By Kathy K. Martin
Brandt Cox’s culinary path was paved with a few roadblocks and detours, but it ultimately led him to a career as a chef and an entrepreneur serving the culinary community called CoutelierNOLA. Coutelier is a French word for “cutlery workshop,” and Cox says that the name is a way to show respect to the French heritage of New Orleans and his French culinary training.
Cox and his partner, Jacqueline Blanchard, opened the flagship shop in New Orleans about six years ago. The shop provides an array of professional knives, sharpening stones, honing rods and other fine kitchen tools and accessories for restaurant chefs and home cooks alike. CoutelierNOLA resides in a purple-colored building with a bright orange door in the historic Carrollton and Riverbend neighborhood. They also opened a second shop in Nashville in 2018. Their motto is “Serious cooks need serious tools,” so their mission is to offer an accessible, friendly and informative knife shop that helps demystify much of the misinformation regarding Japanese versus German/Western knives.
“We essentially wanted to create a culinary candy shop, filled with all of our favorite tools, cookbooks and knives, and be a one-stop shop for culinary professionals,” Cox says. They were both tired of ordering knives online and being disappointed by the poor quality, fit and finish, as well as the lack of customer service or ability to hold and feel the product before buying it.
“Your knife is the most essential tool in your entire kit. You use it all day, every day. It’s pivotal that this tool functions properly, feels comfortable and is reliable,” explains Cox. He believes that it’s also extremely important to have the knife professionally sharpened, edged and serviced when needed. “Just as important as a paintbrush is to an artist or a hammer is to a carpenter, the knife is the same for a chef.”
Growing up in Oxford from sixth grade through college graduation at Ole Miss, Cox says that his Southern upbringing, especially his grandmother, shaped his passion for cuisine. He worked alongside her as she spent her later years as a waitress at a country restaurant. He recalls the salad bar adorned with black kettles of daily soups, meat and three vegetable options, and a menu featuring fried chicken, country ham with red-eye gravy, chicken-fried steak and meatloaf. “As a young child, my main responsibility was to stay out of the way, but soon I found myself filling ketchup and steak sauce bottles and salt and pepper shakers. I even helped vacuum the floor in the evenings to pick up all the crumbs.”
As he grew up, his interests shifted more to sports, school and girls, he says, but by his sophomore year at Ole Miss, food found him again as he was changing majors and trying to figure out what he wanted to do. He decided to pursue a degree in history but found that he was spending more time watching the “Food Network” on TV and dreaming about new recipes to try. “The big breakthrough happened almost by accident,” says Cox when he decided to study abroad in 2004. His roommate, Scott Dessells, was an accomplished pastry chef who took him along on pastry journeys across Paris and later to Belgium and Holland to complete the culinary adventures that summer.
When he returned, Dessells helped him land his first kitchen job in Oxford. “Before I knew it, I was a 22-year-old head chef of a restaurant on the town square.”
He moved to New York in 2008 to attend the French Culinary Institute, where he graduated top of his class and where he also became part of the first staff of the renovated Townhouse Restaurant in the city’s upper east side. He moved to New Orleans a year later to work with renowned chefs John Besh and Michael Gulotta at Restaurant August. He met Jacqueline there and became schooled in Cajun and creole cooking since she grew up in Louisiana and was the executive sous chef and also his boss there. After working as the opening sous chef of Borgne restaurant and Monsieur Benjamin in San Francisco, he returned to New Orleans.
The couple shares many interests in music, travel and a sense of culinary adventure. They’ve traveled the globe together, but their biggest adventure was when they took off work for five weeks to visit Southeast Asia, where they toured Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Japan. “For the first time in my life, I truly realized the difference between vacation and travel. It was in no way easy, but that trip would forever have a lasting impact on my culinary tastes, my outlook on life, my sense of personal self, and my perspective on the world around me,” says Cox.
Since that initial trip, the couple has returned to Japan numerous other times to solidify accounts and strengthen relationships with the craftspeople there in order to provide the highest quality products at their shops.
When Cox isn’t working or traveling, he enjoys making a pot of chicken and andouille gumbo, which was the first real dish he ever cooked on his own. He also makes homemade chicken and dumplings and creates dishes from his garden using okra, eggplant and peppers, which he cuts with his personal chef’s knife, always sharpened and ready to go.
Knife Tips for Home Cooks from Brandt Cox:
Never put your knives in the dishwasher. Not ever. No exceptions. High temperatures and high-pressure washers can de-temper your edge, bend the steel, and completely ruin the handle. All knives should be hand-washed and hand-dried.
Never cut through bones (only cut through ligaments and joints). When cleaning fish and meat, always cut around the bones.
Never cut through frozen or partially thawed food. This can cause chipping along the edge of the knife.
Wash your greens and vegetables before you cut them. Cutting dirty vegetables can force the dirt into the food while being cut. Also, small pieces of sand or gravel can cause significant chipping along the edge of your knife.
Always cut with a sharp knife. A dull blade can force more bacteria into your food. It can also slip off what you are cutting and injure yourself.
When you accidentally cut yourself with a dull knife, it also forces more bacteria into the wound and can cause infection. Cuts made with a sharp blade also heal at a rate over twice as fast.
It is more nutritious to cut with a sharp knife. A freshly-cut vegetable should appear dry after being cut. This process damages the least amount of cellular structure in the food, keeping the necessary nutrition inside the food you consume and not spreading all over your cutting board. If you are cutting herbs and your cutting board turns green, your knife is not sharp enough.
A quick home experiment: cut an apple with an old, dull knife. Then cut the other side of the same apple with a very sharp knife. The side cut with the dull knife will turn brown, oxidize and go bad at a MUCH faster rate than the one cut with a sharp knife (it may not oxidize much at all).
Learn more about CoutelierNOLA at couteliernola.com, or call 504-475-5606.