An essential ingredient to chef Aimee Tortorich's life is new experiences.
"I always put myself out there," she said. "I have to explore. I need to live as much as possible and experience the most I can experience."
A Navy veteran and Louisiana Culinary Institute alumna, Tortorich started working kitchens as a teenager. After graduating high school, she worked with her uncle at Living Foods, a former Perkins Road health food store.
"They had a deli in there, and that was my first chance," she said. "(My uncle) gave me the wheel. I started exploring from there. I learned about cooking styles, curries and health foods."
Growing up near False River, Tortorich said she has always been a "water girl," so she signed up for the Navy after high school. By the time she was 21 years old and had left the military, she started thinking more about returning to the culinary world. She moved back to Louisiana to be close to family and attend the culinary institute.
Since graduating in 2014, she has worked with a number of Baton Rouge restaurants, including Beausoleil, Blend Wine Bar, Table Kitchen & Bar, and Gov't Taco. Now, she's launching a new business called The Guest Chef. The philosophy behind Tortorich's new venture is three-fold — collaborating with local and regional chefs, bringing new culinary flavors to the area and creating a community.
"I have always liked to bring people together with food, and I'm willing to push the boundaries," she said. "We need to have a good community if we're trying to change the Baton Rouge food scene. We have to be progressive."
For now, Tortorich is doing menu consultation, private chef work and small catering events through The Guest Chef. Her next step with the business will be to reach out to a Louisiana chef and collaborate for a one-off dinner service with a different menu.
Before she gets to work on her business, Tortorich met with us and prepared a quick, delicious plate. In this edition of Let's Dish, she shows us how she makes crispy snapper filet with peach beurre blanc and grilled stone peaches.
The night before, making basil oil: Tortorich takes basil from her garden, blanches it, then shocks it in ice water. She throws the basil in a blender and makes a puree, which is added to olive oil. Before cooking, she strains the mixture and has a basil-infused olive oil. This will be used to finish the dish.
Before you start cooking, make a quick peach beurre blanc: Tortorich suggests white wine vinegar, shallots, black peppercorns, and some herbs and garlic (optional) for the beurre blanc. Simmer the ingredients until au sec with as much vinegar evaporated as possible, leaving as much as 2 tablespoons, then add tablespoons of butter. Once a tablespoon of butter is swirled around and has melted, add another until reaching the desired amount. Set this aside for topping the fish.
Step 1: Snapper that Tortorich just caught is cleaned and filleted then seasoned with kosher salt.
Step 2: A sauté pan, preferably nonstick, is heated for 1-2 minutes to medium-high heat with vegetable oil. The skin-side is placed face down and seared until golden brown, or for about 2-3 minutes. Don't turn the fish.
Step 3: As the fish is browning, peach slices are placed on the griddle.
Step 4: Flip the fish so the skin side is up and place into a 400 F oven to cook for another 3-5 minutes until the fish flakes when pressed.
Step 5: Basil Oil made the night before is measured out. Plating begins.
Step 6: Tortorich meticulously counts and plates the ingredients. "Things plated in odd numbers are more visually appealing," she said. "I want to make sure everything is balanced on the plate."
In her own words
Chef Aimee Tortorich discusses her dish, what she likes to cook and her career.
1. The red snapper used in this dish was caught a couple days before the shoot. "I take inspiration from what is given to me. I like to think of my food as an expression of myself."
2. If she had to answer the question of her favorite thing to cook, she loves curries. "You can do all different flavor profiles, and it can still be delicious. Curries are like a big warm hug."
3. "The biggest thing in transitioning from culinary school to working in restaurants was learning timing, station setup and what goes on behind the scenes."
4. "I knew I never wanted to be a restaurant chef, but I also knew I had to put the time in because there are definite preparations and necessities that you learn for being a successful chef."
5. How the name for The Guest Chef came: "My aunt and I were in our backyard, and I was at a crossroads. People had been telling me that I could do all this stuff. In the meantime, my aunt suggested I go be a guest chef at different restaurants. A bell went off, and I knew that was going to be the name of my company."