One thing’s for certain at Peche in New Orleans: Happy surprises are always guaranteed.

Just when you think there’s no possible way Southern staples like collard greens could be whipped up in a new way or biscuits made even more ingeniously crave-worthy, the James Beard Award-winning shrine to all-things-piscine from Chefs Donald Link and Ryan Prewitt is there to prove you wrong. “I started cooking for money in San Francisco, and eventually wound my way to New Orleans to work with Donald over at Herbsaint,” said Prewitt. “Over time, after years of kicking around the idea of opening up a restaurant, we found ourselves traveling together quite a bit. One of the places we went was down to Uruguay to work with people who specialize in live fire cooking. We also wanted to open a seafood restaurant, because we saw this lack of a certain type of seafood restaurant in New Orleans. Somehow along the way, those two concepts merged and Peche was born.” This swirling of fire and water, red-hot and ocean-cool has helped to generate a menu of delicious dichotomies at the restaurant, from crab and jalapeno capellini to roasted pumpkin with chili and cane syrup. At Peche, opposites do, indeed, attract. “We wanted to shine a light on all the seafood that’s here in the Gulf, and also wanted to build a giant fireplace to cook it in,” explained Prewitt. This “live fire” approach to cooking also means that the kitchen at Peche is a constant playground for experimentation. “Cooking anything in a big fireplace requires a different sort of approach, and you have to come in with a little bit different mindset because it’s so intuitive. When you’re working with fire, you have to really feel it, get into it and understand how the wood burns differently. It’s a challenge and a benefit,” said Prewitt. “One thing I’ve really enjoyed about the grill is that we have this canvas to work with. It’s led us down pathways we might not have gone down otherwise. For instance, the produce comes in from the farmers, and instead of preparing it in a way you’re conditioned to, you turn around and take it to the grill.” Prewitt’s commitment to working with local hunters, fishermen, and farmers means that Louisiana grown and bred products dominate plates at the restaurant. This is particularly true when it comes to crafting a menu that reflects the diverse aquaculture in the Gulf South. “One of my favorite fish has always been Cobia. We have a spear fisherman we work with who loves to shoot Cobia, so we have a special relationship with that fish. We’ve found so many different preservation techniques with the cobia—cure it, smoke it—that I think are well suited to it as a more aggressively flavored, higher-fat fish. It’s also under very little to no environmental pressure when it comes to quantity. They’re kind of a rarity in many ways.” The restaurant also is eager to gobble up whatever produce is in season and then, and through kitchen-tinkering, create dishes that are wholly novel. “The way we approach produce is that if it’s good and out there, we just buy it and then figure out what to do with it. We end up with a lot of the staples—the kale, the collards—but also some of the more unusual items like different kinds of cabbages.” As the restaurant rapidly approaches its third birthday, Chef Prewitt and the staff at Peche continue to build upon their sterling reputation as an envelope-pushers both regionally and nationally, inspiring not only fellow restauranteurs but legions of artists and creators to never stop innovating. Peche is located at 800 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130. Words by Sarah Baird. Follow Sarah on Twitter here. Photos courtesy of Peche.
March 03, 2016 — Mel Calabro