Chef Lydia Solano is a self-proclaimed kitchen recluse.
The soft-spoken, 29-year-old chef is happiest creating and bringing both sophisticated and down-to-earth dishes to the table. Since late last year, she has quietly overseen the Bakery Bar’s kitchen and introduced a Latin-meets-Louisiana menu at the casual Lower Garden District café.
A dual citizen of Costa Rica and the United States, Solano spent her childhood between Limon and Boston. Her palate reflects myriad influences she brings to the Bakery Bar menu.
1179 Annunciation St., (504) 513-8664; Bakery.Bar
Brunch and dinner Tue.-Sun.
food and delivery
A growing menu with Latin influences paired with sweets
Opened in 2016 by pastry chef Charlotte McGehee and her partner Charles Mary IV, the Bakery Bar is home to their business, Debbie Does Doberge. The bar serves creative cocktails, with Vincent Heitz currently running the bar program and front of house. The savory menu has never been the main attraction, but Solano has plans to change that.
The path that led Solano to the Bakery Bar’s kitchen was anything but traditional. She grew up with little supervision or guidance and as a result became bored quickly and often at school. A sharp-eyed cooking teacher asked her if she’d like to study instead of wandering the halls of her vocational and technical high school in Lexington, Massachusetts.
“I think I was looking for a way forward,” she says. “There’s always something new to learn when it comes to culinary arts, which means it’s hard to get bored and get into trouble.”
Solano graduated from culinary school and hit the road, working part-time in kitchens, which she’s been doing since she was 14. “I didn’t have the general stability that most people grow up with,” she says.
She drove from coast to coast, worked on farms, hitchhiked and stayed in communes and camps. She cooked meals from whatever was on hand. She then went back to the Boston area and worked as a sushi chef near Fenway Park, which broadened her skills and broadened her horizons.
Solano has been in New Orleans since 2015 and previously worked at Bacchanal for three years. Her job at the Bakery Bar gives her creative freedom and a chance to flex her culinary muscles. The restaurant serves brunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. “It feels like the next step in my life,” she says. “I’m ready for this.”
She executes her menu with attention to ingredients and presentation. As a nod to gluten-free diners, there’s a take on a classic chicken andouille gumbo with a cassava flour roux to thicken veal bone broth peppered with jalapeno, guajillo, and ancho peppers. Her homemade Panko-Crusted Fried Cucumbers are pink with hibiscus blossoms and get added flavor from confit black garlic and homemade chamoy, a favorite Mexican sauce made from dehydrated fruits.
Saqib Keval told us about eating at Masala y Maiz, explored the ways of eating and dining at Lengua Madre.
The chef loves to backfire the smoker and uses it to add smoky notes to a fatty marrow custard that fills a beefy bone split lengthwise. Chimichurri, with its garlic-like blend of vinegar and herbs, is a perfect complement and completes the richness of the dish.
Then their oxtail croquettes, a stew made from oxtail, mirepoix and red wine that lolls in the sous vide bath for 24 hours. Smoked Gouda, microgreens and edible flowers top the crispy croquettes, which are served with more of that delicious garlic confit and aji verde, a Peruvian herb sauce.
The menu also features simpler fare like burgers and blackened fish tacos. The dumpster fries are hard to resist when they top hand-cut potatoes with leftover beer cheese pork and fried onions. Their Jerk Butter Wings are mighty tasty too.
“I want to cook dinner for dinner or just fill your tummy,” she says.
The influences of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin have settled well in Algiers Point.