After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “My favorite late snack is definitely sardines or any tinned seafood. I’ll have tinned sprats from Latvia, barbecued eel from Japan—honestly, anything, from trout to mackerel to mussels are good with me. But my wife makes me eat them outside.”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “I refuse to cook chicken breast! There’s no flavor, no fat, no nothing. I’m a dark meat man through and through.”
What’s your favorite fast-food meal? “My favorite fast food and the only fast food I eat is Popeyes. ’Nuff said.”
All-time favorite spice. “Aleppo pepper from Syria is my all-time favorite spice. It has a sweet and wonderful peppery flavor that’s got depth, but it’s not overwhelmingly hot, which means you can use a lot of it.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “I listen to a lot of music, so there’s usually a variety. But most of the time Pink Floyd is playing at some point when I’m cooking.”
Did you grow up cooking as a child? “I’ve been cooking and helping out in the kitchen (indoors and outdoors) before I can remember. It’s part of how my family works, and definitely a big part of my Cajun upbringing.”
You just published your first cookbook, Chasing the Gator, what are some of your all-time favorite cookbooks? “The best cookbooks I have still inspire me today, and served as reference points for Chasing the Gator. To name a few influential ones: The Au Pied de Cochon cookbook by Martin Picard, based on some of the stuff out of his Montreal restaurant; the 2011 Art of Living Cookbook by the brains behind Joe Beef—if you can’t tell, I really, really like the restaurant scene in Montreal—and Ferran Adrià’s The Family Meal.”
After all these years working in restaurants, do you still enjoy going out to eat? “My wife and I have date night every Tuesday and I get grumpy if we miss it. We always go out to eat. It’s my favorite and only pastime—so yeah, I still really enjoy it.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “I would have given everything in the world to cook with Julia Child. Knowledgeable, fun, funny as hell, and loved a good drink.”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “The all-time best cooking show ever was Good Eats. I’m so happy it’s coming back. All praise Alton Brown!”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I don’t cook without my own modified cooking spoons. They have a hook bent into them so they don’t fall into a pan and they’re sharpened on the tip for coring vegetables.”
Chef Isaac Toups is the author of the new book, Chasing the Gator, and owner of Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans.
Interview has been condensed and edited.