Simon Glenn grew up in a thoroughly pastoral scene in Central California, canning preserves, making goat cheese and yogurt, and gathering eggs from his family’s small farm to sell. A couple of decades later, he was in some of Manhattan’s most respected kitchens (including Spice Market and Metro Marche) making high-end plates for well-heeled customers. And in between, he spent time in a city renowned for its distinctive ingredients and preparations, many of which are notoriously difficult to master.
Glenn has brought his years of cooking in New Orleans to Brooklyn, where since 2009 he’s operated Tchoup Shop (pronounced “chop shop,” and named after legendary NOLA thoroughfare Tchoupitoulas Street). Every Sunday evening in the backyard of Williamsburg bar dba, Glenn replicates the New Orleans BBQ food & experience he grew to love: manning a grill piled high with pork and gator sausage, preparing oyster or roasted pork po’boys, and doling out a duck and okra gumbo alongside his 100% killer buttermilk biscuits until it sells out (which was by 6:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday).
On Saturday, Glenn will be bringing his skills to Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Chile Pepper Fiesta, where he’s among a lineup of chefs cooking from traditions across the world and paying homage to the chile pepper, one of the globe’s most widely used ingredients. BB sat down with Glenn to talk about his northern migration, Cajun cooking mysteries and what chiles do for a chili.
As a California boy, what originally drew your to New Orleans?
I thought I was moving to New York City. I had some friends that were living in New Orleans at the time I finished culinary school—I thought, that’s cool, I’ll go down there for about 6 months, get a job waiting tables and save up to move to NYC in the spring. That was in 1995, and I eventually did move to NYC ten years later and get a job waiting tables, which I quit after 4 days when I got a job in a kitchen at a better restaurant. Interestingly enough, I never cooked NOLA food per se professionally in New Orleans. I worked at very contemporary international restaurants based in French cooking like Sapphire, The Grill Room at the Windsor Court, and Marisol. Most of the local cooking I learned was either by eating at soul food restaurants, from my coworkers, or eating at friends houses.
What parts of Cajun cuisine are unknown, mysterious, or misunderstood by most of us?
That it is super spicy. I think of Louisiana cooking as well seasoned, but not spicy. Cajun food is all about pot cooking, one pot of rice, one pot of vegetables, one pot of something braised in some sort of gravy or stew to soak up with the rice.
This question kinda reminds me of the Cajun zoo joke…the difference between a Cajun zoo and a regular zoo? At a regular zoo you get to look at all the animals in their natural environment, and there’s a card that tells you about what they like to eat, mating habits, migratory patterns, etc. It’s the same in the Cajun zoo, except they also include a recipe.
What’s your experience been like doing Tchoup Shop?
Tchoup Shop has been a lot of fun. I really dig the personal relationships that I have built—that’s not possible in a “normal” restaurant where the cook is segregated from the guests. It’s also fun to introduce people to a bit of real Louisiana cooking and to provide a place for my NOLA peeps to get a taste of home. That’s been the best compliment by far—one of the guys from the Honey Island Swamp Band had played and I had some red beans and rice leftover and gave it to them and he says to his band mates, “this tastes like home!”
How important are chiles to Cajun food—and what’s your favorite kind to work with? Fresh, dried?
Louisiana cooking and Cajun food in particular use mostly dried chile powders like cayenne or paprika. They do use bell peppers in almost everything religiously. Most of the hot peppers you will see are used as a hot sauce or some other type of pickled condiment. I like to use other chiles that aren’t “traditional” in Louisiana cooking, but do add a certain roundness to the palate of a dish. I make a sweet potato and black bean chili sometimes and will use bell peppers, poblano peppers, serranos or jalapenos, dry ancho, dry chipotle, Louisiana hot sauce, and Vietnamese garlic sambal, plus smoked paprika and cayenne. I make pickled green beans with Thai chiles—but pickle onions with jalapenos. It really depends on what you’re looking to make, and sometimes what is at the market
What can people expect from you at Chile Pepper Fiesta?
I am cooking Maque Choux with Louisiana crawfish. It is a Cajun dish of fresh corn stewed down with tasso ham (Cajun ham), peppers, and cream, and is well spiced but not a mouth burner by any means. For the recipe I will be using poblano, sweet, and jalapeno chiles, a spice blend of dried peppers and herbs, and cayenne pepper. I have made this with habenero chiles before and it increased the spice factor by about 15 times.
I am currently working on a line of retail products called “Tchoup Shop Brand.” I am hoping to launch the Cajun Pepper Jelly by December and add the line slowly with things like Creole Mustard, handmade ketchup, a couple of infused vinegars, pickles, and hot pepper sauces, as well as seasoning and herb mixes. And possibly a po’ boy, gumbo, and fried chicken shop, but we’ll see about that.
Photo by Brent Herrig. Interview by Kate Blumm, communications manager at BBG and a lover of NOLA food, who didn’t know about Tchoup Shop until Glenn was booked for the Chile Pepper Fiesta. After reading his bio and his menus, she had to talk to him.