Move aside, Emeril Lagasse. There’s a new celebrity chef in America. Chef David Guas spent the majority of his life in two major Southern food hubs, New Orleans and Washington D.C. During that time, he’s worked at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in both cities, written books, appeared as a contestant on Chopped, and brought his native New Orleans cuisine to the diplomats in The District by opening Bayou Bakery, his award-winning restaurant. Now, he takes his signature brand of humor and passion—the very same we enjoyed when he taught us to make Nana’s Banana Bread—to the rest of the country as the host of American Grilled, Travel Channel’s newest cooking competition that’s set to air this summer. Here’s why you need to tune in.
Grill Master of the Cul-de-sac
Each episode will feature a new city and four contestants who are the “self-proclaimed grill masters of their cul-de-sacs,” says Guas from a shoot in New Orleans. One will walk away with $10,000. These four, none of whom are professional grillers, will use locally sourced ingredients that capture the culture of each city. I think you need to embed yourself in the culture as real and legitimately as possible, and do each city justice,” he says. That’s why local vendors and farmers will be showcased.
A Life-Changing Philly Cheesesteak
According to Guas, his path to nationwide sensation only took a few things: trusting the universe, believing everything happens for a reason, and “working hard, putting your head down, and doing what’s in front of you.” Oh, yeah, and a Philadelphia cheesesteak. Wait, what?!
Home from college and seeking direction, Guas was chopping up cheesesteaks in a New Orleans mall when a fellow from Philly stopped by to scarf one down. After doing so, he looked up at Guas and said, “I’m gonna come back and order two more like that to bring back to Philly.” Not bad for someone who grew up in the belly of the South. “What I loved about the simple compliment wasn’t the flattery,” Guas says. “It was more the instant gratification that I could make something with my hands and tap into a creative energy and someone could instantly respond in a positive way to that.” So “with zero experience, zero schooling in pastry and desserts,” but a burning desire to work at The Windsor Court—the Saturday Night Live of New Orleans restaurants—he applied to be the hotel’s pastry chef in 1997. That gig launched his career, and he later moved to Washington, D.C. to help open DC Coast, the first restaurant in the ever-expanding Passion Food Hospitality group, where he worked until the storm.
Hurricane Katrina, Turning Point
After Katrina Guas was motivated to write a book—part recipes, part memoir—and open his own joint. “I just felt like I’d been gone for so long that I had to get something on paper for my boys. After Katrina, it was about documenting things I didn’t want to wash away,” he says, then offers the kind of simple but ultra-personal memory he wanted to bestow upon them. “Like I remember picking pecans off the neutral ground with my grandmother, filling up Winn-Dixie grocery bags with them.” One year later, he opened Bayou Bakery, the restaurant he runs when the cameras aren’t rolling. But, for the time being, he’s “going across the country looking for these guys and gals who think they are the best on the grill.”
The culmination of that, American Grilled, debuts this summer, so keep your specs on. And to think, it all began by chopping a Philly cheesesteak.