Marqued

Feature

How this New Orleans chef found his dream Porsche 993 C4S on Marqued

Written and photographed by Aaron McKenzie

Dec 2, 2022

Joel Dondis understands the value of mentors and the importance of leaning on the accumulated wisdom of those around him to shine a light on his own path. A celebrated chef and entrepreneur in his native Louisiana, Dondis learned at an early age that humility – the capacity to admit when he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know – is perhaps the defining mark of wisdom. This insight has carried him far, both in life and in cars. 

Joel DondisJoel Dondis

Dondis grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, out along Contraband Bayou where, legend has it, the 19th century pirate Jean Lafitte hid his stolen treasures and where Dean Moriarty’s car broke down on his cannonball drive from Mexico City to New York in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”  Even in his youth, Dondis had a passion for food and for cooking, and for the nods of approval from his Depression-era dad when the young Dondis cooked a meal. By the time he was 12, he was washing dishes in a local restaurant owned by Fernando Oca, the Basque chef whose Le Champignon and Chez Oca eateries were Lake Charles institutions, and whose stint at Brennan’s in New Orleans’ French Quarter was immortalized in the February 1971 issue of National Geographic. It was from Oca that Dondis learned that there is no fast road to success, and that excellence requires an intuitive understanding of one’s craft.  Mixing cream by hand one day in the kitchen, the young Dondis asked Oca why they didn’t use the electric mixer that was sitting neglected on the counter across the kitchen. 

View the original auction listing for Joel's 993 C4S

Joel Dondis

“Because if you used the mixer,”  replied Oca, “you wouldn’t know what the cream is experiencing.” 

Alongside his youthful passion for food came Dondis’ burgeoning love of cars. One day when he was in high school, a friend came by to pick Dondis up. This friend was driving an early 1970s, silver-on-black Porsche 911 and he was ready not just to transport Dondis but to give him a ride

“It scared me,” Dondis admits, “but I thought, ‘one day, I’m going to have a car like this.’” 

Joel DondisJoel Dondis

The life of an aspiring chef, however, is hardly the easy route to fast cars, much less to the pocketbook necessary to afford them. Before he could dream of owning a Porsche, Dondis would have to pay his dues. As he moved through adolescence and through high school, Dondis rose through the ranks of Oca’s kitchen, eventually earning the right to prep and plate food before departing for New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Following his education at CIA, Dondis departed for Germany in 1986, where worked at the Michelin-rated Schlosshotel Kronberg (originally built for Empress Victoria, widow of Emperor Frederick III) and at Gargantua in Bockenheim, another Michelin-starred restaurant, where Dondis served under the watchful eye of 1960s-radical-turned-lawyer-turned-actor-turned-restraunteur Klaus Trebes. Yet, even as he earned his stripes in the culinary arts by toiling in these kitchens, the poverty of a young chef – even at Michelin-starred eateries – meant that the closest Dondis came to European car culture was admiring the vehicles in the parking lot as he walked into the kitchen each day. 

Joel Dondis

When his father’s illness brought Dondis back to Louisiana in 1989, Dondis found his way into Emeril Lagasse’s original restaurant on Tchoupitoulas Street as a sauté cook and quickly rose through the ranks to become sous chef.  Over the coming years, Dondis would turn his entrepreneurial energies to building a thriving catering business, a boutique pastry shop, and restaurants such as La Petite Grocery and Grand Isle, which won him “Restaurateur of the Year” honors from New Orleans magazine in 2008. 

Along the way, Dondis never lost his love of cars, and especially Porsches.  When resources finally permitted, he began to buy the cars he’d always wanted, assembling them as one might assemble seasonings on a spice rack: a 1971 911 Targa, a 1987 911 Targa, and a 2018 911 Targa. The 1990s Porsches, however, had always occupied a special place in Dondis’s imagination. As the last air-cooled incarnation of the 911 platform, the 993 (produced for the US market between 1995-1998) offered significant improvements over its 964 predecessor (reportedly only 20% of the 993s parts carried over from that prior generation) and yet it retains the analog driving characteristics that were lost as electronic nannies crept into later cars.  These 993s, in other words, still allow the driver to mix the cream by hand, as it were, rather than turning everything over to a machine. 

Joel DondisJoel Dondis
Joel Dondis

And so when a 1998 993 C4S came available via auction on Marqued in the autumn of 2022, Dondis immediately went to his friend and automotive consultant Chris Carbine for an assessment of the car and, ultimately, Carbine’s help in acquiring it. After years of following 993 prices on various market websites, Dondis knew that this particular 993 – a lightly-modified, Glacier-White-on-Midnight-Blue, 18,000-mile car – would fetch a premium, but he knew himself well enough to know that he risked getting carried away if he entered the bidding fray alone.

“I had Chris look the car over and do the bidding for me,” says Dondis. “My proxy to him was basically ’Don't let me do anything stupid.’ He needed to push me to make a purchase of this scale, but he also helped keep my ego in check so that I didn’t do something I’d regret.” 

Joel DondisJoel Dondis

One needs only a single ride with Dondis – say, out to Dong Phuong on the edge of Bayou Sauvage for a bowl of bún bò huế, or for a morning constitutional in the French Quarter – to see that regret has not, as the saying goes, entered the chat. If anything, Dondis might have opened a new can of worms: "Now I can see myself getting a 993 turbo. These are just such beautiful driving machines, and there is something totally different between the analog machine and the later water-cooled cars with all of their technology, just entirely different.” 

Like any good chef, Dondis knows when he’s hit on the right ingredients – and he has a long line of mentors to thank for teaching him how to get the mix just right.

More about Joel Dondis

Joel Dondis is an award-winning chef, restauranteur, entrepreneur, and Porsche enthusiast based in New Orleans. You can keep up with his adventures by following him on Instagram (@joeldondis).

Meet our contributors

Aaron McKenzie is a Los Angeles based writer, photographer, and producer with an eye for all things automotive. You can see more of his work by checking out his Instagram (@aaronwmckenzie).


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