Susan Spicer has been a vital part of the New Orleans restaurant scene since 1979, but it was her 1990 opening of Bayona, with its European, Asian, North African, and American flavors and its intimate French Quarter setting that turned heads all over town, and all over the country. In 1993, Bayona was elected to the Nation’s Restaurant News Hall of Fame, and Spicer won a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef/Southeast region. And when in 2000 she launched French-American bistro Herbsaint (with chef Donald Link, among other partners), Spicer became emblematic of what modern New Orleans food tasted like.
So colorful and renowned was Spicer that David Simon, creator of the HBO New Orleans-based series Treme, modeled his show’s passionate chef character, Janette Desautel, on her. Spicer also served as a Treme consultant.
Spicer’s flair for French food began as a kid, when she cooked up sweet crêpes (what her mom called “roll-up pancakes,” she says) for herself and her brother on Saturday mornings. And she cultivated the art of French cuisine as an apprentice to Chef Daniel Bonnot at New Orleans’s Louis XVI Restaurant, during a stint in the kitchens of Paris, and in her own early restaurants, Savoir Faire (in the St. Charles Hotel), and, in 1986, the Bistro at Maison de Ville.
Now, along with Bayona and her casual neighborhood joint, Mondo (in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood), Spicer co-owns Wild Flour Breads, where she and partner Sandy Whann turn out handmade artisan loaves. She’s made guest appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef, and wrote the 2007 cookbook Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer’s New Orleans, which, in the words of chef Lidia Bastianich, is a cookbook that’s “one big party.”