Above: Chef Alfredo grills some one of his many infamous dishes. (Photo courtesy Bistro To-Go)
It was a Wednesday, but customers continually asked the clerk at Bistro Soul if Chef Alfredo’s $10 New Orleans Buffet was available.
Chef Alfredo Russell has been cooking at Bistro Soul and Bistro To-Go since 2007, but it was not until this past December owner Nikki Hechman decided to spotlight his cuisine with a buffet from 11 to 2 on Thursdays and Fridays.
“Where did Chef Alfredo go? That was good, tell him,” a man said at the counter as he and his dining partner exited the restaurant.
“We’ve been getting some good responses from [the buffet],” said Nate Wigfield, a coworker of Chef Alfredo’s, who promised several customers that he would tell Chef Alfredo they had stopped by. The buffet, which features Chef Alfredo’s special-blend cuisine of Caribbean, Cajun and Creole, has even been accompanied a few times by a jazz band performance, said Wigfield.
Bistro Soul is a restaurant where customers get a meal and meet the owner, the clerk and the chef. A conversation happens, usually about food and, so, Chef Alfredo’s name seems to come up a lot. He is always respectfully referred to as Chef Alfredo.
Originally from Andros, a small island in the Bahamas, Chef Alfredo came to America to cook at the New Orleans Houlihan’s Old Place on Bourbon Street. He came to Pittsburgh on an offer to cook at a restaurant that was never realized.
But over the years he has spent cooking in Pittsburgh, Chef Alfredo has turned his predicament into an opportunity. He says he has worked so much in Pittsburgh, he is “known all over the city,” and customers come to Bistro Soul for a buffet that features his special-blend style of Caribbean, Cajun and Creole cuisine.
After working at several restaurants in the area and operating his own catering service in Homewood, Chef Alfredo built a name for himself that has culminated into signature dishesand a following.
The buffet includes dishes like red beans, gumbo and Chef Alfredo’s famous Chicken Isabel and salmon with fried rice.
Chef Alfredo brought his unique cooking perspective to the Northside in 2007 when a friend introduced him to Hechmen, the Bistro’s owner. “She like me, I like her,” he said.
Other trials have challenged Chef Alfredo, including a car accident in 2009 that required 17 months of rehabilitation. “I had to learn to walk all over again, but here I am, cooking again.”
Chef Alfredo personally serves at the buffet, altering the spice of his cuisine according to the customer’s taste. “A lot of people say Cajun meaning hot,” but, “in the bayou,” the cuisine indicates a richness and variety that developed from an influx of immigrants in New Orleans in the 1700s. His own weightily named spice, “The Gold Dust,” helps him adjust the spice and flavor on the buffet line.
Now recovered and with the current spotlight on his cuisine at the New Orleans Buffet, the chef is focused on expansion. He has demonstrated two of his signature dishes at a Shop N’ Save, and hopes to put his products on the market soon, first locally and then nationally. With 54 years of cooking experience, Chef Alfredo is confident and ready for the next climb.
“People are looking for something different,” he said of his buffet’s cuisine. “I’m quite positive it’s going to be a hit.”