Photo by Lucie Monk
Introducing Chef Jeremy Langlois, executive chef at Houmas House Plantation & Gardens and winner of our 2014 Small Town Chefs Award...
After nineteen years in the kitchen—nineteen years of knife-clanging cacophony, stoves menacing your bare flesh, endless workdays, and sweat pooling everywhere on your body—after nineteen exhausting years, you’re seated before a pristine white tablecloth.
It’s a gala, a fundraiser of some sort. On the cream-colored menu, your name appears in elegant font, and in the hum of the crowd, you recognize your melodic ingredient list ricocheting from lip to lip.
Your crew, carefully coached and vetted, will ably deliver one of your signature dishes to the masses. You’re under no deadline. Here you are, showered, pressed, and glowing with the recognition of others.
Where are you exactly? You’re in Chef Jeremy Langlois’ nightmare.
“To go to an event and know that my name or Houmas House was printed on a menu and something’s being served [without me supervising in the kitchen]…I don’t know if it’s because I’m a control freak, but that would be the worst feeling in the world for me,” said Langlois.
Langlois has been the culinary face of Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Darrow, Louisiana, since 2005—that nine years spans almost half his career and a quarter of his young life.
He first cut his teeth at John Folse’s White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge. “I’ve actually only ever worked at plantations,” laughed Langlois.
Before he crossed the threshold of White Oak, though, Langlois was just your average teenager running around southeast Louisiana; his idea of haute cuisine involved microwaving French fries and scarfing down Pop Tarts.
He landed the job at White Oak, where his older brother was a banquet server, the day after his sixteenth birthday. Like most teenagers, he was hungry for independence. “I had a car and wanted to pay for gas and have spending money and things like that.”
He took whatever work the plantation’s staff would give him. “I raked leaves, I chopped firewood, I washed dishes…” Langlois remembered. While he trafficked primarily in unskilled labor around the property, he kept spiraling inward toward a certain room: the kitchen.
But it wasn’t masterfully prepared dishes or wafting aromas that entranced Langlois. No, it was the knives that got him.
“I would pass by the kitchen and I was just immediately attracted to it,” he explained. “All the crew would come in and they’d have big toolboxes with padlocks on it and things like that. But instead of tools, they’d have chef knives and other trinkets.”
Sixteen-year-old Langlois was fascinated by their posturing: “I’ve got a twelve-inch Wusthof! they’d say. I’ve got a fourteen-inch Forester knife! It was like this little thing.”
Langlois began to make up excuses to work in the kitchen; he sped through his other duties and logged unpaid overtime. His resemblance to the average teenager was fading rapidly.
“All the action going on—the sizzling and the smells. I thought everything happening in the kitchen was cool,” said Langlois. His accompanying wide-eyed expression confirmed that, in the intervening years, this perception hasn’t changed.
But here’s what has changed: Langlois is thirty-five now. While his boyish face often breaks into an open smile, he moves around the kitchen not like an eager adolescent, but as a chef, an assured leader.
At age twenty-two, Langlois made national headlines as the youngest executive chef of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA), a group that encompasses over 750 establishments. He’s made over fifty television appearances, including the Food Network’s Chopped and History channel’s You Don’t Know Dixie. Just this year, he showcased his culinary mastery at the James Beard House in New York. The accolades are mounting, but Langlois takes it all in stride.
“At some point being a chef became this famous thing. I was never like, I’m going to be a chef so I can be famous!” he said. “I’m a very much in-the-trenches kind of chef.”
In those unpredictable, sometimes chaotic, trenches, the gratification comes not at a podium or under the spotlight, but at the end of each day. “My main goal is to have everything run like a well-oiled machine, where we offer the best service as a team.”
After he closes up shop, Langlois heads home to his wife and two young children to enjoy a bit of life off the clock. Then he wakes up in the morning, the tables wiped and reset, and he sets out to accomplish more.
Details. Details. Details.
Houmas House Plantation & Gardens
40136 Highway 942 River Road
(800) 979-3370 • houmashouse.com
For a look in the trenches with Chef Jeremy Langlois, watch this behind-the-scenes video of Langlois preparing one of his signature dishes: Community Coffee-marinated lamb loin, celery root and Yukon Gold potato puree, oven-dried Creole tomatoes, and Abita Root Beer demi-glace, which he served to rave reviews at our 2014 Small Town Chefs Award Dinner.