Every day, Chef Angel Lombrage goes to work thinking about how he can make VooDoo BBQ & Grill’s unique and flavorful barbecue dishes even better.
“I try to improve and make our food better day by day,” says Lombrage, known universally as “Chef Angel,” a 41-year-old native of Haiti who has spent the last several years as VooDoo BBQ’s head corporate chef. “As I started working on it, I tried to improve it, and people love it. Maybe one day it will become the nation’s best BBQ. That’s my goal.”
It’s important to Chef Angel, though, that the food be not only excellent but unique — and that’s why Chef Angel really is VooDoo’s secret ingredient. Like its home city of New Orleans, VooDoo BBQ’s food blends influences and flavors from all over — Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the American South — into something that can’t be replicated at a barbecue shack.
You don’t find Caribbean Jerk Chicken on the menu at most barbecue restaurants, but you will at VooDoo. You won’t taste the distinctive blend of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and other spices Chef Angel uses to season VooDoo’s pulled pork and St. Louis-style ribs just anywhere, but you will at VooDoo. You probably won’t find mustard greens seasoned like VooDoo’s Gris Gris Greens at a southern meat-and-three, but you will at VooDoo. Thank Chef Angel.
And Chef Angel adds to the mix his own easygoing personality, which fits perfectly with VooDoo’s fun, colorful atmosphere. “He’s always in a good mood, always lifts the spirits of the people around him,” says Dino Arvanetes, VooDoo BBQ’s chief operating officer. “That fits in well with the New Orleans concept, how they call New Orleans ‘The Big Easy’ … People always get excited when Angel is coming to their store.”
Arvanetes and Chef Angel have known each other for more than a decade, having met while working for a Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Orlando; Angel had risen from pantry worker to chef, and Arvanetes was tending bar. When Arvanetes paired with Tony Avila, his old friend from Louisiana State University, to launch VooDoo BBQ in 2002, he reached out to Chef Angel to join the staff as a corporate chef.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to take barbecue to another level,’” he says in his lilting accent. “(Arvanetes) told me I would have the opportunity to create my own dishes, and at Ruth’s Chris you don’t get a chance to do that. I thought I would love to create something with my own signature on it.”
Lombrage had traveled a long way — literally and figuratively — from Gonave Island, just off the coast of his native Haiti. He grew up on a farm, with corn and bean crops and livestock, and he’d learned to cook by watching his mother prepare richly spiced French-Caribbean meals in their kitchen. He immigrated to the United States at 15 to join his father in Miami and considered running a plant nursery for a living before he decided to attend culinary school.
In Haiti, people commonly cook meat in pots rather than over open flame. But as with good barbecue, slow-cooking and proper spicing are the keys.
“When I do barbecue, the pork has to have a nice balance of sugar and other spices to give it that Caribbean flavor — ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, some other stuff,” he says. “We are very particular about the kind of meat we’re using. It has to have the right balance of spice. Also, it’s barbecue, so you have to do it slowly.”
For now, Chef Angel works most of the time in VooDoo’s St. Rose location, helping train VooDoo franchisees and preparing for the chain’s impending expansions into the Carolinas, Texas and Florida. He’ll help ensure VooDoo’s food stays consistent throughout its growing system as it expands.
VooDoo BBQ & Grill is a chain of barbecue restaurants based in south Louisiana that opened its first location in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day 2002. VooDoo serves competition-style barbecue beef, pork and chicken with unique side dishes, plus salads and sandwiches, in a clean, colorful fast casual environment. For more information, visit voodoobbq.com or voodoobbqfranchise.com, or contact: