Owner of Boucherie and Bourrée Goes After a New Demographic

Ten years after surviving a violent crime, Nathanial Zimet is at work on a five-year plan to make a difference

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.


 

“The air starts to crackle, then lightning. There’s so much energy in the air…and then I get shot.”

This is the way Nathanial Zimet recalls the 2011 senseless crime that nearly cost him his life. Just after an all-night shift at his restaurant Boucherie where he was preparing food for the Bayou Boogaloo Festival, Zimet was in his car outside his home when he was shot twice, including once in the chest, during a robbery attempt.

Up until that moment, 100-hour workweeks had been the young chef’s norm. Undoubtedly, Zimet himself generated some of that crackling energy he spoke about.

Beginning with the purple Que Crawl food truck in 2006, Zimet had built a small food empire that included film catering, a bourgeoning fine dining business at Boucherie, in-house catering at Latrobe’s and a new restaurant planned for the Marigny.

Since the age of 15, the North Carolina native was drawn to the restaurant business.

“I realized if I wanted to own a restaurant, I had to become a chef,” Zimet said, referring to his training at the Cordon Bleu in London and Sydney, Australia. After training, he brought his newly acquired skills home to North Carolina where Chef Shane Ingram turned him into a seasoned professional at Durham’s fine dining establishment, 4 Square.

“I’d turn out a perfect version of a dish and Chef would challenge me to stop cooking to please him and cook to please myself instead,” said Zimet, who said this order taught him to respect his own taste buds.

After two years under Ingram’s tutelage, in 2004 Zimet pursued a girlfriend to New Orleans where he initially worked alongside Aaron Burgau, Alex Harrell and Brian Landry (all chefs in their own right today) under Gerard Maras’ watchful eye in the early days of Ralph’s On The Park. However, barely a year later, the Katrina evacuee was living in Florida with his father, unsure of the future.

Over dinner one night, David Zimet suggested his son consider a food truck.

“If anything like Katrina happens again, you can just pack up your business and drive it away,” his father advised him, while offering to co-sign a loan.

Zimet formulated a business plan and returned to North Carolina for research, exploring the region’s best barbecue while developing the signature rub and sauces he still uses today. During the first night out in the truck, the fine dining chef said he found himself compulsively wiping the edges of paper plates he was using.

Adjusting his own expectations, by September 2006 Que Crawl hit its stride, becoming a fixture outside Tipitina’s, the first non-Hispanic food truck of the post-Katrina era. The distinctive purple truck was quickly became famous for fried boudin balls and succulent brisket served on crisp, Dong Phuong baguettes.

Barely two years later, the young chef opened Boucherie in Uptown New Orleans. Designed as a fine dining establishment, Zimet focused on nose to tail, in-house butchery, forming relationships with local farmers who brought the best to his door. With youthful exuberance, he grabbed every opportunity that came along until the shooting brought him to a full stop.

The food community rallied around, with fundraisers and other assistance that allowed Zimet to heal through multiple surgeries without detriment to his business.

“That’s what I hang on to,” he said. “This city I’m honored to call home supported me with such love and compassion. I just want to be that much more a part of it today.”

In 2014, Zimet expanded his Carrollton footprint by opening Bourrée, a casual wing and daiquiri spot where his Boucherie butchery is also available by the pound.

Now married with a three-year-old at home, Zimet has become laser focused on school lunch programs. By adding a shipping container onto Boucherie’s tiny kitchen, he drastically expanded capacity. Currently the provider for St. Andrew’s and St. George’s private schools, his five-year goal is to make a difference in New Orleans’ public/charter school system.

Daughter Joslynn, his “picky eater,” remains Dad’s biggest critic.

“It’s all about nutrition!” he exclaimed. “Now, when I make macaroni and cheese there’s no béchamel. Instead, I mound cheese into pureed roasted carrots, cauliflower and squash and [the students] love it.”

 

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.