I was brand spanking new to NOLA when I headed to Tartine for my first ever “meet-up” with local moms. The food, the conversation, the ebb and flow of this simple, small and humble restaurant; it was all delicious. For me, Tartine helped cement the fact that food in this town is something so much more than sustenance. Today I bring you an interview with Cara Benson, the Mompreneur behind this gem of a restaurant.
First off, give us a little background on yourself.
I was born in Alexandria, LA and moved to NOLA when I was 9. I went to Ben Franklin for high school and graduated from Loyola with a B.A. in political science. I moved to New York when I was 22 for culinary school. I lived on Roosevelt Island with four roommates. One of which was my future husband. Evan was in the savory program and we were instantly inseparable We eventually moved back to New Orleans, got married, had a baby. I opened Tartine when my son, Teller, was 10 months old. We have been open for almost three years now.
What prompted you to want to open a restaurant?
When my son was four months old we all came down with the norwalk virus. It was so horrible. My husband and I took turns holding the baby so the other one could vomit. Then Teller started vomiting. I called into work and they gave me a really hard time about it. In three years, I had NEVER called in sick. I saw a glimpse of my future and realized it would be difficult to be there for my son when he needed me. I always wanted my own place and this seemed like the right time. I went to visit my dad for the weekend a month later, and he offered to financially back me. I gave my notice as soon as I got back in town.
Did you ever doubt your decision to open the business?
The first few weeks were really hard. I would get there at 4 in the morning to make the bread and some days we would only ring up $50. I swear it rained the first three weeks. After a month or so, we started to get some publicity, and it really picked up.
Did you go to culinary school?
I went to the French Culinary Institute for pastry school.
Were you scared about taking the leap to open your own restaurant? If so, what was your biggest fear?
I wasn’t really scared until after we opened. It never dawned on me that people might not eat there. It wasn’t till those early days that I really started to freak out.
Who or what would you say is your inspiration?
My grandmother is a big inspiration for me. She loves to cook, work outdoors, and she does incredible needlepoint. My husband is also an inspiration. His passion for food is contagious, and his work ethic is encouraging. He comes home from an eighty hour work week, makes dinner, does the laundry, puts Teller to bed and brings me coffee in bed the next morning. He is so wonderful.
How do you find balance in your life?
I love to sew, embroider and work in the garden with my son. Every Sunday he says “mama, should we go to the fabric store or home depot?”
As a mother in the age of Pinterest, do you feel pressure to be Super Mom and do it all?
I don’t feel any pressure. I use Pinterest to find projects that I want to work on. Teller loves the garden, and I love that he is learning to grow food and have some responsibilities. He likes to help me sew and hold down the pedal. I let him put pins in the fabric. He loves to help out in the kitchen by washing the produce, oiling and seasoning, and sometimes, very carefully supervised, I let him do a little chopping.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for mothers today?
Too much information. Too many opinions on how your kids should be doing things and when they should reach milestones.
What is your favorite part of raising a child in New Orleans?
The sense of community. The mutual love that New Orleanians have for their city despite the crime and corruption. My wonderful neighbors and neighborhood. The food. The restaurants. Mardi Gras and all of the festivals. Snowballs.
Do you have a favorite Mom tool? A secret Mom weapon?
Patience. And when that doesn’t work, nutella and breadsticks.
Is there one kitchen tool every Mom should have?
A pressure cooker! I made red beans in 20 minutes last night.
Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
When Evan works weddings, he will sometimes bring me home a piece of wedding cake. I get up in the middle of the night and eat it. I LOVE wedding cake.
Favorite weekday meal?
Blackened redfish that Evan caught, lemon butter sauce, pasta and asparagus.
What did you have for dinner last night? When you get home at night after a day in the kitchen do you feel like cooking?
We had red beans because my husband was working. He would never eat a double starch for dinner. Haha. We both love to cook and cook big meals almost every night we are both home. Our son loves to cook too, so it’s always a family project.
Best quick kitchen tip?
Pressure cooker. Artichokes in 14 minutes!
Is there someone famous in New Orleans that you would love to have eat at your restaurant?
Drew Brees or James Carville
Starbucks, PJ’s, or Community?
Muffins, scones, or brioche?
What is your favorite luxury in life?
When you have a sitter I am most likely to find you at…..
Hurricane season is headed our way! Do you have a tasty tip for something delicious but non-perishable that you think every non-evacuating person from NOLA should keep on hand?
Hard cheese, cured meats, butter, baguette. All can live out of the fridge for a while.
Movie theater, drive in movie, or movie at home in your sweats?
Canal Place with parmesan black pepper popcorn and a glass of wine.
You have been trapped on an island by yourself with only three things. What would they be and why?
A swimsuit, a good book and a margarita. I’m on an island. ALONE.
What is the one thing you use every day that makes you feel pretty or put together? Hmmm…I work in a kitchen, so I wear a t-shirt, jeans and clogs with my hair in a ponytail.
Map out what a typical day in your shoes looks like?
Wake up at 5:30, get ready and try and sneak out of the house before Teller wakes up. Get to work by 7:00 and start setting up for breakfast. I go back and forth working in the kitchen, the dining room and in my tiny office doing paperwork and paying bills. Pick Teller up at 3:30, go to the bank to do the deposit and get change. Sometimes stop at Rouse’s if we need to pick anything up for dinner. Get home and water our plants. Start cooking around 5 and eat at 6. After dinner, it’s bath, books and 1 t.v show. He’s asleep at 8:00, and I hang out with Evan if he is home. If he is not, I watch Downton Abbey or read.
What has been the most gratifying moment you have had since you opened Tartine?
Being written up. We were featured in New Orleans Magazine early on and it was so gratifying to see how proud everyone was.
How is your life different than what you pictured it would be when you were 16?
I don’t think it’s that different. I think my sixteen year old self would be very happy her thirty three year old self opened a restaurant.
Share a secret with us!
I ate 24 whole pecan pies when I was pregnant with Teller.