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3-course interview: Chef Jess Bourgeois of Lula Restaurant-Distillery 

The chef opens a combined restaurant-distillery on St. Charles Avenue.

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Jess Bourgeois and his business partner Bear Caffery will open their microdistillery and restaurant Lula Restaurant-Distillery (1532 St. Charles Ave.; www.lulanola.com) in January. The 10,000 square-foot restaurant will serve Southern-inspired cuisine and drink pairings from a draught cocktail system. Bourgeois spoke with Gambit about distilling and how to approach food and spirits pairings.

Why did you move from cooking to distilling?

Bourgeois: I have worked in the restaurant industry my whole life, but I always had a curiosity about distilling and what was involved in it. I met my business partner Bear in New Zealand while traveling, and after we got home, we got to talking about distilling. We went to Spokane, Washington, to a place called Dry Fly Distilling and took a seven-day course using the same equipment we now own.

  We realized that unless you're really doing a lot of volume, it's a really tough business with a lot of products already on the market. After thinking about it for a while, we thought: Why not put a restaurant and a distillery together? It turned out we had to have a new law passed in the (Louisiana) legislature to allow that to happen. We won't be able to distribute, but we can sell our bottles out of the distillery. It's been a long road, but we are ever so close to the finish line. I think we're going to see more things like this in the future. It's an exciting time in the distilled spirits world.

What types of spirits will you distill?

B: We're going to make vodka, gin and rum. The process is pretty simple with the right equipment. You mix a sugar solution and put in the yeast, which magically makes alcohol, and you put it in your equipment and boil off the alcohol and get the vapors back (transformed) into a liquid. From start to finish, you can produce vodka, gin and rum in about a week, but you really need to give your spirits time to rest, and that really starts to mellow them out. The longer spirits rest in bulk, the smoother they get.

  We're going to be using all Louisiana products, all from Lula Sugar (Factory) in Belle Rose. Our vodka and gin are going to be a straight sugar solution, and our rum is going to be a mix of molasses and sugar. In Thibodaux, they're making vodka out of rice ... but vodka can be made using any starch you can covert to simple sugar by cooking it down. A lot of people start with corn, for bourbon, or rye, for whiskey.

How do you approach pairing food with spirits?

B: I do think that rum and pork go quite well together. I think it can be a difficult thing ... to throw in a cocktail pairing with every single entree where people would traditionally drink a glass of wine. We want people to try our spirits and cocktails with their appetizers and entrees, but we don't want to be super pushy about it. I don't think that spirits on their own always lend themselves well to food, but I do think you can incorporate fresh, bright flavors with food in the same way as you would with drinks.

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