By Exploring His Family Tree, Lawrence Weeks Goes Back to His Roots

By: Erin Byers Murray

Louisville chef Lawrence Weeks grew up with an intimate knowledge of the cooking of his mother’s side of the family—they hailed from Houston as well as Louisiana. The Cajun-creole of his grandmother’s cooking captured his attention early. “[She] would come into town, stay with us for a month and a half, and she would cook every day. Pinto beans and ham hocks or gumbo and dirty rice. Hot-water cornbread was always on the table,” he says. At the restaurant he helms, North of Bourbon, which opened in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood in late 2021, you can taste echoes of those dishes on his contemporary menu.

But as a child of military life, Weeks was also on the move a lot, from California to Louisville to Shreveport, Louisiana, to Houston, where he spent summers with his grandmother, who still lives in the neighborhood of Pleasantville, one of the area’s oldest Black communities. Those summers often included road trips to New Orleans, San Antonio, and Galveston.

“All that exposure really shaped my idea of the South,” Weeks says today

It was around the age of 3 or 4 when Weeks remembers his grandmother teaching him how to make a roux. She’d start at 6 a.m., waking Weeks up with the roasty-toasty aromas. She showed him how to meld flour and fat and stir for a bit. “But that was it,” he says. “She said, ‘I’ll teach you more another day,’ and then she’d sit me in front of the TV and she’d put on Great Chefs: Great Cities.” The PBS show opened up the door to plush dining rooms and chefs in toques—which made as much of an impression as the roux.

Lawrence Weeks, the chef of North of Bourbon

Weeks’ journey down the other branch of his family tree came later—after culinary school at Louisville’s Jefferson Community and Technical College, then a year working under Todd Richards in Atlanta, and once he’d established a pop-up series back in Louisville. He was invited to cook at an event for the Hindman Settlement School set deep in Appalachia, which led him to wonder if he had any ties to the region. A call with his father’s mother revealed he did.

“We’re on the phone and she says, ‘Well, my family is from Ashland, Kentucky.’” Because his father had been born in Lexington but raised in New York, Weeks was surprised at the revelation—and immediately took the opportunity to soak up all he could from this grandmother, sitting with her every week for three or more hours to listen and learn. At the fundraising dinner, he prepared sour corn maque choux and “miner’s potatoes,” which he made super crispy with an onion ash seasoning to make them look like pieces of coal.

Soon after that dinner, he entered the restaurant world of chef Ouita Michel, becoming executive chef of Honeywood. He relocated to Lexington—coincidentally, a block from the house his father had been born in. “I became really enamored with researching that side of the family,” he says. “It felt like a natural progression to circle back around.”

Working under both Richards and Michel, Weeks came to grasp that cooking involves more than physically preparing food in the kitchen. Richards encouraged him to “find your soul, find your roots,” while Michel expressed that though food trends come and go, tradition always sticks around.

At North of Bourbon, where he works with an ownership team that gives him free rein, the slant is creole-Cajun (see: crawfish boudin balls, delta wet salad). But across the menu, Weeks is drawing from every limb— including the ones he’s still learning about. His great-great-grandfather, he recently found out, was a chef in Louisiana, and his grandfather, whom he’s named for, wanted to be a chef but wasn’t able to in his lifetime. “I feel like I’m living out their dreams, and it feels like it’s coming from my soul. North of Bourbon is really pulling it out of me,” he says. “It feels ancestral.”

Recipes that Celebrate Weeks’ Roots

Smothered catfish over rice at North of Bourbon
Smothered Catfish

Chef Weeks didn’t grow up on this dish but found it later in Louisiana. He loves the coming together of a creamy, crawfish- laced tomato sauce layered with the meaty catfish.

Crab rice dressing garnished with microgreens at North of Bourbon
Crab Rice Dressing

Weeks takes his mother’s holiday rice dressing and updates it with bacon and crab meat rice, creamy crab roe butter, and a kick of heat from the jalapeño basil cream.

Smoked turkey wing with white bean gravy North of Bourbon
Smoked Turkey Wings and White Bean Dressing

Chef Lawrence Weeks shares his recipe for smoked turkey wings with gravy, inspired by the hearty meals his grandmother made and rooted in Cajun-creole flavors.

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