New Orleans is synonymous with its Creole cuisine, but come to this city for its food and you’re bound to have your tastebuds touched by Ralph Brennan too.
The current head of the Brennan portfolio joined in the early ‘80s as one of eight third-generation cousins active in the industry at the time. He’s since become known as a tireless spokesman for the city and indeed the restaurant industry. His acclaim has been recognised with an appointment to the U.S. Travel Association Board of Directors. And his voice is heard among many a Louisiana business association.
The family restaurant group spans cafes and restaurants throughout the area, offering all the local delicacies. From gumbo to praline, jazz and Disney – it’s all on offer in his outlets.
How long have you been a resident of New Orleans and what makes it such a special city
I was born and raised in this great city of New Orleans and could not be more proud. New Orleans is special because it is full of flavour – in food as well as people. There is such a richness of diversity that influences our music, traditions, cuisine, language, and every aspect of the city.
For those of us wanting to get off the tourist trail, what are the hidden gems that only a long-time resident would know about?
My favourite places are the Hermann-Grima and Gallier Historic Houses in the French Quarter, the New Orleans Museum of Art and City Park in Mid-City, a street car ride along St. Charles Avenue and a visit to nearby Magazine Street, which is many blocks of eclectic shopping and dining.
Is the city beginning to return to normal post-Katrina, are tourists returning and what do you make of the recovery sitting alongside the economic conditions of the last three years?
Yes, many parts of the city including the iconic tourist areas like the French Quarter have been back for some time. However, with the compounded effect of the economy, the number of visitors remains 20% below pre-Katrina levels. New Orleans has been very fortunate to garner a lot of free publicity from the success of the New Orleans Saints football team and the hosting of major sporting events like the BCS NCAA Championship Game, The Sugar Bowl, and the 2013 Super Bowl. These events tell the World that New Orleans is open for business.
You have several restaurants in New Orleans, ranging from cafés to haute cuisine – but what’s your signature style?
The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group includes seven restaurants and a new catering service. Red Fish Grill in the New Orleans French Quarter, Ralph’s on the Park in Mid-City New Orleans, café NOMA within the New Orleans Museum of Art, Heritage Grill in Metairie, café b in Metairie, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen® located in the Downtown Disney® District at the DISNEYLAND® Resort, and Ralph Brennan Catering & Events.
Our signature style will always remain based around the bounty of the gulf, as that is the source of our community and something I am very passionate about. With today’s economy, I have recently moved to a more casual side of dining with the opening of café NOMA and café b, offering elevated cuisine with a more neighbourhood feel.
What drew you to the restaurant world and what do you find exciting about the local cuisine?
I was drawn to the restaurant world at a young age as my family has been involved in the culinary community for three generations. But my passion for restaurants and hospitality was ignited as a teenager in the 1960’s with a summer job as a prep cook at the original Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street in the New Orleans French Quarter.
The local cuisine continues to surprise me with the way chef’s have learned to incorporate traditional New Orleans techniques and ingredients while presenting each dish with contemporary flair.
Gumbo is a personal favourite of ours, can you give us the perfect recipe for creating the quintessential New Orleans gumbo?
The chances of two Louisiana cooks coming up with gumbos that are exactly alike are about the same as the New Orleans Saints football team winning two Super Bowls in succession. Gumbo, which can be light as broth or thick as stew, is the quintessential dish of both Crèole and Cajun cooking.
Outside of your restaurant group, where do you tend to eat and drink? Where do you think is really special or wish you’d thought of?
I feed my addiction to chocolate milkshakes at Creole Creamery uptown on Prytania Street. I make it a point to eat out often in new restaurants around town. Usually in smaller boutique restaurants like Gautreau’s or at a restaurant like Baru for small plates, tapas and outdoor seating.