The dynamic duo behind Coutelier NOLA, Jacqueline Blanchard and Brandt Cox

By Tippi Clark

The dynamic duo behind Coutelier NOLA, Jacqueline Blanchard and Brandt Cox

Jackie, 32 is from South Louisiana and grew up along Bayou Lafourche in Assumption Parish. She got her bachelor's degree in culinary arts at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA. After graduation (and Hurricane Katrina) in 2006, she moved to Napa Valley to work for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Bouchon. She later went on to work at Frasca (Boulder, CO), Blue Hill at Stone Barns (Westchester, NY), and Restaurant August (New Orleans, LA) as exec sous chef. It was during her four years at August that she met Brandt .

Brandt, also 32 is from North Mississippi, grew up in Oxford. He attended Ole Miss, and after college, he worked in a few restaurants in his hometown, quickly moving up the ranks. He then decided to attend the French Culinary Institute in NYC where he got his formal culinary training, as well as being among the opening staff at David Burke's Town House. After graduation, he headed to New Orleans to take a position at Restaurant August. There, he met Jackie. This is where their story begins.

During their time together in SF, they lived across the street from Town Cutler, a small, curated knife shop with a sharpening service. They began to frequent the shop, using their sharpening service weekly and getting to know the owner, a former chef, Galen. This became the inspiration for the inception of Coutelier. They began to ask themselves why New Orleans did not have the kind of shop that catered to culinary professionals, as well as the serious home cooks of South Louisiana, and offered quality gear for cooks as well as sharpening and repair services, given the immense culinary footprint of the city. They decided it was time to work for themselves, even if that meant not opening the restaurant they wanted right away. 

Coutelier NOLA opened it's doors in the early Fall of 2015 and is New Orleans's first professional-grade kitchen cutlery store, serving professional chefs and dedicated home cooks alike. Also, supporting local makers in the kitchen product category (Holt McCall aprons + Tchoup Industries knife rolls). 

What is your first memory of someone wearing an apron?

Jackie: I have the fondest memories of cooking with my maw-maw, Marilyn. She wore a short tan apron with blue and creme flowers on it with worn pockets.

Brandt: My grandmother made her living waiting tables in a small country kitchen in Selmer, TN.  I always remember the short, black bistro aprons that she would wear while tending to her many hungry guests.

We designed aprons specific for your shop based off of an apron Jacqueline got in Spain. Can you give me the history on that apron and the functionality of why you like that design so much?  

Jackie: The aprons we based our design off of were the aprons that the cooks wore at the famed 3 Michelin star, El Bulli (Roses, Spain). Which is now closed. Years ago, my friend did a season there, so I gave him one of my French Laundry aprons for one of his El Bulli aprons. I loved it for it's light, sleek design and simplicity. It quickly became my favorite apron. It was easy to adjust, it fell at my chest in just the right place, the sillouette was slim and sleek, and the small brass grommets gave just the right amount of industrial flare. It was just long enough and it didn't bunch up (I hate when you constantly have to re-tie and re-adjust an apron as your movements compound in a kitchen). The apron performed and functioned effortlessly in a fast paced, unforgiving environment. So since Ferran Adria has closed El Bulli, I wanted to pay tribute to that apron in our design with Holt/McCall. We added the pocket for easy access to pens, sharpies, and tweezers.

 

Having spent a lot of time in Japan training knife sharpening skills and all culinary and cultural aspects, what can you tell me about the Japanese apron culture and history? We're so intrigued by their beautiful lines, fabrics and designs.

Jackie: In Japan, apron culture is real. The kappogi apron was originally introduced in the early 1900's as an apron to cover the kimonos most women wore on a daily basis. It's almost like a gown slip with baggy sleeves. 

After several trips to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, we noticed that the fish mongers were wearing aprons almost identical in shape and design to the El Bulli apron... they were just made of a vinyl material rather than fabric to repel the blood and scales from fish mongering. Same straps, grommets, and sillouette. I often wonder if that's where El Bulli's apron design originated. My dear friend Keiko, who is a Japanese chef, has a very distinctive apron that she always wears at her restaurant in Tokyo, Mique.

 

We love the vintage spoons for sale in your shop, can you please tell us a little bit about the tasting spoon as a chef's tool and where you get your spoons?

Cooks can have the same affinity for vintage spoons as they do for knives... both are imperative tools in daily use and both are extensions of your hand. I'm probably crazier and more protective of my spoon collection that I am about my knives. I've spent years collecting them from around the world, looking for very specific shapes, bowl depth, how it tapers to a point, etc... the ones you can just crush a one-handed quenelle with, or baste the fuck out of a piece of fish or meat. The patina is very important, it shows age and character. It ages with you. Some of my most prized spoons came from flea markets in France. I look for the stamped sterling kind with a deep bowl and dramatic tip on the end. Needless to say, I pride myself on my spoon game. If I lost a spoon during service, shit would shut down till I found it. So when we opened the shop, I wanted to make curating vintage plating spoons a feature because I know what most cooks are searching for in an epic plating spoon. It's important; and the great ones are hard to find. I have a friend who lives in the south of France who helps me find the cherries... she knows what I'm looking for.

How does living in NOLA influence your work as chefs and as shop owners?

Living in NOLA, I think we can create a dichotomy of being shop owners as well as continuing to build our upon our craft as chefs. It gives us a unique opportunity to be plugged in in so many aspects of our industry. We can take this time to work on the techniques we may not have had time to previously dial in, given the rigor of a chef's schedule. We can explore other avenues that will ultimately define our cuisine, which is one of the hardest things for a chef to do. We have become particularly enamored and influenced by Japanese cuisine and culture as of late, so I see that coming through in the food I want to make. It's not Asian... it's Japanese. We are still given the opportunity to cook on a frequent basis through events, private dinners, etc. So just because we own a knife shop, does not mean we are any less engaged in our craft of cooking - the hours are just way better. Quality of life is of the utmost importance to us. We now are in a business that allows us to travel to Japan regularly which is one of the most fulfilling aspects of what we do. We become more seduced by Japan day after day. It's ancient, mysterious, efficient, humble, enticing, beautiful, respectful, enriching, haunting, and delicious. It's not just about the knives for us, it's about the food and making the most of the time you have on this earth. It's short. Do what makes you happiest, or as we say in NOLA, "do whatcha wanna". I think we've found that in Coutelier.
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Featured aprons shown in photo: The reversible denim and railroad striped chef apron worn two ways.