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Katarina Todorovic
Created on Aug 17th, 2023
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Restaurant Beatrice 2023: Contemporary Cajun Classics In a Place That Embodies the Spirit of Louisiana Hospitality!

At Restaurant Beatrice, the mission is clear: to transport diners to the soulful world of Louisiana's culturally-rich foods while embracing the spirit of hospitality and community that defines the region. Under Michelle's skilled guidance, the restaurant seamlessly blends tradition and innovation, weaving sustainable food practices into the fabric of every dish. The result is a symphony of flavors that pays homage to the past while ushering in a new era of culinary excellence. In this article, we dive into the captivating story of Michelle Carpenter, an adept culinary artist who has elevated the essence of Louisiana's culinary traditions through her distinct touch. Join Delivery Rank as we explore the culinary journey that led to the birth of Restaurant Beatrice, learn about Michelle's dedication to advancing Cajun and Creole cuisine, and discover how her commitment to sustainability is shaping a delectable future at the intersection of tradition and innovation.

Your restaurant aims to capture the essence of Louisiana's culinary traditions and sense of community. How do you infuse these cultural elements into the dining experience at Restaurant Beatrice, and what inspired you to bring Cajun and Creole cuisine to the forefront?

I am bi-racial:  half Japanese and half-Cajun, so opening Restaurant Beatrice was a needed extension of who I am.  I felt this was a part of myself and heritage that my guests did not know or even recognize.  I spent a significant part of my life in Louisiana and my Mamaw, Beatrice Carpenter–whom the restaurant is named after–had a very powerful impact on how I understand and appreciate food.  My first restaurant, Zen Sushi, pays homage to my Japanese heritage.  Beatrice pays homage to the other side.    

Food is always more than food.  The most interesting and memorable creations are our most personal stories.  On a menu, the food that has the most meaning is the food that is tied to a story about the chef.  Any food dish is not a “thing.”  It’s a carrier of ideas, beliefs, culture, customs, and traditions of a people and their homeland.

Sustainability is a significant part of your culinary philosophy. Could you share some specific ways in which Restaurant Beatrice incorporates sustainable food practices into its operations and menu offerings?

Our renovation included a lot of measures that reflected our concern for the environment.  We installed low-flow toilets, LED light bulbs which give off less heat, a tankless water heater, and we installed hand dryers instead of relying on paper towels.  

We repurpose our menus into liners for our soups.  We recycle all cardboard.  We repurpose our citrus husks and make that into a lovely citrus stock used in our margarita.  All our vegetable waste and even our oyster shells are composted, as we work with a local farmer who comes once a week to pick up our waste. 

Nearly all of the bones and shells are made into stocks.  (That’s where the flavor is.  People who don’t cook don’t realize that bones are the source of vital minerals, nutrients, and density and complexity of flavor.)

We host a cochon de lait dinner twice a year, where we roast a Market Hog raised by a Louisiana rancher.  It’s a nose-to-tail dinner where our guests feast on an ethically-raised pig.  The dinner includes pig at least 7 different ways and we partner with a great spirits company each time we do it.  The first cochon dinner, we partnered with Makers Mark, and then we partnered with WhistlePig, and we will partner with Uncle Nearest this fall.  Sustainable approaches can be fun, delicious, and authentic.  

Our vegan Green Gumbo uses carrot tops and turnip tops, which are commonly discarded by most American chefs in most kitchens.  This dish brings out a deep history intertwined with Black history, as enslaved folks made their own version of gumbo using discarded greens that the plantation owners didn’t use in their gumbo.  We’re honored to serve Green Gumbo and continue the legacy of Black culinary innovation in our restaurant. Most people don’t know about Green Gumbo or who Leah Chase is in Dallas.  We do, and we do it anyway because it’s a part of our philosophy to value all ingredients.

We also work, as much as we can, with local farms.  We are proud to support urban agriculture on many fronts:  organic locally grown produce tastes better and is healthier for our guests because it holds more nutrients.  Urban farms also help fight climate change, are a force for food sovereignty, and they provide access to nutrition, which many activists consider a basic human right.

Community and hospitality are central to your mission. How do you foster a sense of connection and togetherness among guests and staff at Restaurant Beatrice, creating a welcoming environment reminiscent of Louisiana's hospitality?

Our mission is “Bienvenue to All.”  We also chose to be located in Oak Cliff, which is a highly-diverse enclave for all kinds of folks who are marginalized elsewhere. It’s normal to find BIPOC and LGBTQ+ in the neighborhood because these folks have been here for so long.  Oak Cliff was historically under-resourced and ignored for such a long time by the city.  

In the last decade, we’ve had rapid gentrification and for better and for worse, we still choose to live here and we still choose to work here.  We are a part of economic development.  We help create jobs and professions for the community and nearly all of our staff live in Oak Cliff.   

What is remarkable about Louisiana culture is how many cultures it can absorb.  It doesn’t deny anyone admission to claiming this identity.  French, Canadian, Spanish, Italian, Indigenous, German, enslaved Black folks, Vietnamese immigrants are a part of Louisiana cuisine.  And more recently, we’re seeing folks with Mexican heritage advance Cajun/Creole food in Louisiana.  They accept, embrace, and absorb everyone and what they bring.  The world would be a better place if more people and places had that attitude.  

We do staff training on what it means to be a public benefit corporation.  And then ultimately, whether you want to or not, the soul of a restaurant is often the soul of ownership and management.  We’re still a very small restaurant in terms of staff and in physical footprint, and our approach is different from most other concepts.  Profitability is essential in an industry with razor-thin margins, but that’s not all we care about.  I think that a handful of guests like seeing this representation.

Restaurant Beatrice's commitment to advancing Cajun and Creole cuisine is intriguing. Can you elaborate on any initiatives or collaborations you've undertaken to promote the cultural and culinary heritage of Louisiana?

I’m Cajun. My Co-Executive Chef, Terance Jenkins, is Creole.  We are telling our story via the menu.  We are celebrating the culture of our former homes, and it is truly a gift and an honor to have guests who recognize what we are doing and why we are doing it.  These are authentic heirloom recipes.  Our restaurant exists not to cease people’s hunger.  Beatrice exists because we want to live our values and share a part of our culture with our guests.  That is a privilege we don’t take for granted. Some restaurants are there to support the neighborhood, to provide a place to commune.  And chains serve a purpose.  However, Beatrice is a chef-driven, independent restaurant.  I’m not beholden to the values of a corporation.  I’m beholden to our stories, supporting my employees, my community, and what my Cajun side represents.   

We are in discussion with a few Louisiana groups focused on economic and cultural development. The goals are to promote Louisiana as a place to do business and a place to vacation.  Where we come in is to help reinforce and educate others about Louisiana’s unique, rich history and culture.

Looking ahead, what aspirations do you have for the future of Restaurant Beatrice in terms of pushing the boundaries of Cajun and Creole cuisine, fostering sustainable practices, and continuing to offer a memorable dining experience that pays homage to Louisiana's heritage?

We’re changing the industry.  Little by little.  These are micro-changes.  Our seafood supplier, Ocean Beauty, started a Gulf Only Seafood Program because we only wanted to carry seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. Now many other restaurants buy from this program.

We reached out to Barrier Beauties and started a dialogue with the owner.  We’re the first restaurant in Dallas to carry her premium Gulf oysters, and we forced Ocean Beauty to set up an account so that we could support the first woman-owned oyster farm in Texas.  She was the second person in Texas to get a license to be able to farm oysters in Texas, and we wanted to support her and normalize enjoying Southern oysters.

We are going to be one of maybe five restaurants in the US to be B-Corp Certified.  There are less than 35 B-Corp Certified restaurants in the world.  Undergoing this process is demanding and exhaustive.  We’re being audited and we’re also trying to expand B Lab’s knowledge of the service industry at the same time and provide explanations for what is possible in the service industry with regards to sustainability.   (B Labs is the organization that conducts the audits of our operations.) The food system needs reform and we’re providing evidence to B Labs of what the bar could or should be within the industry.   Because so few restaurants have applied, there is limited data for B Labs to benchmark.  Each assessment is unique to the company, and hopefully the work that we submit will pave the groundwork for other restaurants to want to get certified, as well.  

Our theory of change assumes that our endeavors will normalize BIPOC/LGBTQ faces in fine dining spaces and expand the definition of culinary excellence to include more culture and more perspectives.  Food that was historically reserved for dispossessed and marginalized folks can be and should be celebrated with the same esteem as that of French, Italian, and New American cuisine.

We have a few more projects in the works that we aren’t quite ready to share, but the future we hope for has a vision of more folks being part of the solution to climate change and industry reform and equity change.  Change isn’t really change until it’s normalized. 

If you would like to find out more about Restaurant Beatrice, visit https://restaurantbeatrice.com/

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