Name: C.C. Haydel
Occupation: Owner-chef at Bistro New Orleans; www.bistro-neworleans.com
Likes: The New Orleans Saints
Dislikes: The Atlanta Falcons
1. Where did you learn how to prepare New Orleans cuisine? I really started to refine my repertoire and technique when I moved to New York in 1989 for my master’s degree in English education from Columbia University. I realized that if I wanted authentic food from home, I’d have to make it myself. I did call my grandmother and ask about her gumbo recipes, but the rest I developed on my own.
2. So what brought you to Japan? I was teaching English in New York, where I met my future Japanese wife! Twenty-plus years teaching English, yet here I am running a restaurant!
3. Are there any similarities between New Orleans and Osaka? Absolutely! New Orleans and Osakan cuisine both certainly have their share of unique dishes. Osakans also tend to be friendlier than other Japanese city dwellers, as are New Orleanians in America. Thus (the nickname) “The Big Easy.”
4. When did you realize a restaurant serving New Orleans cuisine would be successful in Osaka? True Creole and Cajun cuisines are practically impossible to find outside of the region. I started a Facebook group called TaNO (Tasting New Orleans) and held events at bars, cafes and restaurants. Everything was well-received, so I decided to go all in.
5. Is there any difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine? In both cuisines, cooks often start with the “trinity” of onion, bell peppers and celery (a mixture similar to French mirepoix). Creole dishes tend to be more urbane, with more sauces and ingredients in general, whereas Cajun dishes tend to be more rustic — you’ll almost always see meat and seafood in a Creole gumbo, but Cajun gumbos tend to feature either one or the other.
6. What’s your most popular dish with homesick New Orleans natives? The gumbo is popular, but the shrimp creole, catfish, roast beef, chaurice (pork sausage), dirty rice, jambalaya … whatever favorites the natives that come here like back home, they love here.
7. Describe the experience you want your guests to have. I want my customers to feel like they’re in a celebrated New Orleans neighborhood restaurant, the kind that serves dishes that say “New Orleans.” I also want people to leave the restaurant feeling as if they were actually in the “Crescent City.”
8. Any memorable reactions from first-time diners? One person asked me if I’d made a deal with devil, and one cried tears of joy after having the bread pudding.
9. What’s the hardest ingredient to find in Japan? Catfish is difficult — I only have one supplier. Green peppers are also frustrating, because they’re so small and expensive here. I’d love to have crawfish, but no one farms them here.
10. Do you have any recipes that combine elements of Japanese and New Orleans cuisine? Actually, I was just in one of my regular shops and I saw a vegetable we call mirliton, known elsewhere as chayote or christophene. I’ve only seen them in Osaka twice in 10 years, so I grabbed them.
11. How has Bistro New Orleans evolved since opening in 2012? I’m better at figuring out what really works. I have more seasonal specials, especially in the winter. I’ve always valued authenticity, but I have adapted presentation to better suit the Japanese family dining style with smaller, shareable servings.
12. Ever had any celebrity guests? Adam Lambert came with his band in 2013, and former NBA Chicago Bulls player Bill Cartwright also came once.
13. Any recommendations for a New Orleans restaurant in Tokyo? The Soul Food House. LaTonya and David serve American Southern cuisine with some New Orleans classics.
14. How about the best restaurant in New Orleans? Ha! There’s no way I can choose, but specialties at certain places do pull me in: turtle soup at Mandina’s, charbroiled oysters at Drago’s, barbecue shrimp at Mr. B’s Bistro and gumbo z’herbes at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.
15. What do you miss most about New Orleans? The food. The music. The parties and festivals. But mostly just the overall flavor.
16. Any favorite New Orleans slang? “Where ya at?” meaning “How are you doing?”
17. What songs are always on your iPod? “Big Chief” by Professor Longhair — it’s a great Mardi Gras song. Also, “Bye and Bye/Saints” by Dr. Michael White and Gregg Stafford.
18. What’s your go-to cocktail? True to my roots, a Sazerac … though a mint julep is always nice on a sultry night.
19. What are you currently reading? I’m about to start “The Dispossessed” by one of my favorite writers, Ursula K. Le Guin.
20. Who would play you in the biopic of your life? Jaboukie Young-White as a young me, and perhaps Gary Dourdan as older me.