Mason Hereford might just be the coolest guy in New Orleans, and he’s quickly becoming one of the city’s most successful restaurateurs. The 33-year-old’s sandwich shop, Turkey and the Wolf, claimed the top spot on Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants list in 2017, and he’s since opened Molly’s Rise and Shine, a kitschy breakfast joint that pays homage to his sister. Hereford also has a profound love for mayonnaise, Duke’s to be specific. Here, his love letter to the condiment.
I’ve not told many people this, but I wasn’t always a Duke’s dude. It wasn’t until I became a cook that I learned the nuanced differences in mayonnaise. It really comes down to the acid, which is so important when you cook, and some products have a better balance.
I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, and always remember being interested in food. Dining was important, and I was always hungry. I ate at a lot of country stores and gas stations that dot the rural byways of Charlottesville — a piece of fried chicken here, a barbecue sandwich there.
I kept hearing chefs reference Duke’s mayonnaise, and once I tried it, I was like, Oh, this is so different. It was at that moment that I realized not all mayo is created equal. I dip fries in mayo. I dip potato chips in it. I dip pretty much everything in it. I even smear it on hard-boiled eggs. Having a superior condiment really goes a long way.
At Turkey and the Wolf, seven of our 10 menu items feature some form of Duke’s, one of which was derived from the Jefferson, a sandwich at my favorite yuppie gas station in Charlottesville called the Bellair Market. Their version is turkey with Cheddar, cranberry relish, lettuce and herb mayo on a French roll. I wasn’t exactly sure why I loved that sandwich so much, but turns out it was the mayo.
When I set out to open my own place, I called them up to find out what they put in their herb mayonnaise; it was dill, thyme and celery seed. We use ham in our sandwich at Turkey and the Wolf, and ours has fresh herbs, Creole and Duke’s. It’s a direct copy from a place that I love, but they didn’t mind. Bellair now has their own sandwich named for me: Touch of Mason, made with fried bologna, American cheese, crumbled Martin’s BBQ chips, yellow mustard and mayo (naturally) on sourdough. It is derived from the Turkey and the Wolf fried bologna sandwich and was a total surprise. It’s like they’ve given me their blessing to serve my own version of the Jefferson.
Mayonnaise is such a good vehicle for food, which is why we use it so much on our menu. We do that herb mayo as well as a Russian dressing, a blue cheese dressing and a buttermilk sauce. And then there’s the straight-up mayo on our fried bologna sandwich. In a busy season, we go through 25 gallons of mayonnaise a week.
Duke’s doesn’t pay me to say this, but they should. It’s real-life love, so much so that I have it tattooed on my body. We had just been named the No. 1 restaurant in America by Bon Appétit and were invited out to Portland, Oregon, to cook dinner with a bunch of amazing chefs. We were so out of our league. And we partied so hard and didn’t die, so I had to commemorate the occasion. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I thought, I’m going to get a tattoo so I can always remember this. The tattoo artist had a half hour before he had to pick up his kid, so I had to choose a small one from the flash sheet: Winnie the Pooh with his head in a jar of honey. At the last minute, I asked him to swap the honey for a jar of Duke’s.