A few days ago, I was lucky enough to interview my longtime friend and fellow food enthusiast, Jonny Adler. Over a soulful Southern brunch at Katie's Restaurant and Bar, we talked about his many food-ventures throughout New Orleans, the East Coast, and even abroad.
His passion for all types of food is evident as he describes his experience working as a food runner and cook at New Orleans' acclaimed Commander's Palace, how he gets down in the kitchen, and what it has been like to start his own foodstagram account @boi.eats.world.
Spoon: Alright, I’m here with my close friend and New Orleans food superstar Jonny Adler. We’re here today to talk to him about how he immerses himself in all things food, as well as his new Instagram account, which you should all follow. Right now we’re sitting at Katie’s Restaurant. Why did you choose to take me here this morning?
JA: Katie’s is a wonderful Mid-City joint. I actually found it through an article on Thrillist and also heard about it from a lot of locals. The first four times I went here, I went alone and really took the term bottomless to a new level. They have a $15 all-you-can-drink special for red and white sangria, mimosas, and bloodies. And they don't just give you a small little glass; it’s humongous, and they keep them coming.
They also have excellent charbroiled oysters and all types of southern food. Funny thing about one of their dishes–the crawfish beignet– the chef told me that it came about after he went to Jazz Fest one year. He was really drunk and came back to the restaurant and started throwing stuff together. It’s essentially a hot pocket of crawfish cheese and jalapeños, and it’s really good.
Spoon: Jonny also worked at Commander’s Palace two years ago. Why don’t you tell us about how you got the job and what the experience was like?
JA: I knew someone who worked there and she warned the managers that I was interested. When I set up an interview time, the manager said to come around 3:30pm. I get there at 3:35 or so, and immediately this tall, very well-dressed older gentleman named Don looks at me, looks down at his watch, looks back at me again, and sternly says, “Our interview was at 3:30. You have to be on time.” This is the first thing I hear. Anyway, the rest of it actually goes well, and I stay in touch so eventually I got the job.
I started there as a food runner taking scalding hot trays up and down the whole restaurant. It was crazy hours– sometimes I would get there at 9am and not leave until 1am, so it's definitely a lot of hard work, and it hurts your back a lot. It was fun though.
Spoon: How did you end up transitioning from food runner to actually getting to cook in the kitchen?
JA: I ended up befriending all of the chefs, especially Chef Luke Hidalgo. He was so willing to teach me, and he took me under his wing. I kept hinting that I would love to cook and, without telling the head chef Troy McPhale (who was not pleased), he got me in the kitchen. I made turtle soup a lot. You really know you’re in the New Orleans restaurant business when you’re holding a 100lb. container of turtle meat.
Spoon: You don’t work at Commander’s now, but you do a lot of cooking on your own time. What do you like to make?
JA: I’m not terribly interested in re-creating restaurant dishes because that’s the whole point of actually going to restaurants. I get the recipes from trial and error and keep tweaking them. Brisket is my favorite thing. I’ve been cooking it since I was 12. I never stick to one recipe, I just see what’s in my pantry and make it different every time.
At this point, our interview was happily interrupted as our waiter refilled our mimosas for the fourth time and brought out our entrées. I ordered the special–crispy chicken strips over cheese grits and gravy. Jonny devoured the Crabby Benedict, which is just like traditional Eggs Benedict but with crab cakes instead of Canadian Bacon.
Spoon: Okay, we’re back and sufficiently stuffed. Now Jonny is going to talk about how he decides what restaurants to try when he's traveling to new places.
JA: Before I arrive in any city, I do a lot of cross-reference research online. I also ask people who live there or have visited for recommendations. I end up spending at least 3-6 hours preparing for food-related activities. Once I'm there, I sort of just go with my gut feeling and it tends to work out. A quote I live my life by is, "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."
Spoon: Jonny is the founder and creative vision behind the Instagram account @boi.eats.world. What made you want to start a food account?
JA: Yeah, a lot of other handles were taken. My brother convinced me to make one because he knows that one day I want a job that is somehow related to food. He told me I needed to make myself more marketable, so after a crash course in hashtags and Insta-etiquette, I was ready to get started.
Spoon: What's been the most exciting or surprising part of running your own foodstagram account?
JA: I’ve got to say it’s been interesting seeing which photos blow up with likes and comments. I do work pretty hard on the captions. One that I’m particularly proud of was on a photo of a po’ boy and I wrote “hold the hold the mayo, we them po’ boys.”
Spoon: So it’s a two for one–comedy and food.
JA: Exactly. It also makes me happy to see people appreciate these dishes that I love so much. I always eat everything I take photos of. Everything.
Several hours and mimosas later, it was time to leave Katie’s. Before we left though, I had to ask Jonny for his top NOLA restaurant recommendations. In terms of overall, must-try New Orleans spots, Jonny recommends GW Fins, Cochon, Commander's Palace, Willie Mae's Scotch House (the one on St. Anne's, not Uptown), and Katie's Restaurant and Bar.
Later in the day, I received a text message from Jonny with even more tasty tips. He sent me an extensive list of the best po' boys in NOLA. His favorites are the fried oyster, bacon, and Havarti po' boy from Ye Olde College Inn, the roast beef and shrimp po' boy from Parkway Bakery & Tavern, the fried soft shell crab po' boy from Joey K's, the Korean BBQ po' boy from Singleton's Mini Mart, the fried shrimp and oyster po' boy from R&O's, the cochon de Lait po' boy from Walker's BBQ, the ham and roast beef po' boy from Mother's, the hot sausage po' boy from Melba's, the Wagyu beef brisket po' boy from Boucherie, and the pork belly po' boy from Erin Rose.
By the end of the interview, it was clear that Jonny’s exuberance, warmth, and food expertise make him an invaluable restaurant resource, and an even better brunch companion.