From Little Nell, Hansell moved to John Besh’s Lüke restaurant in New Orleans, an homage to the once reigning St. Charles Franco-German bistros, with a focus on charcuterie and quality beers.
Lüke General Manager Brian Katz described Hansell, hired as executive sous chef, as “passionate, knowledgeable, and then calm, which is a rare combination of traits.” Katz complimented not only Hansell’s interest in the local products they used in the kitchen, but also his ability to manage staff. “He [Hansell] was mainly in charge of making sure that the kitchen functioned properly and up to the standard that we set,” Katz said. “He inspired the people who worked for him, while also holding them accountable.”
Hansell said that Lüke influenced the more casual side of his cooking. “Kind of making the food a little more fun. A little more approachable by just your mainstream people,” he said. “I have a charcuterie plate on the menu, and a lot of the techniques and the dishes behind it came from Aspen, and Lüke as well. Lüke had an unbelievable charcuterie program. Like six and seven sausages at a time on the menu, all house-made, ground, hand-piped.”
Chef Hansell’s first day as executive chef at the Veranda on Highland was Feb. 28, 2012. He said it happened really quickly, starting with a call from owner Ed Hardin. The menu described here (sous-vide pears, house-made sausage, Kitty Mitchell grouper with pureed fennel and heirloom okra) that was featured at the Veranda in September is not the menu there today, because Hansell bases his menu on the “seasonality of things.”
“There’s nothing better than a strawberry that was picked at the beginning of the season, like the first strawberry off the bush. And the tomatoes…,” Hansell trailed off, reflecting. “A season is meant to be a season. A tomato at the end of the season is not going to taste like a tomato should taste.”
Chef Hansell’s childhood seafood knowledge, his celebrated Creole traditions from Commander’s Palace, his desire for high-quality local from Aspen, and his love of the fun and casual from Lüke – these lessons all appear somewhere at the Veranda. Hastings and Stitt continue to leave their own marks in their respective kitchens, but this young chef is someone to watch in a very competitive food town.
Chef Hansell’s Philosophy on Food
“What I like to show or emphasize is the process of the food in front of you – seeing the raw ingredients, seeing what it was before. Like a carrot is just a carrot, and now it’s this beautiful puree. And the process that goes into it – I think a lot of that is lost. People are starting to get more in touch with the food. It’s a big movement now: farm to table. It’s people at least knowing where it’s coming from. But it hits the table and they gobble it up. They don’t really understand how that sauce came about and where that certain cut of pork came from on a pig.”