Chef Henry In Spotlight After ‘Nightline’ Win
Published: October 28, 2010
ACWORTH—The upbeat zydeco music at Henry’s Louisiana Grill greets visitors before stepping into the restaurant. A basketful of Mardi Gras beads are there for the taking. A shrine to Louisiana State University football and the New Orleans Saints covers one wall. And hanging on another is a crucifix.
Chef Henry Chandler is the owner of Henry’s Louisiana Grill, Acworth. Chandler is also the winner of ABC’s “Nightline” People’s Platelist. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
A bustling restaurant in the charming center of the city, the chef and restaurant’s namesake is Henry Chandler III, an upbeat, friendly, shaggy-haired chef.
The 10-year-old restaurant, at 4835 N. Main St., recently earned national recognition when it won the People’s Platelist contest by getting more than 10,000 online votes.
It started with more than 1,000 people nominating a local chef for the “Nightline” People’s Platelist contest. The entries were narrowed to 20 finalists. Then the polls were opened for an online popularity contest. The chef earning the top votes from viewers earned a spot on national television. The contest was hosted by ABC’s “Nightline” show.
“We worked very hard for it,” Chandler said. “I closed my eyes and held my breath” the night of the announcement, he said.
Since the news broke in early October, folks have streamed into the place.
“It’s not how many customers come through the door. It’s how many come back,” said Chandler, who has on pants decorated with colorful peppers and beads around his neck. He sipped a cup of espresso with milk.
Chandler grew up on a cotton, cattle and pecan plantation in rural Saint Maurice, La. It was there that he learned to cook, paying attention to his nanny, Castelle.
He called his mother a “Southern belle,” who left it to Castelle to care for him and his siblings. And it was Castelle who showed him how to cook. His first meal was dumplings for workers on his father’s farm.
Later at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Chandler had more of an appreciation for good times than studies. Chandler admits he spent too much of his time at college partying before he found himself working on an oil rig some 120 miles offshore at his father’s insistence.
His formal training in the kitchen came in Europe, working beside master chefs in London. The jobs were really starting at the “armpit of the kitchen,” he said.
The hard work paid off, when he returned to Georgia to work as a corporate chef.
After awhile of working for others, Chandler and his wife, Claudia, got the idea to strike out on their own. In 2000, he opened a 45-seat restaurant. Six years later, he moved to this 175-seat restaurant on the corner of Dallas and N. Main streets, where he has a habit of visiting the dining room to make sure guests are happy.
The “Louisiana Ooh La La!” is his signature dish. He called it a “rich, thick, Cajun alfredo” with spicy ham, roasted garlic, flash fried seafood.
“I only give away part of the recipe,” he said.
Chandler said a customer once told him, “Henry’s food is like having Mardi Gras in your mouth.”
His Catholic faith plays a big part in his life. His children, son Liam (whose given name is William Chandler IV) and daughter Danielle Grace, attend St. Catherine of Siena School and Blessed Trinity High School, respectively.
A prayer before meals is common when the family eats breakfast. That’s when the family catches up since the restaurant demands his evening time. The family sets aside time to pray a rosary together.
“Without faith, what are we here for?” Chandler asks.
The family attends St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, where Chandler’s wife is a lay minister.
“I’ve been sitting in the same spot for 21 years. I don’t like anyone taking my spot,” said Chandler.
Parents need to teach their children the faith, Chandler said. He compared it to a chef passing on a valuable recipe to a young person learning to cook.
Another passion of his is organ donation. Chandler likes to say he is “51 years old with a 22-year-old liver.” In 2007, exhaustion was wearing him out. A routine doctor’s appointment found he had liver cancer with just months to live.
Experimental drugs and prayers weren’t reversing the cancer. His situation worsened. Death seemed imminent as a search for a new liver continued. He received last rites of the church.
A liver was finally found from a young person.
Now, he advocates and raises money for organ donation programs. He carries organ donor cards in his wallet to hand out. April is Donate Life Month and it is a big deal here. The restaurant in 2009 signed up 20 new organ donors and he has a goal for 2011 of 100.
There is a fun spirit in the restaurant. It is a crowd pleaser and an inportant specialty of Chandler’s grill. You can see the TV show featuring Chef Henry online at: http://bit.ly/aBbCxG.
“We started out with nothing and this is where we’ve come,” Chandler said.