Cultural Stories

Black Chefs in America:
Eric McCree

By Kerry Hoffman
Eric McCree - Chef, Filé Gumbo Bar
Before Chef Eric McCree harmonized Cajun and Creole food at his New York City restaurant Filé Gumbo Bar, he was an audio engineer, mixing sounds and styles to ensure the most enjoyable listening and viewing environments at theaters across the world. Now, he brings his experience integrating various mediums from the entertainment industry into the culinary industry, unifying Cajun and Creole cuisine into one harmonized dining experience in Tribeca.

Chef McCree's love of food was passed down from his grandfather, Tiny Gaines, who surrounded Eric with Southern food even though he was living in Boise, Idaho. When Eric started his career as an audio engineer, his work took him around the world, affording him the opportunity to continue deepening his relationship with food. It was in Lafayette, Louisiana that Chef McCree fell in love with Louisiana cooking, the cooking that reminded him of his grandfather and his childhood. Little did he know then that the far-off dream of opening a restaurant after retirement would become a reality sooner than expected.
When the pandemic put an indefinite hold on Eric's work in the entertainment industry, he had time to turn his love of food into a career. He started catering dinners in upstate New York, which quickly increased in magnitude. He studied Cajun and Creole cuisine so that he could ultimately bring these amazing flavors to NYC.
The level of detail and precision that Eric brought to his audio career carried over to his conceptualization of his first restaurant, Filé Gumbo Bar. First, selecting Tribeca was a thoughtful choice, a neighborhood where Creole and Cajun cuisine is certainly not found on every corner. Second, Cajun and Creole cuisine may have Southern roots but are still two unique cuisines, with their own cultural significance. Melding these two cuisines together in New York City brings a sophisticated intersectionality that the 21st century restaurant landscape continues to crave. And third, Chef Eric McCree created a beautiful viewing environment at Filé, allowing guests to surround the open kitchen to watch cooks combine the flavors of many cultures into a delicious menu.

His signature dish is Tiny's Gumbo, a recipe that requires patience while the flavors develop. Filé is ground sassafras leaves first used by Choctaw Indians. When the Cajuns first arrived in Louisiana, they used file as a thickener in gumbo. The menu also speaks to Creole influences, like the Spicy Shrimp Creole, which incorporates tomatoes, a staple of Creole stew not found in Cajun stew. Even though these dishes may incorporate different ingredients and techniques, what they share is their authenticity to their culture. Chef Eric shows the power of taking a dish and making it your own, based on your background, your influences, and even your own taste buds.
New York City provides space for Chefs to tell their own stories and add to the growing list of cuisines found in this country, with chefs like Eric leading the way. Remember that the food you eat has a story. And hopefully when you dine out, you will share your story too.
Celebrating Black History
All Year Long
We're bringing to life the stories of great Black chefs this month and throughout the year because the culinary impact Black chefs have isn't reserved for February. Join us year-round as we celebrate chefs like Gregory Gourdet (Kann), Eric Mckree (Filé Gumbo Bar), Keem Hughely (Bronze), Matt Horn (Horn Barbecue), and Jahmond Quander (1799 Prime Steak and Seafood) for their innovation, cultural impact, and incredible talent.