Raised in the small Acadiana town of Rayne, La., Isaac Toups started his culinary career in New Orleans at Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. In 2012, he and wife Amanda, a local wine professional, opened Toups' Meatery (845 N. Carrollton Ave., 504-252-4999; www.toupsmeatery.com), a casual restaurant serving Toups' rendition of modern Cajun cooking. On Tuesday, he'll present a meal in New York City at City Grit (www.citygritnyc.com), which hosts chefs from across the country for one-night guest appearances.
Why did you switch from fine dining to a more casual approach?
Toups: I loved what we did with food in fine dining — the attention to detail, the farm-to-table sourcing — but it was the fussiness I wanted to get away from. The staff wearing ties, the plate presentations. I want it to be like, here's the food, come in wearing shorts if you want and let's eat. I think that's why we've become a neighborhood spot. We get a lot of customers from the blocks right around us. Early in the evening there might be kids running around here. Heck, sometimes they're my kids.
How have things gone in your first year as a chef/owner?
T: The chef part I felt like I had down. Now no one tells me what to cook, except Amanda, and she's my muse anyway. But the owner part? I guess you just have to get open, screw up, don't screw up the same way again and make it work. There's a burden of responsibility now, but it's still the best decision we've ever made. You're always going to be busting ass working hard in this business and now we're working hard for us.
How did growing up in Cajun country influence your culinary career?
T: I was extremely lucky growing up: Everybody in my family cooked. We were always outside boiling something, grilling something. Dad would smoke the ducks we shot. We'd make squirrel brain sauce piquante. There isn't a lot of meat on a squirrel, so you have to throw in the whole thing, and a lot of them, to really have a stew. The brains have the most fat, the most flavor. You want to talk about using everything? Squirrel brain sauce piquante. I thought everyone grew up like this. — IAN MCNULTY