John Besh is a chef and a native son dedicated to the culinary riches of southern Louisiana. In his restaurants, entrepreneurial pursuits, and public activities, he preserves and promotes ingredients, techniques, and heritage one dish at a time.
Besh’s talent and drive have earned him kudos throughout his career: Food & Wine named him one of the “Top 10 Best New Chefs in America.” He won the coveted James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef - Southeast in 2006 and was inducted into the Foundation’s “Who’s Who” in 2014. His twelve acclaimed restaurants (August, Besh Steak, Lüke, Lüke San Antonio, La Provence, Domenica, Pizza Domenica, Borgne, Johnny Sánchez New Orleans, Johnny Sánchez Baltimore, Shaya and Willa Jean) each celebrate the bounty and traditions of the region. His flagship restaurant, August, is a Gayot Top 40 Restaurant and a Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Restaurant, in addition to being nominated in 2012 and 2013 for the James Beard "Outstanding Restaurant” award and in 2014 for “Outstanding Service” award. In January 2016, the Besh Restaurant Group acquired a space in New Orleans to house a new private events venue, dubbed Pigeon & Prince. Executive Chef Erick Loos of La Provence is helming the culinary development for the space.
Besh is the author of four cookbooks: My New Orleans (October 2009) My Family Table (November 2011), Cooking from the Heart (November 2013) and most recently Besh Big Easy (September 2015). He hosts two national public television cooking shows based on his books, “Chef John Besh’s New Orleans,” which began airing in 2011, and “Chef John Besh’s Family Table,” which debuted in April 2013. He hosted “Hungry Investors” on the Spike Network, in which he traveled around the country with Chef Tiffany Derry and Jon Taffer to assist “diamond in the rough” failing restaurants to meet their potential.
The John Besh Foundation, founded in 2011, works to protect and preserve the culinary heritage and foodways of New Orleans via initiatives such as the Chefs Move! culinary school scholarship and “Milk Money” microloans for local farmers.
He and his wife, Jenifer, live with their four sons in southern Louisiana.
Octavio Mantilla was born in Nicaragua and moved to New Orleans as a child. At sixteen, he got his first job in a restaurant and has worked his way through all the managerial levels. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and an MBA from the University of New Orleans. Octavio helped open Harrah’s Casino & Hotel in New Orleans and then worked in St. Louis as Harrah’s Director of Food Operations. He has opened numerous fine dining restaurants for Harrah’s nationwide.
Octavio returned to New Orleans to be reunited with his old friend Chef John Besh at The Besh Steakhouse at Harrah’s. Octavio joined John as a partner in The Besh Restaurant Group, combining his vast experience in restaurant operations with a passion for customer service. Since then, the Besh Restaurant Group has expanded to include restaurants such as August, Borgne, La Provence, Domenica, Lüke, Lüke San Antonio, Pizza Domenica, Johnny Sánchez Baltimore, Johnny Sánchez New Orleans, Shaya, Willa Jean, and a private event venue, Pigeon & Prince.
In March 2016, the Besh Restaurant Group announced the creation of Our House Hospitality, a hotel food and beverage operations management division. Our House Hospitality is responsible for the revitalization of the historic Pontchartrain Hotel which houses four food & beverage outlets including Silver Whistle Cafe, Hot Tin, Bayou Bar, and The Caribbean Room. OHH is partnering with Commune Hotels & Resorts to develop three culinary concepts within Thompson Nashville, which is slated to open in Fall 2016.
A native of Eunice, Louisiana, Drake Leonards started out as a dishwasher at the age of 15, where he knew that he was meant to be in the kitchen. Drake began working with Chef John Besh seven years ago at Restaurant August and moved to Luke as part of the opening crew of Chef Besh’s third restaurant. Shortly after, Chef Besh sent him to work with his mentor, Karl Joseph Fuchs, in the Black Forest of Germany, where he lived and worked for a year and a half. He then traveled through Spain, France, Switzerland and England. In April of 2012, he returned to New Orleans to work at La Provence for a year, learning more about the Provençal side of Chef Besh’s cuisine. Drake has since worked with Chef Besh on a number of projects, from Top Chef: New Orleans and Hungry Investors to the most recent opening of Johnny Sánchez in New Orleans. Now, he brings his knowledge and passion for the Cajun heritage of Louisiana to the menu at Lüke.