Bywater Favorite Suis Generis: A Backstory Like No Other

Although a busy practicing attorney, Ernie Foundas is also a food-obsessed chef and farmer with a bit of mad scientist thrown in.

Growing up between Boston and New Orleans, Foundas was blessed with two Massachusetts restaurant-owning grandfathers and a grandmother he remembers as a “great Greek home chef.”

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Living near Commander’s Palace on Coliseum Street during middle school, Foundas befriended the Brennan children. He remembers playing after school on the Commander’s patio, accessed through the restaurant kitchen.

“Chef Paul sensed my interest in food and showed me how to make a roux,” he marveled.
While attending college in Boston, Foundas worked in restaurants, eventually finding himself at Jasper White’s first famed eatery.

“I told the chef I’d like my own restaurant one day but had concerns about the great turnover rate inherent in the business,” he said. “He told me, ‘Don’t go to culinary school. You already know everything you would learn there. Go to law school, then one day you can invest in your own restaurant.’”

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That’s exactly what Foundas did, studying tax law at Villanova University, where he met his partner in life and business, Adrienne Bell. Twelve years ago, Foundas’ restaurant dreams were realized when he and Bell opened Suis Generis in the Bywater.

The Latin phrase suis generis means “from nothing” or “one of a kind.” With a menu that changes weekly, Foundas and his team keep pricing low by using seasonal ingredients while also utilizing every scrap of food to achieve a zero-waste model in the kitchen.

His culinary team meets every Monday to assess what fresh, fermented or dried goods remain from the weekend and begin discussing the next menu.

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“Having only 40 seats in the restaurant allows us to utilize small quantities of ingredients,” Foundas said. “We’ll ferment a handful of leftover peppers into a pepper paste or transform a quart of scallops into a house-made fish sauce.”

Bell and Foundas also share a love for travel, especially to the South Pacific. While in Fiji seven years ago, they met a Canadian couple with a farm there growing a variety of exotic plants. The experience was so impactful that on the flight home Foundas and Bell resolved to create their own farm. The industrious pair purchased a 5-acre tract in Pearlington, Mississippi, just 45 minutes from New Orleans on a bayou connecting to the Pearl River and the Gulf of Mexico. They named it Tiki Farm.

Luckily, Foundas loves research.

“Trial and error are my middle name,” he laughed. To deal with Mississippi’s heavy clay soil, Foundas learned to create layered mounds mimicking the forest floor. Small, in-ground pool containers used as raised beds makes harvesting easy while nearby domes allow banana trees to grow to the 10-foot height required to produce edible fruit.

The farm’s tropical rainforest greenhouse fuels Foundas’ ingredient-driven creativity. Many rare and unusual plants like tamarind, water chestnuts, pandan, star fruit, dragon fruit, and jack fruit flourish alongside Brazillian and Ecuadorian chili peppers and a Southeast Asian strawberry tree. The rarified bounty of the farm fuels Suis Generis’ unusual menus.

Twenty feet up with an expansive view of the farm and the water, the Food Lab is where Foundas’ and Bell’s explorations into the “science of flavor” goes into overdrive. Lining the lab’s counter are one-of-a-kind experiments, from ancient Japanese koji-fermented miso to garum popular in ancient Rome.

Recently, the pair have begun hosting regular food experiences at their learning center. Farm tours lead to the lab, where a wrap around kitchen counter comfortably seats students for diverse classes varying from miso making to winemaking. A giant garage door rolls open to bar seating with a water view for the multicourse dinner that follow.

Overnight accommodations are available aboard a boat moored below or in an oil-and-gas industry recovery pod resembling a flying saucer, which comfortably sleeps two. As the name promises, the Suis Generis Tiki Farm and Food Lab are truly, one of a kind.
To learn more, check out the Why Didn’t I Think of That? feature in the March 2024 issue.

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.

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