New Orleans, LA: Fundraisers for Boucherie owner Nathanial Zimet Planned

Nathanial Zimet poses in 2009 - David Grunfeld | Times-Picayune archive

By Brett Anderson | The Times-Picayune

A waiter streaks by on a busy Friday night at Boucherie on Jeanette Street. Michael DeMocker | The Times-Picayune

It’s a dark fact of life in New Orleans that violent crime is so common that residents no longer get worked up each time blood is shed on the street. But the shooting early Sunday of Nathanial Zimet, the 31-year-old chef of the Carrollton area restaurant Boucherie, has become one of those crimes that captures the public’s attention. The reasons why speak to much brighter truisms in a city where small restaurants and the people who run them often are objects of outsized affection.

“He’s just a really good guy, and his place is wicked cool,” said Dan Stein, referring to Zimet and Boucherie, a restaurant forged out of a cottage barely large enough for a family of three.


A sign in Boucherie entreats customers to support Chef Nathanial Zimet. Michael DeMocker | The Times-Picayune

Stein, who owns Stein’s Market & Deli on Magazine Street, is among the scores of food, restaurant and beverage professionals mobilizing sundry efforts to come to the aid of Zimet, who has been hospitalized since being rushed to LSU Trauma Center last week. He was shot in an apparent robbery attempt outside his home near the corner of Jena and South Saratoga streets.

The chef’s friends and colleagues said his injuries are no longer life-threatening. But his recovery is expected to be lengthy and expensive, and he has no health insurance.


Nathanial Zimet poses in 2009 – David Grunfeld | Times-Picayune archive

News of Zimet’s predicament traveled quickly through New Orleans’ tight-knit food and restaurant community. By the time the restaurant opened Tuesday — it’s normally closed Sunday and Monday — the Nathanial Zimet Donation Fund had been set up at Capitol One Bank. The number of customers who have shown up at Boucherie to show support has far exceeded the restaurant’s capacity, which tops out at between 45 and 50 guests, and that’s when you count the four bar stools.

“People are coming in with envelopes and dropping them off, even when they’re not staying to eat,” said bartender Mike Seaman.

“It’s amazing how many people want to help and the outpouring of support,” said Mia Devillier, manager and co-owner of La Petite Grocery, who is helping organize a benefit for Zimet on July 10 at the Howlin’ Wolf. “It’s just a matter of getting everything centralized so we can utilize it.”

Zimet was in his car outside his house on Sunday around 5 a.m. having just finished working all night preparing food for the Bayou Boogaloo Festival when a man approached and demanded, according to the police report, “Where’s the money?” Shots rang out soon after, according to the report, and “appeared” to hit Zimet twice, “once in the chest, which traveled into the left arm, and once in the left arm.”

The report states that neighbors told officers “they heard two subjects arguing before they heard what they thought were gunshots,” which, followed by the sound of Zimet honking his horn and crying for help, prompted the calls to 911. An NOPD spokesman said Zimet was drifting in and out of consciousness when help arrived and was only able to identify his attacker as a male. Police classified the incident as an armed robbery with aggravated battery by shooting. No suspects have been identified, a police spokesman said.

Growing in popularity and respect

On Sunday, Zimet was moved out of intensive care after undergoing surgery. On Thursday, Zimet took “a turn for the better,” said James Denio, a co-owner of Boucherie along with Zimet’s father David Zimet. “His whole internal system is starting to work again. That was a huge step forward.”

Many friends and supporters who are stepping up to help raise money for Zimet first came to know the chef in the mid- to late 2000s, when the North Carolina native was a familiar face behind the window of Que Crawl, a mobile food truck he operated at night outside local nightclubs and music venues. The truck drew attention with its purple paint job, but its cult was founded on the quality of its chefly renderings of Southern-style comfort food, which ran from wood-smoked barbecue to molten-centered grit fries to roast beef po-boys slathered in horseradish sauce.

Que Crawl was perhaps the most successful early local example of a larger national trend that has seen chefs trained in the kitchens of elegant restaurants take their skills to increasingly smaller and less-pretentious environments. When Zimet, whose resumé includes stints at high-end New Orleans restaurants, such as Commander’s Palace and Stella!, opened Boucherie in 2009, he split the difference between the gritty aesthetic of the street and the more refined sensibilities of fine dining.

Zimet’s shooting has only underscored the wild popularity of Boucherie, not to mention the respect its creator has garnered for his efforts.

“Nathanial’s like the real deal,” Stein said. “Don’t tell him he can’t have six good beers on tap in that little (modest) location. The whole thing is just sort of spun out of nothing.”

Fundraiser is now ‘huge’

Stein is helping with a benefit for Zimet spearheaded by Jeremy Labadie, a local blogger and beer expert who regularly organizes beer tastings for fellow enthusiasts. His original idea to, as he put it, ask “a bunch of beer nerds to crack open their fridges and bring some of their bottles” to a small fundraiser has quickly grown to a much larger event scheduled for June 24 at Nola Brewing.

It’s still in the planning stages, but Labadie expects most regional craft brewers to be involved, and he hopes to add live music and crawfish.

“I got an email from Pensacola Bay Brewery today,” Labadie said Thursday. “They want to pitch in. It’s huge now. Everyone wants to do something.”

Details for the beer tasting and all the rest of the Zimet fundraisers can be found at On Thursday, Brigtsen’s committed all the proceeds from wine bottle sales to the Nathanial Zimet Fund. Next Thursday, chef Adolfo Garcia is doing the same at a Mano, RioMar and La Boca, his three Warehouse District restaurants.

Chris Doll, the chef who makes salumi and charcuterie for all of Garcia’s restaurants, made the venison sausage served over turnip hash that was served at Boucherie Wednesday night.

“Chris came in yesterday just to help out in the kitchen,” Denio said Wednesday. “He just started working on all of our charcuterie based on Nathanial’s recipes, and I imagine that sort of thing will continue to happen.”

The largest fundraiser in the works so far is called “Beasts and Brass,” which is scheduled for July 10 at the Howlin’ Wolf. Devillier said several of the city’s better regarded chefs, have including Aaron Burgau of Patois; John Harris of Lilette; Justin Devillier, her husband and partner at La Petite Grocery; and Dan Esses of Three Muses, agreed to provide food. Three muses also is donating proceeds from sales of its pork belly dish to Zimet’s cause.

The evening is planned to unfold in stages, with holders of higher-priced tickets ($85 in advance, $100 at the door) arriving earlier for food, specialty cocktails and a silent auction. A second stage will begin around 9 p.m. with live music, a cash bar and a lower ticket price. Devillier explained, “We wanted people in the service industry who couldn’t necessarily spend the $85 to be able to come.”

Denio explained the “Beast” part of the fundraiser is a nod to one of Zimet’s catchphrases: “I’m a Beast.” The phrase is being printed on T-shirts that also will be available for sale as part of the fundraising effort.

“When I spoke to him (Tuesday), he said, in all seriousness, ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to work this week,'” Denio said of Zimet. “That clues into the part of him being a beast.”