Get Ready for Fall!September 2022
Area 337 a Latino KitchenSeptember 2022
First Person with Chef Amanda Cusey
by Angie Kay Dilmore
Earlier this year, when Amanda Cusey was asked to participate in the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, she never imagined at the end of that day, she’d wear the coveted crown. But wear it she did. Cusey is only the second woman in 15 years to win the title. Two months later, she had the honor of representing the state of Louisiana at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
Like many illustrious careers, Cusey’s culinary journey had humble beginnings. But once she found her way around a commercial kitchen, Cusey was hooked and moved on to bigger and more exciting establishments. She received her Le Cordon Bleu training at the Tanté Marie Culinary Academy in Surrey, England in 2013. After stints in British pubs and an Irish American diner, she found her way to Italian cooking in the heart of Dublin. She worked at Eatily, an Italian-inspired pop up by Michelin Star chef Oliver Dunne and served as head chef at an Italian restaurant called Fiorentina.
In 2016, Cusey came to Lake Charles and accepted the role of executive chef at Villa Harlequin. Since then, she’s been creatively concocting recipes and sumptuous dishes for Villa Harlequin’s brunch, lunch, and dinner menus. She’s won numerous awards such as Acadiana Profile’s Best Chef; a couple of Lagniappe’s SWLA Best Chef; Visit Lake Charles’ ROSE Award for Culinary Excellence, and now Queen of the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off.
Thrive recently caught up with this award-winning chef, where she spoke about her recent experiences with the Seafood Cook-Offs, her culinary style, and her gratitude for the heartfelt support from the Southwest Louisiana community.
Tell us how you got your start as a chef.
I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 14 years old. I worked the front of house at a steak restaurant in North Carolina. After a few years, I asked the manager if I could switch over to the kitchen. And that is where my cooking career started. I soon realized I was pretty good at it. So, I decided to travel and attend culinary school in England.
How would you describe your culinary style?
Coming to Louisiana from the United Kingdom was quite a culture shock, but with my background in French cuisine, it was an easy shift to Louisiana-style cooking. My style is a mix between traditional and Italian/French. I was trained in French cooking, so that has a lot of influence in how I cook. Then I got thrown into Italian cooking. So, it’s a mash-up of those two styles. And since I’ve been living in Louisiana, I try to add some southern flair into it. At the Villa, I try to keep it traditional Italian cooking, but by using different cooking techniques, it often ends up an Italian/Louisiana fusion.
Tell us about your experience at the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off.
It was my first time ever doing anything like that. It was super cool, surreal, and I was so shocked I won – I wasn’t expecting that. I was going up against 12 of the best chefs in Louisiana. It didn’t resonate until we got there and I saw the stage and I thought, oh, whoa, this is kinda a big deal and the adrenalin started kicking in. My sous chef, Colin Nunez, and I executed a really solid dish, and we took the title!
Describe your award-winning dish, and is it now on the Villa Harlequin menu?
Yes, it is. We made a pan-seared red drum over tomato polenta with charred green beans and shallots topped with crawfish in a mustard cream sauce. For the national event, I swapped black drum for the red drum and because crawfish was out of season, I used a jumbo lump crab.
What do you make when you cook for yourself?
Oh geez. I don’t really cook for myself. It’s cereal or maybe some eggs and toast. I’m more of a snacker. I’m always at work so I graze through the day. When I’m off, I want to go out and let someone else cook for me. I’m just being real. Chefs probably have some of the worst diets out there.
What do you do in your free time?
I run a 501(c)(3) called Do Good Dog Rescue. After the hurricanes, the restaurant was closed for a while so I wasn’t’ working and I looked for a place to volunteer. I volunteered with Paws on the Geaux, Pit Bull Rescue, Compassion Kind and others. After the relief organizations left, there was still a need for dog rescue, so I started my non-profit. That takes up most of my time outside of the kitchen.
This year has opened a world of possibilities for you. What’s next for Amanda Cusey?
Oh, who knows. We’re not quite there yet. I’m just going to ride this wave. The award has been great for business at the restaurant so I’m just going to hang out and keep doing this for a while. Lake Charles is my home; my folks are here. I was thrilled they got to come see me in both competitions.