Living on the Edge
Couple takes a different cut at culinary careers
The route from working together in a restaurant kitchen to deciding to open their own place took a sharp detour for Jacqueline (Jackie) Blanchard and Brandt Cox, who opened Coutelier, a knife shop on Oak Street.
Jackie and Brandt met while working at Restaurant August; she was his boss. They were a couple of chefs who became a couple—a workable but sometimes uncomfortable situation. There came a time when they both were ready for new challenges and left Besh Restaurant Group to explore their craft at other restaurants in other cities.
Their loose plan was to hone skills working with well-known and lauded San Francisco Chef Corey Lee—Jackie worked at Benu while Brandt signed on to help open Monsieur Benjamin—then return to New Orleans to open their own restaurant. It was time to work for themselves.
To raise the money needed to open a restaurant (they didn’t want to start entirely in debt to a bank or investors), Jackie and Brandt carved out an idea: Open a kitchen tools shop, catering to the enormous number of New Orleans’ professional chefs and home cooks. Their store, stocked with knives, cooking gear and bar tools along with other culinary-related items, would fill a niche and, with luck, generate enough capital for their dream restaurant. And then they got sharp.
Coutelier’s focal point is Japanese knives, sharpening gear and sharpening services, reflecting their passion for sleek, well-made, super thin, super sharp blades that they themselves prefer and use.
“Knives are art,” they say in unison. Glancing sideways at Brandt, Jackie goes further: “We had a clear vision of what we wanted for the shop. We wanted a break, a chance for our bodies to catch up from the grueling restaurant environment, but we miss the camaraderie of a kitchen crew and we needed a project to stay engaged.”
The couple went from working apart and reconnecting at home to spending 24/7 together.
“We know our strengths and weaknesses,” Brandt says. “She’s more free-spirited and the better business person, I’m a planner and not tech savvy.” They laugh with and at each other as they talk about their different tastes in music but joint love for snowboarding, sports and the outdoors. They also both love food and dining and are cuttingly critical, but kind.
Jackie’s from Bayou Lafourche, Louisiana, and Brandt’s hometown is Oxford, Mississippi. They have opinions, for sure, and are always up for fine dining, though they prefer to eat old-school meat-and-threes at tucked-away cafés, or specialties from country gas stations.
That sophisticated yet downhome spirit is reflected in the simple, clean lines of their shop and the lush products within. Pale blue walls are hung with magnetized sinker cypress planks to hold a selection of functional knives for every task. Brandt will lead a shopper to his favorite Takeda Banno Bunka-Bocho, an “everyday general utility knife.” Jackie steers towards a Takeda Sujihiki, a slim sushi knife. Both rave about the kitchen shears they sell and agree that everything in Coutelier is something they’d use (Benriner mandolines), read (cool indie magazines and books) or cook with (Cellar Salt and Poirier’s Cane Syrup). Their latest find is a bunch of old, worn cleavers to be repaired, sharpened, shined and sold.
Jackie and Brandt’s shop is small but they have big plans: “We’re getting ready to offer some sharpening and knifeskills classes, and we have pop-up dinners in the works too. We’ve learned we really like working together in this way and retail has been good so, to be honest, the restaurant plans are kind of taking a back seat … for now. At this moment we know that whatever we want to do, we can cut it.”
8239 Oak St.
New Orleans, LA 70118
Lorin Gaudin is a freelance writer based in New Orleans.