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Monday, Nov. 5, 2018

Chef David Bridges

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On returning home, where grits meets gumbo

Your taste buds will soon be reacquainted with an old friend.

Chef David Bridges, who opened Bella Fresca in 2000 and served popular dishes for eight years before moving away, is “home.”

Originally from New Orleans, Bridges – along with current Bella Fresca owners Zoran and Sanela Tomic – will own Sauvage, a new restaurant off Flournoy- Lucas Road (formerly Bella Fresca Bistro) at the entrance to the Twelve Oaks subdivision.

“My wife and I wanted to move back to the South,” Bridges said about leaving Chicago, where he worked as a private chef. “We really, really missed the South. We gave ourselves an area where we were willing to look for opportunities, and wherever the best opportunity came along, we were going to take it.”

Since leaving Shreveport in 2008, Bridges has worked at a prestigious New Orleans restaurant and as a private chef. Both provided different challenges.

“Restaurants – there is more creative freedom. No matter what restaurant you’re at, there are going to be boundaries. The boundaries are a little broader than they are with private homes because people usually are on specific diets and splurge when they go out. At home, they want a lot of clean food, a lot of healthy things, but still a lot of robust flavor.”

When cooking for those people – in their house – versatility is a key ingredient.

“You have to be able to do every single thing,” Bridges said. “Any kind of cuisine ... Whenever you travel, you have to be able to go into a kitchen you’ve never seen before and be able to produce. You could be cooking for two people or 50 people. You just always have to be ready.”

“The people I worked for in Chicago were literally billionaires, so they had had every imaginable cuisine in every type of restaurant all over the world, so the standards were pretty high,” Bridges said. “I had to be able to serve just as good as any server, and know a bottle of wine as good as any sommelier (wine expert).”

Bridges graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, then worked as a sous chef at restaurants in the Caribbean and Florida. Before Bella Fresca, Bridges was the executive chef at what was then Fertitta’s 6301 Restaurant on Line Avenue.

“My first-ever restaurant job was in 1992 (before graduation from culinary school),” Bridges said. “It was a five-bean (highly rated) restaurant in New Orleans. I had to create a special from my station every single day, so always from the start I had to really study hard and learn how to create things on a daily basis. You add that times 25-26 years – it’s all very institutional. I try not to think about it too much. I just go about cooking it, and it just all comes together.”

One of the things Bridges appreciates about Shreveport’s culinary world is the marriage of different tastes.

“Shreveport is a crossroads of where the grits meet the gumbo,” Bridges said. “My mom was from New Orleans and my dad was from South Texas. At our house, there was already that mix. When I first moved here, there was very little South Louisiana influence. But it’s really come along the last two decades. We are at the top of Louisiana, so we are still in the southern belt. And because of my travels and all the people I’ve cooked for and all the different cuisines, it’s natural to do things a little more creative and a little bit more modern, but based on my childhood.”

While Bridges can cook just about anything, his self-proclaimed specialty is “Modern Southern.”

For example: “When I do cream corn, I top it with bonito flakes (Japanese smoked dry fish). I either take something that is a classic southern technique, and I use that technique to use ingredients that are not necessarily considered southern, or the other way around. I will take an international technique and use it on something that’s southern. So I might not fry okra – I might grill and char it and serve with romesco, which is a classic Spanish thing, but in Spain instead of using okra, they use baby onion bulbs.”

When Sauvage (French for “wild”) opens early next year, Bridges plans on serving “vibrant southern cooking. It’s a creative version of what southern cooking was before canning and the frozen industry took over.”

“A big bulk of the new menu will be medium-sized plates,” Bridges said. “Not really small, but not really entree’ size. It will probably be fairly heavy on seafood and vegetables. Then there will be a handful of extremely large plates that two people can probably share, or one person that’s a little bit fat like me,” he laughs.

A big reason Bridges moved back to Shreveport is his two young children, Lily and Madeleine.

“We didn’t want to drag the kids all over the country anymore,” Bridges said. “We wanted to go somewhere and stay put.”

For your taste buds, that’s a sentiment worth drooling over.

– Tony Taglavore

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