Leruth’s Legacy

My Rouses Everyday, March/April 2017

Blunt and persnickety, Chef Warren Leruth was not only creative but also a fearlessly innovative chef. He started out as a food chemist, so he was trained to be particular about his procedures and recipes.

In food circles, he was the Renaissance man who did things his way. Rather than expand with his restaurant’s popularity, he removed tables. Generous with his time and talent, he developed dishes for other restaurateurs, and many of those recipes remain as standards of their kind.

New Orleans as a city for fine dining beyond Creole cuisine came to national attention in 1965, when Leruth renovated a Victorian shotgun cottage across the Mississippi River in Old Gretna. He stirred our culinary world forever. Who had ever heard of fried parsley as a garnish?

When the late and legendary chef introduced oyster and artichoke soup to the world at his eponymous restaurant, the dish became an instant classic. Families across the country quickly conjured up their personal versions of the “secret” recipe. As most secrets evolve, it wasn’t one for very long. Now it is available in many variations of goodness in cookbooks and on the Internet. Sadly, Leruth never produced a cookbook, leaving only two small booklets and a handful of recipes reproduced in a few publications.

Chef Greg Reggio began his cooking career as an apprentice at LeRuth’s. He recalls with fondness his days on the restaurant’s kitchen line and credits his time there alongside Leruth for providing the inspiration and training he needed to succeed.

Greg is now one of the Taste Buds, a trio of chefs who have developed innovative recipes at such groundbreaking restaurants as Semolina, Zea Rotisserie & Grill and Mizado. Chefs Gary Darling and Hans Limburg are his partners.

Working with Gary Darling, who was then executive chef in Al Copeland’s test kitchen, Leruth was also responsible for Popeyes biscuits and the restaurant chain’s famous red beans and rice and dirty rice recipes. When you use a non-separating salad dressing or eat at Outback Steakhouse or Burger King, you could be enjoying something that Leruth created.

With his food chemistry background, Leruth was excruciatingly specific about each ingredient. He had strong opinions about tasting procedure and insisted that a flavor fully reveals itself on the third bite. He was the master of what he called “The Comeback Taste.”