Kelley McCann is a chef in control.
McCann, with his partners Chad Hughes and Brad Watts, will open Kalurah Street Grill as executive chef in the old Chelsea’s Cafe building under the Perkins Road overpass near the end of the year, but he’s in no rush.
“If I’m not happy with something, I’ll put off [opening] until it’s correct,” McCann said. “I understand the importance of making sure everything is exactly the way it has to be right out of the gate.”
This will be McCann’s fifth restaurant opening as a chef, but the first he has been able to stamp with his own identity. For three years, he’s opened restaurants at Berckman’s Place, the one-week-only dining club serving the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. He’s also headed up openings of two locations of Galatoire’s Bistro in Baton Rouge, where he worked his way up from busboy to executive chef.
He credits Galatoire’s, where he shifted several times between Baton Rouge and the famous Bourbon Street location in New Orleans, with his education as a chef and restaurateur. The bistro’s French Creole cuisine gave him the foundation of his style, and taught him, with the help of a brief stint at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel in Wyoming, to be a leader in the front and back of the house.
For McCann, that means educating the staff and getting them engaged with the menu.
Kalurah will offer what McCann calls a “new American” menu — that means global influences, fresh ingredients and an openness to challenging customers. It won’t stick to a dogma of seasonal rotation or local farm-to-table, but McCann is adamant that he will source the best ingredients.
“My feeling is, if the local products are just as good, let’s get them locally. But if, you know, citrus from California is better, let’s get the best ingredient possible,” McCann said.
There will be rotation, as well. McCann believes that a static menu makes for bored chefs, and bored chefs aren’t good ones. He’ll be rotating the menu, always keeping a lookout for new trends, available ingredients and possibilities. He already gets text message alerts every day telling him what new seafood and produce is available from his suppliers.
“It’s my job to stay on top of the market,” McCann said.
Kalurah’s opening menu, which McCann says he has mostly worked out, provided the basis for the meal he cooked for a meeting with DIG. He worked up a two-course meal with Spanish and Asian influences, starting with an heirloom
tomato, cucumber and yellowfin tuna salad.
Portion control is important to McCann, and he said he wants to make sure customers don’t leave the restaurant feeling like they need to go home and go to sleep. He also wants to make sure Kalurah provides some light, fresh options, which he said can occasionally be lacking in Baton Rouge cuisine.
He soaked the cucumbers in a lemon and rice wine vinaigrette with shallot, garlic and sweet pepper to allow them to absorb the flavor before tossing with the tomatoes, then topped with raw yellowfin tuna marinated in toasted sesame oil.
After a light, Asian-inspired first course, McCann showed off some of the Spanish flavors Kalurah’s first menu will feature. After the relatively strict menu expectations at Galatoire’s, he’s excited to throw off the shackles and experiment with new ingredients and flavors at Kalurah.
“The idea is to just go crazy with it,” McCann said. “My partners have been really great, they’ve allowed me to pretty much decide where we go with the menu. It’s going to be a very chef-centered experience.”
Course two was a sliced hanger steak over romesco sauce—a Spanish fisherman’s sauce made with roasted peppers and tomatoes, almonds and breadcrumbs—topped with chimichurri and fried leeks, “to give a little bit of earth” to the dish.
There’s no question McCann has mastery over his ingredients and tools, and now Kalurah has allowed him to express himself fully. During the process of remodeling the restaurant, McCann and his partners met with an interior decorator.
McCann pointed to himself and said, “Look at me. Now I want you to make me into this room.”
However that room comes out, Kalurah Street Grill, its menu and food will have McCann’s fingerprints all over them.
Photos by Nicholas Martino.