Located next door to the sleek W Hotel on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, SoBou is one of those incredibly cosmopolitan restaurants that underscores New Orleans’ status as a culinary destination — as a part of the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants, it’s a premier example of the city’s robust dining scene. Inside, you’ll find chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez, who cooks up inventive dishes that span classic Creole flavors to Latin influences and beyond.
Though he’s been in New Orleans for 16 years, Gonzalez says his career in hospitality stretches all the way back to his childhood. “My mother hosted so many family gatherings, and I was right there in the kitchen helping her prepare these amazing feasts,” he says.
Those humble beginnings forged ahead into a full-blown career. Gonzalez notes that SoBou is a wonderful working environment where employees can have fun — as long as they stay focused. “The only thing we’re serious about is our food, our cocktails, and our hospitality,” he says. The metaphor fits for the entire city of New Orleans: a place where we welcome everyone with open arms to enjoy themselves. It’s also the only city, he says, that pushes him to continue innovating and elevating his culinary craft.
Read on to learn more about Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez in our interview below.
How long have you lived in New Orleans?
16 years, with a brief stint in Houston
Tell us about your role as Chef at SoBou.
It’s the most fun job I’ve ever had – the Louisiana street food inspired dishes I get to create along with the fun interactions I have with our guests, and our bar? Bar Chef Laura [Bellucci]’s cocktails blow me away. This is the best gig ever!
What path led you to this point in your career? How did your career in tourism & hospitality begin?
It goes all the way back to my childhood. My mother hosted so many family gatherings, and I was right there in the kitchen helping her prepare these amazing feasts. And she had to make sure that everyone enjoyed themselves – I think that’s when I realized how great it was to make others happy through food.
What do you love most about your job?
Pairing unique and great tasting food with cocktails by Laura Bellucci. She serves a Big Hooch cocktail during brunch – there are no words!
Tell us about an experience during your career at SoBou that stands out for you and why.
It was probably the opening party for SoBou. We had spent months preparing the restaurant, fine-tuning the menu, and training our staff, and it culminated in a huge street party. Chartres [Street] was closed off, we had food stations throughout the restaurant and courtyard, there was live music, and we had about 500 people eating and drinking and having a great time. It’s what we like to do – the only thing we’re serious about is our food, our cocktails, and our hospitality.
What would you like to accomplish in the future?
I would love to open 5 more SoBous.
How does our thriving tourism industry affect restaurants in our city?
People come to our city for our food, and they love SoBou’s sophisticated, but kicky attitude. We love our locals, but the tourists are our lagniappe.
How is your job personally affected by tourism?
It gives me the opportunity to show off our culture to everyone. And I love nothing more than talking to foodies from all over.
What do you think New Orleans would look like without tourism?
I don’t think we would have been pushed to play with our cuisine as much or to continue to evolve it.
What do you love most about this city?
There is always something going on. It’s said that New York is the city that never sleeps, but we give them a run for the money.
NEW ORLEANS WILL…
…thrive and surprise you!