Arts & Culture

This Bay St. Louis chef left college for the kitchen. Her Instagram resume paid off.

There’s some science and design planning to the dishes that come from the mind of Lauren Joffrion. Every detail is planned, examined and thought about carefully.

It’s a product of the professional fields she almost chose.

Joffrion was once a student at Mississippi State, torn between majoring in biology or architecture. In the end, she chose food.

The 26-year-old started as prep cook at Newk’s Eatery and is now the sous and pastry chef at the trendy Field’s Steak and Oyster Bar in Bay St. Louis, which opened earlier this year.

It wasn’t the path Joffrion said she once imagined taking.

“Eventually, I just realized that’s sort of what makes me the happiest,” she said. “When (my dad) found out I quit school, he was not thrilled but now they’re very proud of me.”

Like many folks, her first experiences in the kitchen were at home.

As a young girl, Joffrion watched her mother bake, occasionally adding cinnamon and other spices when asked. As she grew older, her mother began to teach Joffrion to cook and let her take over other kitchen responsibilities. Eventually, Joffrion got to the point where she was replicating dishes she’d eaten at restaurants.

Her job at Newk’s began in 2015 while she still going to college part-time. It helped her build speed and allowed her to learn the basics.

She left school and worked as a private chef in Lafayette, Louisiana, in the summer of 2016. She came back home in early 2017 and started a catering business. She’d go on to work at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, Southport Line and a few other places.

At each of her stops, Joffrion documented the dishes she created on her Instagram page. Without any formal culinary training, her social media accounts served as a visual resume. More importantly, it also got her foot in the door for Field’s. The restaurant opened in late April, and Joffrion began working on the menu in March.

“That’s how I got recognized,” she said of her food pictures on her social media. “For a while, I would go to job interviews (and) no one would believe me. ...I work at what I do because I want to get there without having to have the formal training.”

Field’s kitchen, Joffrion said, is different from the other places that she’s worked. Above her is Field Nicaud, the restaurant’s 23-year-old executive chef and owner. Field’s is one of — if not the only — upscale Coast kitchen run by 20-somethings, Joffrion said.

“It really sets us apart from everywhere else because we are so young,” she said. “We’re both these two really creative people who have so much to offer. ...He allows me to express my creative side.”

There’s plenty of opportunities for collaboration, too. Other members of the kitchen, like Field’s butcher and line cook Andy Kimbrell, bring ideas to the table that Joffrion and others can tweak into a final dish.

An example: A previous surf and turf special that featured a fried onion crusted soft-shell crab tossed in a Nashville barbecue sauce.

“Each of our styles complements one another,” she said. “We always try to keep it positive back there. ...We’re never ugly to each other, always willing to help each other out. (That’s) great because I’ve been in kitchens before where people try to sabotage you. ...It just ruins so many things.”

But it’s not just the entrees that feature Joffrion’s touch. She’s also their pastry chef. It was a skill she acquired while working in another kitchen. As time passed, she started doing more research and testing in her kitchen at home, and she picked it up quick.

“That was actually an accident,” she said. “I worked for a chef who baking wasn’t his forte, and he saw I dabbled in baking.”

Diners will often see a different sort of Panna Cotta, an Italian chilled and molded dessert, on Field’s menu. Her Nutella version, which features cinnamon whip cream and a cornflake crumble, has been a crowd favorite.

“It’s a very good blank slate,” she said of the dessert. “You can sort of flavor it any way you want.”

It’s Joffrion’s biology and architecture backgrounds that influence how she approaches cooking. There’s a science to baking, and the structure of each dish is planned, examined and tweaked when needed, she said.

Those elements will come in handy as Joffrion and the restaurant work to pioneer “molecular gastronomy stuff” and other food science elements to create dishes, she said.

“It helps a lot,” she said. “I think a very different way, and dishes come about the way I envision them. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist. If something isn’t the way I’d like it to be, I’ll start completely from scratch.”

Joffrion said she hopes to stay at Field’s a while. She’s gone back to school, too. After putting in 14 or 15 hours a day in the kitchen, she takes online classes at the University of Southern Mississippi with the goal of obtaining a business degree.

“Normally, I like to kind of move around. I just like change. But here, we do change things so much that I don’t get bored,” she said. “I’d like to see this place maybe win some awards and do some cool things.”

Nick Wooten is the Southern Trends and Culture reporter for McClatchy’s South region. He is based in Columbus, Georgia at the Ledger-Enquirer but his work also appears in The (Macon) Telegraph and The Sun Herald in Biloxi.Before joining McClatchy, he worked for The (Shreveport La.) Times covering city government and investigations. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
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