When Johnny Schulze moved to Cleveland from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2000, he drove through Tremont and thought it reminded him of his former home. If he ever opened his own restaurant, he told himself, it would be right here.
Schulze had learned his way around the cuisine of New Orleans, where he grew up, by traveling around the state with the Army National Guard. After graduating from culinary school, he went on to recreate the dishes whenever he could.
"Every time I did Mardi Gras parties, people would go nuts over it," he remembers.
He took the leap to launch the Cajun and Creole-focused Zydeco Bistro food truck in 2011. While serving a bar in Kent, he met Justin Clements, who told him he had plans for a New Orleans concept of his own, serendipitously, in Tremont. The pair joined forces and three years later Bourbon Street Barrel Room (2393 Professor Ave., 216-298-4400, bourbonstreetbarrelroom.com) opened its doors.
From Baton Rouge to Bourbon Street, Schulze looks back on the dishes that shaped his career.
While I was in the Guard, I traveled all over Louisiana. In Gonzales, Louisiana, I worked alongside a lot of Cajuns. I was in the jambalaya capital of the world. That's where I first saw the Cajun version being made. It's less tomato-based than the Creole-style version usually found in New Orleans. I saw them cook it in the big cast iron pots over an open fire. My wife's family is also Cajun. Between traveling for work and her family, culinary school was my gateway to put it all together.
I like seafood boils, specifically with the blue crab indigenous to Louisiana and all along the East Coast up to Maryland. You get your hands in the food, it's really relaxed and informal. I'll do a crab boil here in the summer, but I've done them everywhere all my life. The seasoning in Louisiana compared to what you do in New England is very different. It's a Cajun and Creole mix with lots of cayenne, so it has a good heat. It uses the three major vegetable ingredients that go into all the Cajun cooking, the Holy Trinity: onions, celery and bell peppers.
On the truck, we do blue crab and seafood gumbo. I put in crawfish, oysters, shrimp and crab, the Holy Trinity of vegetables, and okra and filé powder. Just like jambalaya, it's comfort food. Gumbo is a timing thing. You have to watch it. A recipe is not going to teach you how to make it. My wife's grandfather would take the whole crabs and throw them in the gumbo. I'm in heaven when I'm eating that.
Beans and Greens
I use black eyed peas, red beans, the kidney red beans, even white beans. It's very similar to making cassoulet, I just delete meat to make it vegan. The beans have enough flavor that they can carry themselves on their own. When I lived in Connecticut, I worked at a French restaurant with cassoulet on the menu. Present day has changed and I'm able to adapt those techniques to current menus.
In culinary school, our pastry instructor had a recipe that I learned and I've shown other people how to make it. I use it every year. It's Danish dough and you have to learn how to roll it, make the Creole cream cheese filling and the icing, and put the colors on it. It's hard to make in this restaurant because I don't have enough oven space to make more than two at a time, but I taught Hiss Bakery in Barberton the recipe and they make it for us. I start selling it a few weeks before Fat Tuesday. It always reminds everyone of Mardi Gras.