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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Boxing Room's Justin Simoneaux on Boucheries and Gumbo

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Justin Simoneaux, chef of Boxing Room. - LIZA GERSHMAN
  • Liza Gershman
  • Justin Simoneaux, chef of Boxing Room.

His name gives it away: Justin Simoneaux was born in Cajun country but has cooked in San Francisco since moving here to go to culinary school. He was the chef of the Moss Room and worked for Loretta Keller at COCO500 before that. As I was writing this week's full-length review of Boxing Room, where he is chef, I called up Simoneaux to ask him how easy it was to transition from Cal-Med cuisine to Cajun and Creole.

SFoodie: I'm told you grew up in Louisiana. What part?

Simoneaux: Raceland, about an hour and fifteen minutes southwest of New Orleans. I lived there until the age of 14 or so, then moved right outside the city.

Has your cooking career all been here in California?

No. I've been working in restaurants since I was 14. I was a line cook from 14 to 17, then managed a restaurant from 17 to 19. Then I moved here.

When you were hired to cook Cajun and Creole food at Boxing Room, did you go back to Louisiana to do research?

I did. I went for a week and ate at a lot of restaurants -- I ruined a lot of experiences trying to dissect the dishes. But you know, growing up there and knowing the food, I was interested in the flavors and things I remembered most. I asked myself, what makes me happy? What my grandmother cooked, my mother cooked. So I thought about those dishes and applied my cooking experience and techniques.

For example, something like gumbo - it's a one-pot dish. Normally, you throw everything in a pot and then scoop it out. For consistency, I've been forced to make a base for the soup, then smoke chicken and pick it and slice the sausage to hold in a container just to make sure every diner gets the same amount of each. But I tried as hard as possible to not alter the flavor of the product.

Every day, you offer a "boucherie of the day." Where does that come from? And are you cooking with whole animals?

Boucherie can be interpreted as a butcher shop, but it's also a celebration of slaughtering an animal. It dates back to pre-refrigeration days. A few families will get together and butcher an animal. Each family would take part of the animal and prepare it in some way -- cracklings, head cheese, braising it, roasting it -- and then they'd come back together for a feast. So the boucherie of the day is a big chunk of meat, whether braised, roasted, or cured.

Up until today [ed note: last week], I've been bringing in different cuts of pork. But today I got two whole pigs in. I had a pig on my shoulder when you called.

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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