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Ask the Chefs: Brennan's Team on New Orleans Cuisine

Hilary Deutsch

September 08, 2015

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Ten years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, we are honored to celebrate the city’s resilience with the fabled Brennan family at an exclusive dinner later this month at the Beard House. With a menu devoted to the renowned seafood of the South, host Ralph Brennan and his team of world-class chefs will bring their crave-worthy combination of historic opulence and modern techniques up North to the Big Apple. As our excitement builds for their Creole cooking, we spoke to the chefs about their inspiration behind this dinner, their guilty-pleasure foods (think sweets), and their top places to chow down in the Crescent City. 

Slade Rushing, Brennan's 
Austin Kirzner, Red Fish Grill
Steven Marsella, Ralph Brennan Catering & Events and Heritage Grill
Michael Uddo, café b, Metairie, LA
Brett Gauthier, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group

Who’s been your biggest inspiration? 

SM: Paul Inveen and Maureen Pothier, chef-owners of the Blue Point Oyster Bar in Providence, Rhode Island. I have always admired their process in composing dishes and how they’re not afraid to push the envelope and introduce new and interesting items to the menu. Paul won consecutive Wine Spectator Grand Awards so they also introduced me to the wonderful world of wine.

MU: Peter Uddo, the successful restaurateur and chef who also happens to be my brother.

BG: Rommel Pacheco, an Olympic diver from Mexico.

What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event? 

SR: Chef Cyril Renaud.

AK: Besides my grandmothers who both knew their way around a kitchen, Danny Trace. He gave me my real first shot and I’m very thankful for that. He also taught me how to have a presence in the kitchen and to cook from the heart.

MU: Great Louisiana cuisine.

BG: New Orleans urban farms post-Hurricane Katrina.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why?

AK: The inspiration for my dish is Louisiana blue crab. It's some of the best crab on the planet and it's great in any form.

SM: Frog's leg croquette. It's a fun hors d'oeuvre with a crispy texture and is so easy to eat without thinking, "I'm eating frog's legs!"

MU: The Chardonnay-poached Louisiana oyster with tarragon aïoli, caviar, and grilled romaine.

BG: New Orleans fig jam tart with pecan shortbread crust and peach leaf ice cream.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?

SR: Anything with toffee.

AK: Doughnuts of any kind, but specifically beignets.

MU: A great hot dog.

BG: I have a love-hate relationship with sour gummy candies.

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

SR: The Catbird Seat in Nashville in 2013. The food there has such a natural simplicity to it but is incredibly flavorful.

AK: The last great meal I had was at Le Bernardin. The flavors and freshness were amazing.

SM: My family was visiting from Providence recently and my mother made all of my favorites: baked eggplant, stuffed artichokes, chicken "candy" wings, pasta...

MU: I recently had a great porterhouse steak from Charlie's Steak House in New Orleans.

BG: The last great meal I had was a crawfish boil on Memorial Day at my parent’s house with all their children and grandchildren.

If you could cook one meal for any person (historical, famous, living, or dead), who would it be and what would you serve them?

SR: My mother—I would serve her Oysters Rockefeller "deconstructed," because she loved the original so much. I would like her to try my version of it.

AK: I would love to cook a meal for my grandmothers. I would serve them one of the dishes we would cook together when I was young.

SM: My deceased grandparents. I would love to cook for them the way they cooked for me. They’ve really implanted great food memories in me and I’ve realized how influential they were. It’s one of the reasons I decided to become a chef. I would serve New England seafood (like fish, clams, and mussels), squid with pasta, garden vegetable dishes with fresh herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and greens. Crunchy Italian bread with olive oil to accompany some dry-cured meats and cheeses. It would be a feast with the family. It would be nice to have an opportunity to return the favor.

MU: FDR and I’d let him choose the menu.

BG: I would like to cook for my wife. Although I can do that most days of the week, I’m limited in time and money. No expense would be spared and only my skill and creativity would limit me. I would also need an assistant.

What are the best places to eat in your city these days? 

SR: There’s a new place called kin that’s doing great things. I also like to share a cocktail on date night at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29.

AK: New Orleans has become such a great food town and there are some really great places. An under-the-radar restaurant is Cody and Samantha Carroll’s Sac-A-Lait (peep their upcoming Beard House dinner menu here). For a quick bite, I like Parkway Bakery for a po’ boy. Also Brennan's on Royal Street is the best place for brunch.

SM: Burgers, fish, and pizza at Mondo. Gumbo at Liuzza's by the Track. Pasta at Domenica. A good nosh at Shaya. Fried oysters with brie at Clancy's. Anything at Brigtsen's. Braised lamb neck at Toups’ Meatery. Pizza at Pizza Delicious. Tapas at Bacchanal Wine. Raw oysters at Pascal’s Manale. Lilette, oh Lilette. Paneed pork chop and white beans at Joey K's. Hot roast beef po’ boy at R & O's. Did I mention Brigtsen's?!

MU: Mother's for the debris and grits.

BG: Bellegarde Bakery is making amazing artisanal breads.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 

SR: Chef Scott Newman once told me, “You can't always tell cooks what they’re doing wrong. You have to tell them what they’re doing right as well.”

AK: My parents always told me to believe in myself.

SM: My dad always said, "If you work hard, good things will come."

MU: Slow down.

BG: The words I live by are, "stay positive."

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View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.