Barbette's executive chef speaks
If you're hungry and in Uptown, Barbette has you covered, no matter what time it is: breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Inspired by chic-yet-casual French bistros and powered by an array of mostly local meats and seasonal produce, the restaurant has prospered despite a shifting roster of executive chefs.
For the past few months, the woman in charge has been 29-year-old Sarah Master, an alum of Alma and Spoonriver. The New Orleans-trained Master replaced outgoing firebrand Landon Schoenefeld (who has landed at the new Porter & Frye at Hotel Ivy). Sporting a blue wool cap, Master projects a merry, elfin intensity that no doubt serves her well during the 60- to 70-hour weeks that her job requires.
Master grew up outside of Hibbing, and the initial shift to New Orleans-style cookery was a shock to her system. "I grew up never putting salt on anything," she says. "I remember the first time I made mashed potatoes down there at a restaurant, I was like: 'Okay, chef, here's my mashed potatoes!'"
"He took one bite and spat it out," she says. "And I saw him putting handful after handful of salt into it, and I was like, 'You're going to die if you eat that!' But then he gave me a spoonful, and I was like, 'Oh, yeah! That's a lot better.'"
Master launched herself into the New Orleans food scene with gusto, attending culinary school and working for a handful of local restaurants, including Susan Spicer's Bayona.
"It's so different," she says. "I grew up eating Tater Tot hot dish and goulash and beef stroganoff and these things that are really hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals, but kind of boring. One of the things that drew me down there was that the food is so intense. Everything is really heavily spiced, and there were all these products I'd never seen before.
"Coming back here, I was like, 'I'm so excited. I can do all these different kinds of seasoning blends, and I've got all this seafood experience...." But people here were like, 'I want my breaded walleye!' So that kind of thing has been a struggle with me."
Master has fought heroically to bring a dash of NOLA to Uptown. A recent Mardi Gras tasting menu featured dishes such as baked oyster stuffed with crab meat and Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liquor), crab cakes with remoulade, chicken etouffée, and bananas foster.
She's discovered that being an executive chef can be an intense experience. "I guess I didn't realize how much actually goes into it, and how much I take home with me every night. I bust in the door at night and my husband asks, 'How was your day?' and I'm like, 'I don't even want to talk about it!' And he makes me sit down and tell him how my day was. But then I'll still wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'Did I order that cheese...?'"
For more from Sarah Master, visit Culture to Go at www.citypages.com/ctg
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