By combining their mutual talents and passions for cooking, the unlikely pair of Cam McNair and Justin Snyder launched one of D.C.'s hottest new eateries: New Orleans Po Boy Shop just off M St. NW. It's nothing fancy, mind you, and you might not even find a seat -- the shop offers about six stools -- but its food is a magnet for those who yearn for something extraordinary.
A native of Virginia, Snyder talks about his many years cooking all over the metro area for the past 14 years, launching his career when he was a student at the University of Virginia. "I was basically working in restaurants to pay the rent," he said. "But I realized what career path I wanted to take and how much enjoyment it gave me." That from a student who was enrolled in a computer engineering course, who finally concluded that two hours a day with programming was just torture. As he admits, now fully trained in classical French techniques, having his own restaurant has been his dream for a long time.
Then there's his outgoing buddy, Cam McNair, who spent most of his life eating and cooking in New Orleans. No wonder he completely understands and can replicate his native cuisine. You have never tasted a beignet until you have bitten into the hot, sugary treats produced here. In fact, this New Orleans fellow cooks all the gumbos too, a skill he picked up early in his youth.
"I grew up in New Orleans cooking," said McNair. "My mom told me that I needed a job, so at 14 I started working in a pancake house in New Orleans." After attending a local community college and enrolling in its culinary program, McNair graduated with classical training under his belt.
|If you go|
|New Orleans Po Boy Shop|
|1205 19th St., NW|
|Hours: Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.|
His first job after graduation was at the New Orleans restaurant, Jonathan's, whose executive chef, Tom Cowman, McNair credits with teaching him all that he really knows and understands about cooking. McNair also had the good fortune to work with some of the city's legendary chefs, including Jamie Shannon at the legendary Commander's Palace, Gerard Maras at Mr. B's, Roland Hewitt at Christian's, and Emeril Lagasse.
But McNair's and Snyder's fortunes merged when the two met in 1999 while working at the Downtown Grill in Charlottesville. "We became each other's right hand," said McNair, "and we have been friends ever since. We trust each other."
That led eventually to this current project, located in D.C. because the city is such a booming food mecca.
Determined to showcase proper New Orleans cooking, the friends make everything from scratch, except the classic po' boy rolls. "We order the French bread from New Orleans," said McNair. "It must be something about the water there." And though a variety po' boys are the menu mainstay, the pair offers other New Orleans' classics, from a rich gumbo to jambalaya and etouffe. And, of course, the divine beignets.
What is your comfort food?
What is your cooking philosophy?
McNair and Snyder: Find something fun [to prepare] and make it taste good.
How do you get your inspiration?
McNair: From other restaurants -- things that I'm eating -- magazines and cook books. I look at it and see how I can change it, or make it better or add different ingredients that suit me.
Snyder: Inspiration is based on my mood.
Which is your favorite restaurant?
McNair: Hong Kong Pearl in Seven Corners or Fortune Garden for Dim Sum.
Snyder: Umi in Fredericksburg. It has the best sushi.
What's in your fridge right now?
McNair: Smoked chicken and duck gumbo.
Snyder: Gatorade and Yoo-hoo, the chocolate drink.
Chicken and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup sliced andouille sausage
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup enriched long-grain rice
1 cup diced boneless chicken thigh
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
Chopped parsley for garnish
Sliced green onions
1 teaspoon kosher salt,
3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
3 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the andouille sausage until slightly browned. Add one-half of the "trinity" (onion/bellpepper/celery), and saute until tender. Add tomatoes and cook about 1 minute; add the tomato sauce, and cook 1 minute more. Add the garlic and rice, cook 1 minute. Add the stock, seasoning mix, bay leaves, other half of the trinity, and the chicken. Add the shrimp. Stir well and bake, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked, but still has a little bite. Top with chopped parsley, and sliced green onions.