I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends

Words by Clair McLafferty

Photos by Tim Black

In restaurants especially, some of the best networking and brainstorming is accompanied by a couple of drinks. Such was the case for the kitchen staff at Turkey and the Wolf, the New Orleans sandwich shop named America’s best new restaurant of 2017 by Bon Appetit.

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Six years ago, much of the shop’s kitchen staff met for the first time through mutual friends. Once they’d connected, they met for drinks on Sunday nights. On one such night, Mason Hereford mentioned that he was planning to open a sandwich shop. “Two years ago,” says sous chef Nathan Barfield, “we all came together when Mason said he wanted to get this thing off the ground—and we did.”

The result was a sandwich shop that blends profound nostalgia with food that deftly connects highbrow and lowbrow. Most of the six-person kitchen staff worked in fine dining before starting at Turkey and the Wolf but joined the sandwich shop after seeing what it was doing. One of the perks of offering only lunch service is that the hours are much more manageable.

Nathan has worked in kitchens for about 11 years. After earning a political science degree at the University of Alabama, he decided not to go to law school and got a job in a kitchen. After cooking in Tuscaloosa for about six years, he decided to move in order to further his career. “New Orleans is an influential food city,” he says. “It’s relatively close to home, and I had a friend who lived here as well who’d been trying to convince me to move down, so I did.” From there, he worked at different places in New Orleans until Mason asked him to join the team at Turkey and the Wolf.

The kitchen is different from most others in several respects. For one, the daily prep is shared among the staff, much like a family with a list of chores. “Everyone’s highly motivated to be there,” Nathan says. “We write a list of everything that needs to be done on a legal pad every day, show up in the morning, start working through it, have service, finish the list, and go home.”

As sous chef, Nathan connects the executive chef with the cooks in the kitchen. “The sous chef’s job is to make sure everything is done, knock out ordering responsibilities on days the executive chef and chef de cuisine aren’t there, and generally make sure everything’s going the way it’s supposed to go,” he says.

The camaraderie and fun behind the scenes at Turkey and the Wolf translates into food that has hooked people and a social media presence that’s at once irreverent and hilarious. The sandwich and salad offerings have been described as stoner food, but that may be because it’s so hard to describe their style in an approachable way.

Since the dishes are inspired by kitchen staff members’ childhood favorites, it feels like every service brings family meal to the table. The restaurant began with all of them coming together as a family, and it works only if they keep that sense of family—not only in the nostalgic food they prepare, but also in the camaraderie amongst the staff. “It’s a very unique piece of a niche no one probably knew existed,” says Nathan. “It’s a pretty remarkable thing to be a part of.”