When Billy Walsh placed an ad on craigslist in New Orleans for a chef, he hadn't expected the overwhelming response it received. Merely stating "chef wanted to work in Australia", the advertisement had more than 50 responses in less than 24 hours. Walsh says, "I just thought why would I bother attempting to approximate this cuisine, I'm gonna present an opportunity to somebody from that part of the world and sponsor them out here to cook for us!"
Walsh narrowed the responses down to three, and then to one, flying New Orleans local Chris Weysham to Melbourne to man the pans in the purpose-built kitchen, Girl with the Gris Gris, attached to late-night music venue, Ding Dong Lounge.
"I find that New Orleans and Melbourne are actually very similar to each other as far as culture goes," Weysham says. "There are three things we love to do in New Orleans; eat, drink, and listen to music. From my experience thus far it appears that those three things are also at the top of the list for Melbournites."
Open Tuesday through Saturday evenings, Girl with the Gris Gris is serving up authentic soul food with a modern twist – classic Southern casserole spinach madeleine is reinvented as a dip with lumps of crab meat and house-made french toast, while locally sourced oysters come chargrilled, topped with bacon and a creole mustard cream. But it's the Cajun black jambalaya that will have you returning, its subtle smokiness contrasting with spicy Andouille sausage and chunks of chicken.
Word of Weysham's culinary talents are spreading so you'd better get in early – then head on through the big theatre-style double doors to the band room for some quality live music. As they say in New Orleans, 'Laissez les bon temps rouler!'
Girl with the Gris Gris, Level 1, 18 Market Lane , Chinatown, Melbourne, 03 9514 4577, dingdonglounge.com.au/kitchen