Story and photography by Deborah Burst
Houmas House Plantation, one of the South’s oldest and most beautiful plantation estates, is home to several restaurants where guests can dine in 1830s elegance.
Chef Jeremy Langlois didn’t grow up in the kitchen, but at 16 years old, he needed gas money for his car. By the time he graduated from high school, he was organizing large culinary events.
His career began as a dishwasher with White Oak Plantation in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, owned by the iconic Chef John Folse. In seven months Langlois was promoted to prep cook, and Folse was so impressed he awarded Langlois a full scholarship to the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University.
“I never cooked a thing in my life,” he says with a chuckle. “Thought it was cool working with knives, fire and cooking.”
In 2005, at the age of 25, Langlois joined Houmas House Plantation and Gardens in Darrow, Louisiana, as the executive chef. He worked with Kevin Kelly, owner of Houmas House, in building the estate’s culinary empire. Perhaps their finest achievement was the opening of Latil’s Landing Restaurant, named by Esquire Magazine as one of the top twenty best new restaurants in America.
Houmas House was purchased and completely restored by Kelly, in 2003. Once the largest plantation in America, it was nicknamed the Sugar Palace in the late 1800s, producing 20 million pounds of sugar on an annual basis. Kelly brought back the grandeur of the property’s architecture and ambiance. Today’s guests enjoy the same grand pursuits of dining and imbibing along with overnight stays at the newly finished cottages at The Inn.
After a brief absence in spreading his culinary wings, Langlois is back home ready to continue his legacy at Houmas House. He owns a homegrown spirit filled with Louisiana pride that compliments his delectable menu. He works hard stirring that creative spirit with a dash of local influences. Chef admits it’s an art in creating a menu, the feelings, passions and even the seasons.
More than taste, it’s the art of the meal, along with the history and ambiance. Latil’s must reflect that experience, dining in a mansion much like the sugar barons did centuries ago.
“Everything is tied together, local ingredients, straight up classic, the presentation, color, height and textures,” Langlois says adding the art comes naturally for him. “The roasted beet salad must have different colors, and the fried oysters on the half shell are topped with the state’s own brand of caviar from the Louisiana bowfin.”
Each dish owns a Langlois signature, a piece of his home state, those Louisiana treasures. On the Latil’s dessert menu, the basil syrup on the Bouche Noir is a delightful change to the mint syrup while a cayenne-infused whipped cream adds a charming addition to the Lemon Panna Cotta, Strawberry Carpaccio.
The kitchen is a well-seasoned machine, a family to be exact. Everyone works in unison, from the dishwasher to the sous chef; they are all a critical piece of that preverbal pie.
“I’m a restaurant guy through and through,” he says with a smile adding he came back with a new perspective, a fresh set of eyes, and a premier staff. “I used to be the young guy, now I’m the old man, and all my best people are in their 20s.”
Chef works closely with Craig Black, the Houmas House longtime gardener, in stocking the kitchen with fresh herbs and vegetables. Black is also an artist and well-schooled in growing unique blends that thrive in Louisiana’s climate.
“He can grow anything; I lean on Craig more than he leans on me,” Langlois explains. “I know how to cook with it but know nothing about what grows best.”
Guests savor homespun favorites surrounded by wood-burning fireplaces and candlelight dining at Latil’s Landing Restaurant. It is there among the exposed beams and earthen colors guests enjoy the finer side of dining. The “prix fixe” fixed price menu offers some of the chef’s most distinguished plates with a three-course and five-course selection.
With the newly added Houmas House Inn, guests enjoy breakfast and dinner at the Carriage House Restaurant, which opened in 2013. Langlois played a prominent part in its design and menu. It’s an elegant room in concert with the plantation’s décor. Deep crown moldings join exquisite chandeliers with a long table in the center and smaller tables fixed throughout the room. A traditional breakfast can include a savory plate of grits and grillades, or for those with a sweet tooth, the French toast topped with bananas foster is a perfect choice.
No matter the size of appetites or the time of day, Houmas House hosts several venues and multiple menus to accommodate tastes. Visitors touring the home and strolling the grounds also can enjoy lunch at Café Burnside with the option of ordering from the menu or indulging with the buffet. Or for those who wish to relax with a drink, the Turtle Bar is the place to sip wine or cocktails, including the estate’s esteemed mint juleps.
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