By Samantha L. Quigley

Former Marine John Besh learned a lot about food during his eight years in the Marine Corps. He learned things like Tabasco sauce makes any MRE more palatable, and the British troops chow was better than his.

That, however, was the extent of the culinary skills he acquired while on active duty.

“To be honest, I didn’t serve one day on mess duty,” said Besh, who served eight years, part of which was spent deployed for Operation Desert Storm. “I’d do whatever it took to get out of anything that resembled cooking, in part because I knew I wanted to be a chef one day and that cooking in the Marine Corps might have ruined or tainted my desire.”

Besh’s finagling served him well. He’s currently the chef at The American Sector restaurant, a part of the World War II museum in New Orleans, and he has four other successful restaurants in the area.

If staying out of the mess tent kept Besh’s dream of becoming a chef alive, the MREs, or Meals-Ready-to-Eat, may have spurred his creative cuisine.

“When the MREs came to us, we’d tear them apart and save only the parts we liked,” he said. “We traded like it was the stock market.

“I created menus and restaurant concepts that I would carry with me,” he added. “That and the Bible were the only personal effects that I had. I’d burn every letter that I received and clung to my recipe/menu/concept book!”

This is not to say that Besh doesn’t miss some parts of his military experience. He does miss his friends.

“Nothing will replace the feeling of knowing that combat is immanent and you very likely won’t live. It makes you appreciate the little things – like a good friend,” he said. “The brotherhood among warriors is a particularly strong bond and the respect you have for those who really have your back isn’t easily replaced in the commercial/civilian world.”

Besh lives in New Orleans with his family, which includes four sons, in whom he’s trying to instill an appreciation for and understanding of the origins of local food.

“My sons think I’m crazy because I want them to learn how to make a roux and a gumbo,” he said in his biography for The American Sector restaurant.