Chef Will Avelar.jpg

Contributed photo from Eugenia Uhl -Will Avelar is chef de cuisine for Meril, a new restaurant from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

Amid a cluster of construction in the Warehouse District, chef Emeril Lagasse’s next restaurant has been quietly taking shape. Today, his company revealed one of the major components: its chef.

Will Avelar has been named chef de cuisine for Meril, the restaurant that Lagasse is developing at 424 Girod St. The new restaurant, which is named for Lagasse’s youngest daughter, is expected to open later this year.

Avelar is a long-time alum at Lagasse’s company and the latest from the celebrity chef’s culinary corps to move up the ranks to the top kitchen position at one of his restaurants.

He’s a New Orleans native who spent much of his childhood in Costa Rica. He returned to New Orleans for high school and got his start in the restaurant realm busing tables. He joined Lagasse’s company in 2005, just prior to Hurricane Katrina, and worked his way up from line cook to his most recent position as sous chef at Emeril’s Delmonico.

“We’re very excited about Meril and thrilled to have Will at the helm,” Lagasse said in a release. “I’ve had wonderful mentors in my career and it’s always been important to me to provide opportunities for young talent that comes through my kitchens. Will has been a vital member of my team for many years. I’m proud to have him as chef de cuisine of Meril and look forward to collaborating with him on this new project.”

Meril, which is about three blocks from the chef’s flagship Emeril’s Restaurant, will be his fourth restaurant in New Orleans and the latest in the city since he took over the historic Delmonico in 1998. Lagasse’s company runs nine other restaurants in Las Vegas; Orlando, Florida; and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Blue Oak BBQ getting new home

There might be jazz or rock or roots music in the air any given night at Chickie Wah Wah, but for the past few years there’s always been a steady aroma of barbecue, too. Blue Oak BBQ (2828 Canal St., (504) 822-2583) runs the kitchen at this Mid-City music club, serving the bar crowd and its own clientele drawn by the smoky meats and stacked sandwiches.

Soon, Blue Oak BBQ will have its own address about a mile away in the former Fellini’s Café, at 900 N. Carrollton Ave.

Blue Oak BBQ pitmasters Ronnie Evans and Philip Moseley said they hope to open in time for Jazz Fest in late April. They’ll remain open at Chickie Wah Wah for the next few weeks while renovations are completed at their new home.

“We’re ready to make the next step, and we’re really excited to be able to stay in Mid-City,” said Evans. “We think there’s a great untapped market here, but we never thought we’d be able to get something with a location like this.”

Fellini’s closed in February after a 15-year run serving pizza and other Mediterranean dishes. Many of those dishes are now being gradually added to the menu at Nonna Mia (3125 Esplanade Ave., (504) 948-1717) the nearby Italian restaurant that’s run by Fellini’s former proprietors.

Evans and Moseley are New Orleans natives and longtime friends who started Blue Oak BBQ in 2012 across town at the Uptown bar Grit’s. The going was not easy in the beginning, with slow days and late night shifts to cater to the afterhours crowd there.

“But it turned out to be a good start for us,” Evans said. “We learned a lot and were able to spend time developing recipes.”

By 2013, they had moved to Chickie Wah Wah and here began building up their own following. Their menu expanded to a full barbecue restaurant’s repertoire. Their approach at the smoker is a mix of regional styles, with brisket based on central Texas tradition, ribs prepared St. Louis style and pulled pork drawing more from Alabama barbecue. The smoked chicken wings have become a particular calling card.

Evans said the menu will grow at Blue Oak BBQ’s own location, with more sides and some Louisiana smokehouse standards like cracklin’ and boudin in the works. They’re now building out a bar and applying for a full liquor license.

Evans said he and Moseley are excited by the proximity to City Park, to customers in Lakeview, Gentilly and Old Metairie neighborhoods and by the nearby Lafitte Greenway, with its growing bicycle traffic.

“It’s cool that Toups’ Meatery is right across the street, too,” Evans said of chef Isaac Toups’ Cajun restaurant. “Maybe it will inspire some meat crawls.”

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.