Article Written by Chet Folkes of The Advocate
Maison Lacour's chef thankful to be in a profession he loves
Michael Jetty, the chef at Maison Lacour restaurant, considers himself fortunate to be involved in a career he loves.“I’m a lucky guy,” he says. “I get to do what I like doing.” He also feels blessed to be part of a family whose life revolves around the beauty of food and the art of cooking. And as an added bonus, he said, “I get to work with my wife.”
Jetty has been immersed in the various aspects of classical French cuisine since 1991 when he became a culinary apprentice at Maison Lacour, the restaurant owned and operated by John Gréaud and his wife, Jacqueline, who was the chef. Jetty was an enthusiastic student under Jacqueline’s tutorship, and eventually became her son-in-law when he married her French-born daughter, Eva Pams, in September 1995.
Jetty has become chef at the restaurant; Jacqueline provides her talents in a supporting role in the busy kitchen; and Eva, as manager, performs a variety of tasks including greeting guests and serving tables.
Owner John Gréaud now takes a few days off during the week but continues to work in a managerial position. The Gréauds have been operating Maison Lacour in the small frame house built by the Fairchild family in 1927 at 11025 N. Harrell’s Ferry Road since June 6, 1986, serving the refined fare that Jacqueline has known since growing up in Paris.
The restaurant specializes in French-style cuisine using Louisiana ingredients. When pompano is available, customers may dine on Pompano en Papillote, the venerable dish where the delicate fish is baked in a light cream sauce with shrimp and crabmeat in a parchment bag. Baked Catfish Fillet stuffed with a spicy shrimp dressing with lemon butter sauce is popular with customers for lunch. Gréaud said a popular dinner entree known as John’s Favorite features three items: a small Filet of Black Angus Tenderloin with Béarnaise, several shrimp in a Garlic Butter Sauce and Lump Crabmeat with Hollandaise in Puff Pastry. Scallop Kaffir is an appetizer of large sautéed scallops served in a reduced sauce flavored with lime juice and fine strips of leaves from the Kaffir lime tree. Gréaud said the scallops are flown in fresh from Maine.
“It’s all kind of comforting French food,” Jetty said. “It’s very simple, straight forward, without a lot of conflicting flavors.”
The Gréauds’ first restaurant was in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., specializing in Chinese and French food which they operated after John’s retirement as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The couple decided to return to Baton Rouge in 1986 when the old Fairchild farmhouse became available, after it had been operated as a French restaurant called Fairchild’s. They used Gréaud’s grandmother’s surname for the restaurant.
Gréaud, a native of Baton Rouge and a mechanical engineering graduate of LSU, met Jacqueline in Saigon in 1973. He was a career officer in the U.S. Air Force and Jacqueline, who is of Chinese descent, had returned to her native Vietnam to be with her mother in Saigon. John and Jacqueline married in Paris in 1977.
Jacqueline grew up in Paris, and is a graduate of the Sorbonne. She said she and her father dined at many of the restaurants for which the city is famous, and she was always interested in food. She took classes at Le Cordon Bleu, the culinary school founded over a century ago in Paris. She has passed her knowledge and cooking skills along to her son-in-law who has developed a special reverence for food and its preparation. “It’s a noble profession,” he says.
The young chef credits Jacqueline Gréaud and Grace “Mama” Marino, longtime chef at Gino’s Restaurant, with his culinary inspiration. He said they exposed him to the fact that “food can be very, very fine, and that food is not just something you eat every day to maintain your body.”
Jetty, a native of Michigan, moved with his family to Baton Rouge when he was young. He graduated from LSU, but he said, “I quickly found out I didn’t want the coat-and-tie lifestyle.” His initial exposure to the restaurant business came when he took a job as a busboy at Gino’s at the age of 16. He continued to work there as a waiter during the years he attended LSU, observing Mama Marino’s talents at the kitchen range. He knew he was hooked on the culinary arts, he recalled, when he would take his date to Maison Lacour for dinner and was far more interested in what was on the plate than his companion’s conversation.
In 1991, he said, he knocked on the back door of Maison Lacour and announced to Jacqueline Gréaud, “I will do anything you need doing in the kitchen if I can work and learn under you.”
One of the earliest things he learned was a respect for the kitchen equipment, for correct sanitary procedures and a respect for the food.
Soon after opening their restaurant, the Gréauds created what they term their “Baton Rouge Night,” enabling charitable and civic groups an opportunity to raise funds. “We provide the food, wine, service. The organization provides the clients, and all the money raised goes to the organization,” Gréaud said.