His name gives it away: Justin Simoneaux was born in Cajun country but has cooked in San Francisco since moving here to go to culinary school. He was the chef of the Moss Room and worked for Loretta Keller at COCO500 before that. As I was writing this week's full-length review of Boxing Room, where he is chef, I called up Simoneaux to ask him how easy it was to transition from Cal-Med cuisine to Cajun and Creole.
SFoodie: I'm told you grew up in Louisiana. What part?
Simoneaux: Raceland, about an hour and fifteen minutes southwest of New Orleans. I lived there until the age of 14 or so, then moved right outside the city.
Has your cooking career all been here in California?
No. I've been working in restaurants since I was 14. I was a line cook from 14 to 17, then managed a restaurant from 17 to 19. Then I moved here.
When you were hired to cook Cajun and Creole food at Boxing Room, did you go back to Louisiana to do research?
I did. I went for a week and ate at a lot of restaurants — I ruined a lot of experiences trying to dissect the dishes. But you know, growing up there and knowing the food, I was interested in the flavors and things I remembered most. I asked myself, what makes me happy? What my grandmother cooked, my mother cooked. So I thought about those dishes and applied my cooking experience and techniques.