the casino, I remember looking at the GM and all the stacks of money and saying ‘What about Argentina? Could we make it there by nightfall?’”

He laughs.

“And the guy looked at me and said ‘I don’t know if you’re joking or f—ing serious.”

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