Matt Pace grew up in New Orleans East, a neighborhood that he likens to a suburb within a city: houses with yards, and swimming pools within sighting distance of Lake Pontchartrain. It’s nothing like his adopted home of New York City, where he’s lived on and off for the past 10 years. Both leaving and returning to the city weren’t easy journeys. But today, as the chef of Café Booqoo, his calling is to capture — through food and ambiance alike — what he loves about his hometown.
“I’ve always had a lot of pride being from New Orleans and being linked to it generations-deep,” says Pace. “Being from a place with such a rich history and culture, especially when it comes to food, not only gives me a lot to work with and room to be creative, but also a lot to live up to and motivation to do it justice.”
After he graduated from college, Pace didn’t know where to go. “My parents were living in Nigeria for work, and my mother said, you should go to New York, be there for your brother.” He decided that was a good place to kick start an art career, so for the next four years, Pace lived in New York practicing painting and sculpture, collaborating on street art, and working as a DJ.
But Pace grew tired of being at the behest of others. “I was just tired of having to suck up to people that didn’t really care, just to make it as an artist,” he says.
And besides, New Orleans had made plans for him. After so much time in New York, Pace moved back home to “get back to my roots, and reset.” It had been years since he had seen his mother’s side of the family; his grandfather was ill, and he wanted to spend time with him. And while he was home, he thought about what he could do long-term, and realized: he always had a passion for food.
When Pace was a kid, after all the children’s programs finished, he would switch to cooking shows for entertainment. As a teenager, he continued to obsess over food TV and religiously watched any cooking program he could find. His mother taught him recipes, but it wasn’t long before he began to experiment. He especially loved grilling: the sizzling sounds it made, the heat and the smells. Eventually, he grilled for his family. Throughout high school and college, he had always worked in kitchens. And in New Orleans, it came together for him.
Pace pored over cookbooks and YouTube videos, honed his skills, then moved back to New York to study restaurant management. For two years, he operated a pop-up restaurant that served his beloved hometown treat: beignets. Last year, with the success of Booqoo Beignets, he found a location in Brooklyn and opened up Café Booqoo.
“The red beans and rice at the restaurant is my grandmother’s recipe,” he says. “I like to pull flavors and elements that I’ve loved throughout the years and incorporate them into fun new dishes that still speak with the New Orleans Creole flavor.” His favorite thing to cook: barbeque shrimp in a savory sauce with Worcestershire, beer, herbs, and spices. You can feel the spirit of New Orleans coming through in his favorite cocktail, too: a Southern Comfort Manhattan, which Pace says is “a twist to a classic, like I like to do in the kitchen.”
In a city with small attention spans and big appetites, what are the chances that its denizens know about Louisiana cooking? Hence, Pace’s motivation — driven by love for New Orleans. “It’s one of those places that’s so unique, it’s not like anywhere else in the world, let alone America,” he says. “The culture, the tradition, all of it: art, religion, music, food. There’s no place like it.”
Matt’s Favorite Southern Manhattan
Here’s what you’ll need to recreate Matt’s Southern Comfort cocktail.
• 2 oz. Southern Comfort 80PF Black Label
• 1 oz. sweet vermouth
• 2 dashes aromatic bitters
• Maraschino cherry
• Measure all ingredients (except the cherry) into a glass filled with ice.
• Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.
• Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
This is paid content produced for an advertiser by New York Stories. The editorial staff of Vulture did not play a role in its creation.