Asian-Southern fusion restaurants MoPho and Maypop earned chef Michael Gulotta his loyal fan base and recognition as a James Beard finalist for Best Chef South in 2020. However, after four years on the back burner, the chef’s passion project will open doors to New Orleans diners. Tana, named for his great-grandmother Gaetana, is a sophisticated Italian concept inspired by the chef’s Italian roots and New Orleans home.
His great-grandmother was born to Sicilian parents in New Orleans, but she grew up in Palermo. In his own childhood, Gulotta experienced a colorful collision of international cooking influence with New Orleans food. “Growing up in NOLA, there’s so much local, regional cuisine,” Gulotta says. “One weekend you’re doing barbecue shrimp, but at Christmas, you’ll have ‘ncasciata [layers of roasted eggplant, pasta, pork gravy, and cheese].”
Fascinated by the foods his grandmother prepared, young Gulotta went to Liguria to train for a year. He found himself at a small, riverside restaurant where he fell in love with the unfussy preparation methods that yielded such delicious food.
“One thing that I learned was the simplicity of fresh ingredients. It was all about getting seafood in everyday, adding a sprinkle of salt, olive oil, and lemon juice, and sending it out the door,” Gulotta says.
He first debuted Tana in 2016 as a pop-up dinner series held at a friend’s cocktail bar in New Orleans. He prepared handmade pasta with octopus and blood sausage, couscous with slow-braised lamb, and other delicacies. The pop ups ceased in 2019, but Tana remained close to the chef’s heart.
Now, he looks forward to reintroducing Tana to the Big Easy. A pasta rolling station at the forefront of the dining room will let guests watch the process while they try Sicilian dishes, such as bruscialoni (steak stuffed with herbs, cheese, hard boiled eggs), seafood stuffed artichokes and oysters bordelaise.
Part of Gulotta’s challenge is finding that balance between simplistic, Italian cooking styles and the big, bold flavors commonly associated with New Orleans’ Creole and Cajun cuisine. His pasta alle vongole (spaghetti with clams in a garlic-wine sauce) was not a popular option when he first offered it at a Tana pop up. He punched it up with a little Louisiana hot sausage, and the orders flew in.
“That’s the hardest part, putting traditional things on the menu and wanting to use your training and knowledge to make it a little bit more, but then having to have some restraint,” Gulotta says. After all, the chef customarily wields complex flavors and cooking preparations at Maypop and MoPho. Tana will encourage a return to simpler styles that honor the Italian ways.
Michael Gulotta Shares a Taste of Tana
Tana will open in the Old Metairie neighborhood in early 2023. If you don’t want to wait that long to taste the Italian-Southern fare, you’ll find Gulotta preparing his aforementioned pasta alle vongole “NOLA” in Charleston at the 2022 Spoleto Festival.
He’ll make his first visit to the Holy City in twelve years to join the Local Palate at Toast to Spoleto, an Italian-style garden party complete with Umbrian wines and Italian bites from select purveyors and chefs around the South. To meet Gulotta, feast on Italian bites, and enjoy a Mediterranean experience (with a little Lowcountry charm), join the Local Palate and friends at Toast of Spoleto.
- BY Jennifer Zyman
- BY Celia Funderburk
- BY Lia Grabowski
- BY Celia Funderburk