The last week has been a notable one for chef Matt Louis. The owner of Moxy Restaurant in Portsmouth learned on Feb. 18 he was a James Beard Award semifinalist and, later that week, announced plans to open a new oyster bar in Portsmouth with restaurateur Jay McSharry.
In fact, Louis was meeting with McSharry to discuss plans for the new restaurant when he received a call from his friend, chef Evan Hennessy, telling him about the award nomination. The news caught him by surprise, he said.
“We both didn’t know what to do … so we shelved it and just went back to business. Over the next couple hours, the weight of it and the breadth and scope and meaning of it started to sink in,” Louis said.
Louis is one of the semifinalists in the “Best Chef: Northeast” category and is the only chef from New Hampshire to be nominated. The James Beard Awards are like the Oscars of the food world, and Louis said being nominated is “pretty incredible and a little overwhelming.”
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with James Beard award winners, and to think I’d ever end up on the list, it’s overwhelming when you see your name” alongside the other nominees, he said.
However, Louis said, the nomination is the result of a team effort by all of Moxy’s staff.
“I’m happy for the team at the restaurant to be part of something like this. It shows that hard work will pay off,” he said.
Meanwhile, Louis is continuing work on the new oyster bar with McSharry. Called the Franklin Oyster House, Louis said plans for the restaurant have been in the works for months.
The restaurant will be located on Fleet Street in the Franklin Building. According to Louis, there will be about 70 seats, and the room will be dominated by a “large, beautiful horseshoe-shaped bar in the front.” He expects the restaurant to open sometime this spring.
“The front curve is going to be the oyster bar display,” he said.
Oysters will be the main focus, and Louis said the rest of the menu will complement the shellfish offerings. The restaurant will also locally source as many ingredients as possible, including serving oysters from Great Bay.
“We are going to have as many local oysters and other products … as possible,” he said. “Great Bay is a phenomenal resource … but it also needs all of our help. We want to give back, to use the oysters and highlight the oysters. That’s going to be a huge piece of the puzzle.”