TAMPA — She won them over from the stomach up.
Bonnie Breaux was competing in the World Championship Gumbo Cook-Off in New Iberia, La. Suzanne and Roger Perry, owners of Datz, Dough and Roux in Tampa, were in town to check it out. The night before the big event they made reservations at Clementine Café, executive chef Breaux taking the call.
"When you come in call me out and I'll do some samples of our food," she told them. "I did étouffée, seafood gumbo and shrimp and grits, I remember."
Those grits must have been something, because the Perrys called her in March and asked if she would be interested in guest-cheffing at Roux for a few days.
"Over the last year, we've had some excellent, iconic guest chefs — such as Leon Galatoire of the famed New Orleans Galatoire's restaurant — come through these doors," said Suzanne Perry.
Breaux came and made seafood Wellington and tasso-coconut encrusted shrimp with a spicy Asian glaze. And she did those shrimp and grits, her version with a fried grit cake with white cheddar, smoked gouda and chipotle, topped with blackened shrimp and a sherry cream sauce.
The grip of the grits grew.
On July 6 she arrived to take over the position of executive chef at the 1-year-old restaurant on MacDill.
"When I went back to Clementine I couldn't get over how much I loved it in Tampa," Breaux said. She aims to take Roux in a more Cajun and less Creole direction.
"Creole is more with tomatoes, Cajun is more with the dark roux," she said. "So I'm going to be doing Cajun with a flair, using gulf fish like catfish and redfish, which is my favorite."
She's got the street cred to do it: Breaux Bridge, a place known as the "crawfish capital of the world" was built by her great-great-grandfather, as "Cajun as they come," she says.
Roux has had a number of folks at the helm in the kitchen since it debuted, but this recent arrival, who received her "culinary training at the institute of life," has some tricks up her sleeve: Think pork tenderloin stuffed with smoked boudin and wrapped with bacon, topped with a mahaw pepper jelly glaze and served over shaved Brussels sprouts and sweet potato mash. Let the good times roll.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.