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Mason Hereford is the chef/owner of New Orleans' Turkey and the Wolf
Bon Appetit America's Best New Restaurant of 2017

 

Q: What were you doing 10 years ago?

A: If I am 31, I was 21 10 years ago. I was definitely drinking bourbon. And I think I was in Charlottesville, Virginia. Talking to my friend Gray about how we should move to New Orleans.


Q: And 10 years from now?

A: Ideally I will still be rollerblading, but somehow I doubt it. You never know.


Q: Were you interested in cooking or food growing up in Virginia?

A: Yeah, I guess as much as the next guy. I didn’t have like romantic feelings, like stuff on the kitchen floor while my mom cooked. But you know I was always obsessed with eating and I’ve always had an affinity for dining out. And then I started working at bars. I really liked partying. And then I found out in the service industry you never have to grow up, but you still get to do cool shit. And then I kind of fell in love with cooking professionally. But yeah, I’ve always been into dining. I really like eating food. It’s like up there with anything else in the world.


Q: Opening up your own place is risky, what made you pull the trigger?

A: Yeah, it’s frightening and really scary, but you do it and then you kind of have to keep doing it. What made me pull the trigger? I guess because I had worked where I was working for as long as I wanted to work there. There wasn’t anywhere in New Orleans that I was really into the idea of working at other than for or with my friends. So then I was focusing on if I were to open a restaurant what I would do. Obviously, it was sandwiches and here we are today.


Q: Can you explain the vibe of Turkey and the Wolf- how does it represent your personality?


A: Well, I don’t know if it represents my personality. I guess you’d have to ask someone else. But, the vibe of Turkey and the Wolf ideally is a bunch of people who are trying really hard to have a really good time and let it rub off on the people that show up and eat there. Our whole thing is to take care of each other, have fun, and party together. Taking everything as seriously as we can, while we have a good time and hopefully, that translates into a really good meal and good experience for a diner.


Q: What was the inspiration for your most popular sandwich on the menu, fried bologna?

A: It is the most popular, but only by a small margin I’d say. The inspiration for that sandwich I guess was because my mom. I mean the inspiration for a bologna sandwich is that it’s an American classic. But the whole put chips on it thing, which a lot of people did in their youth was because my mom used to do that to coax us into eating what was otherwise a really gross fucking sandwich. And I thought, at the time, I learned to love this sandwich, but hers was like, I would imagine, Oscar Mayer bologna like cold with French’s yellow mustard and American cheese. And then she was like if you don’t like it just shove the chips in there, so I would put an inordinate amount of chips in there to mask what I thought was a disgusting flavor of bologna and yellow mustard. And then later we wrote all these menu items, we had tons of menu pages and menu items and eventually narrowed it down to our opening menu. The bologna was on the opening menu, so the idea was to update this thing that I ate when I was a kid. We got a really good recipe for homemade mustard from my close friend’s mother, which is cool. It’s like a hand-me-down recipe, like the best mustard I’ve ever had. We got a friend of ours, Leanne, who is a butcher to send us a sample of some homemade bologna and she got in on there. And then I got this white bread recipe from a pastry chef I used to work with, this guy Zach. I gave that to a local baker who is a friend of ours. So, it was like a bunch of people came together to make a sandwich that is more or less inspired by my mother. It’s a collaboration of a lot of people, certainly not just me.


Q: Why isn’t there a turkey sandwich on the menu?

A: Oh I don’t know, I guess the front of the house’s answer is always there’s also not a wolf sandwich on the menu. I guess that partially answers the question. I don’t actually say that but I hear other people say it. Turkey and the Wolf was named not actually after turkey the lunch meat, but it does kind of come off that way when you say “oh we’re going to a sandwich shop called Turkey and the Wolf.” I understand where people are coming from when they are curious about the turkey sandwich that doesn’t exist.


Q: So where does “Turkey and the Wolf” come from?

A: The girl who I opened the restaurant with, who I do not own it with anymore, was my girlfriend of years. She’s still a close friend and still a great person. When we were dating she told me her spirit animal was a wolf or some shit. Maybe she didn’t use those words- that kind of sounds a little wonky. She was into wolves and had like wolf shit. When she was a kid, she had a wolf calendar and pictures. I don’t know, whatever, she was into them. So I bought her a bunch of wolf shit. I was managing a kitchen at the time, Coquette, where I was a chef de cuisine. At the end of service every night when we got a touchdown, which is where you clear all the tickets from the board, we would howl. You know, it was a silly thing we did. So, there was kind of this wolf vibe. I also used to call people turkeys a lot because my dad used to call us turkeys when we were being punk kids. He’d be like “stop acting like a fucking turkey and do something.” He’d be like “you’re a turkey,” and I always thought that was funny. So I guess I kind of adopted that word from my old man. Then I started talking about opening a restaurant and I was like I’m going to open up a sandwich shop. Everyone knew I was really into sandwiches and I was going to call it “Turkey and the Wolf.” People that knew me worked in the kitchen with me or were colleagues or friends were like you couldn’t open a restaurant and not call it that. So, years before I opened this restaurant, I was already committed to this name. In all honesty, I don’t even like the name that much. But, now I’m way fucking stuck with it. But yeah the “and” names, there are so many “and” names- you know now I’m an “and” name as well. I have nothing against it, but if I were to go back in time maybe I’d just call it “sandwiches.” But whatever, we are Turkey and the Wolf. We got an eye-catching name.


Q: Any teasers about new sandwiches in the works?

A: We haven’t changed the menu since we got this write up and everybody got really excited about us. Which is really great, we really appreciate it and we love it. But all these people come from out of town and often have a preconceived notion of what they are going to eat. So we kind of set the menu for a little while and committed to not changing it. The other thing that makes it kind of hard to change is that right now we are the most popular we have ever been. We’ve got 40 seats and 5 hours of service. We cook for like 5 or 6 hundred people and only have 40 seats. We have a very small kitchen and everything is finely tuned to be able to put out over a thousand plates of food. So, we got to be real careful and take into account that we have to be able to produce these things at a caliber of food that we want to put out to the number of people we intend to serve for the day. You’ll probably see some new stuff on the horizon. We’ve got lots of dishes up our sleeves and a lot of things we want to cook. I think where you’re going to see new menu items and new creativity is during our bar nights that we do on Sunday and Monday nights. We open the restaurant as a bar and we usually have pop-ups come. Our friends will come cook or cool different food trucks from around town will come and park in the parking lot while we drink. We’re going to start doing some cool dishes that people didn’t expect or new sandwiches and recipe testing for new concepts maybe once a month on a Sunday or Monday. And the bar is called the Squirt Gun Bar. It’s kind of like the ambiance of Turkey and the Wolf without the lunchtime line.


Q: I’ve stalked your Instagram account.  Did you expect people to respond to your posts the way they are now?

A: Yeah, my Instagram is kind of out of control. We say “fuck” a lot. I started the account and it got a little out of control. I realized people were reacting positively to it, so we kind of turned it into a caricature of itself. I do the Instagram, but I don’t only yell and I don’t talk in all caps. I say “fuck” a lot, but I’m not as insane as I personify the restaurant to be. But it’s what people want to see and we want to show people what they want to see. The Bon Appetit thing changed everything. We used to be a regular old restaurant, just kind of putting along having a good old time. Now we are a very busy restaurant. Everything’s changed overnight, in one day. It changed our hours, our menu, and our staff. All because of one article- it’s pretty cool. We hit the restaurant lottery.


Q: Biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring chefs?

A: Oof. It’s hard to give advice without sounding like a fucking asshole. It’s like you want to say something like don’t be afraid to be yourself and do something that just seems cool to you. But also, if I say that as advice that comes off as me trying to say that’s what I did. I’m not trying to sit here and talk about what I’ve done. Yeah, I guess I’d say do you. Don’t be afraid, it’s something we all have to deal with. Doing things for the first time is going to be scary but keep trying.


Q: If you had to pick one food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: One food? I feel like that question is hard because it involves science and shit. Like what you could technically actually eat and not die. If science didn’t matter and I’d never get a stomach ache? I would say mall food court Chinese food. That’s not actually the answer but I am very into that and I’ve answered this question a few times and I’ve never answered this answer. It is one of my favorite foods. It’s fucking awesome, but it just makes you feel kind of really bad. I’m not trying to pigeonhole all the people that cook mall Chinese food I don’t know if they all make you have a stomach ache, but in general I find I do get a stomach ache after those meals. It’s always worth it going down, it’s so good.

 

Turkey and the Wolf

739 Jackson Ave

New Orleans, LA 70130

(504) 218-7428

Written by Emily Weisman — November 08, 2017

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