The HOT SEAT: Chef Cory Bahr of Parish Restaurant
Written by Stephanie Burt of The Southern Fork
Meet Chef Cory Bahr and within minutes there’s no doubt he’s a “Louisiana boy” through and through. A major advocate for Louisiana foodways, Bahr not only talks the talk (notice that accent) but walks it too, focusing on Delta cuisine and local ingredients in both Parish Restaurant and Heritage Catering & Events based in Monroe, LA. He was raised an outdoorsman, so open fire cooking comes naturally to him, but these days cooks more often on a SIF set up for special events than a campsite after rising with the sun. And since he loves the intersection of style mixed with authentic experience, that’s a great fit. Whether camping or cooking for a invite-only event, Cory’s cooking draws a crowd around the fire, and he’s ready with hospitality and good food to keep them hanging around for the next bite.
Do you have a grilling or campfire memory that started your love of outdoor cooking?
My first vivid memories of outdoor fire cooking were at my grandfather’s deer camp in Lake Providence, LA. I had jobs, I was the gopher kid, but I was attracted to being out there with the smokiness, the cracking of the fire.
What’s one meal that really shines on your SIF?
Really any kind of hearty vegetables: cabbages, whole cauliflowers, whole root veggies. They work well on the racheted grill, and I can baste right there. A whole cabbage might take a bit of time to grill through, but it’s impressive when brought to the table, and I get to stand around this work of art that I get to cook on. And I’m usually not alone -- the SIF magnetizes people to it.
What is something you’ve cooked on the SIF that surprised you?
How great pan-roasting and braising is on it. With the jack plates, the attachments, I can put a cast iron skillet on indirect heat and really do some nice work with it. I love multitasking, and being out there with the fire and doing grilling and pan roasting really activates a primordial gene, you know?
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I’d describe my style as really inspired by what’s in front of me. It’s improvisational, and more than just seasonal, although that’s definitely there too. It’s about reconfiguring ingredients in the most delicious way I can. So I’m always thinking about how can I make what’s in front of me even more delicious?
What type of wood do you like for your SIF?
I use local white oak that’s been split for at least 3-5 months, and more often than not a year. I get a delivery every two weeks, and I like it because it burns hot but slow, kind of even. It’s doesn’t make sense to replicate non-Louisiana flavors, and this is one of the things we like that are available to use.
What’s something tricky about open fire that the average cook needs to know?
Control is a big thing to chefs. These days, we can flip switches and turn a knob a lot of times. But live fire is alive, and it changes with the wind, the outdoor ambient temp, all sorts of things. You lose that control, but you can have fun interacting with it. But in order to interact, you need to tend, be there, work with it. It’s not a set thing.
What is your favorite element of the SIF?
Really, it’s the thoughtfulness of each piece and how that work together. Each piece actually works, and that is kind of unusual in today’s world. It’s not one specific part but how they all really work together.
Grilled Oysters with Calabrian Chili Butter
Cory Bahr, Parish Restaurant, Monroe, LA
Makes 36 Oysters
1 lb good quality unsalted butter, softened (I use Plugra because it’s easy to find)
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 calabrian chilies, chopped (or your favorite spicy chili paste)
4 garlic cloves, grated on a micro plane
½ cup untoasted panko breadcrumbs
½ cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
½ cup finely chopped parsley
3 tsp. kosher salt
- Fold together all ingredients, set aside.
- When the fire is hot, raise your grill and remove from the fire.
- Place oysters on the grill, top each with ½ tablespoon of the butter.
- Lower the grill with oysters onto the fire and top with the cooking dome.
- Allow the oyster 3-4 min to grill. They’re done when the juices are lightly bubbling.