Creole Cuisine


Story and photography by Barbara Angelakis

James Beard New Orleans Lunch Seafood Tower

New Orleans Creole Cuisine

Laissez les bon temps rouler ⃰ an apt description for “The Evolution of Creole Cuisine” luncheon I recently attended at the historic James Beard House in New York City. Normally one has to travel to New Orleans for an authentic dining experience of fresh, just out-of-the-gulf seafood, and cuisine cooked with that distinctive Creole flair, but in this case The Big Easy came to the Big Apple.

Dickie Brennan, Chef and famed New Orleans Restaurateur, traveled with his culinary team and longtime partners, Lauren Brennan Brower and Steve Pettus, to bring a true taste of the crescent city to the renowned James Beard House on October 3. Five top toques from his New Orleans restaurants gave us just a anticipatory tease of what to expect when dining in their establishments. Chef Brandon Muetzel from Palace Café; Chef Darin Nesbit from Bourbon House; Chef Alfred Singleton from Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse; Chef Ben Thibodeaux from Tableau; Pastry Chef Stephanie Bernard also from Tableau; and mixologist Barry Himel, who thrust an official New Orleans cocktail of French 75 and Sazerac into my hand with a big welcoming smile as soon as I entered the renowned house.

James Beard New Orleans Lunch Gumbo

Of course I am familiar with the Brennan family from trips to New Orleans. Who could forget the memorable meals we enjoyed at their famous restaurant Commander’s Palace, that with Chef Paul Prudhomme at the helm, led the American Regional Cuisine movement of Cajun and Creole cooking. But that was many years ago and Creole cooking has undergone a transformation from regional home cooking to a sophisticated cuisine, still using local products and local traditions but in a new way; hence, The Evolution of Creole Cuisine lunch I so enjoyed.

The James Beard House is a typical narrow New York City brownstone on three floors, located on West 12th Street in Greenwich Village. The first floor opens into a small foyer and leads past the very active kitchen to an outdoor patio where that day, a table stocked with an abundance of glorious seafood was on display. To the side was a small grill where sugarcane marinated skewered “Chapeau” Steak was being cooked… rare of course. As good as the skewers were, the seafood was calling my name. Gulf oysters on the half-shell served with Cajun Caviar, red, black, or yellow; Bloody Mary cocktail sauce; a remoulade; and a mignonette; all tempting dressings, all delicious. I tried them all but was partial to the tangy cocktail sauce. There were succulent truffled crab fingers, jumbo lump crabmeat ravigote, and huge u-peel shrimp. A 2012 Mondavi Oberon Sauvignon Blanc, from Napa Valley accompanied the hors d’ oeuvres, adding a nice citric balance to the briny seafood. Sadly, I tore myself away from the bounty of the sea when we were invited inside for lunch.

James Beard New Orleans Lunch Oyster Shucking

The first course served was blue crab gumbo with popcorn rice, pared with a 2011 Mondavi Isabel Chardonnay, from Carneros. The gumbo was laced with large lumps of crabmeat in a not too spicy soup with a big dollop of the rice and a side of deviled crab chops, a charming and very tasty accompaniment. After the excesses on the patio of the hors d’ oeuvres, I was hoping for not too many side courses and was grateful that the main or second course was perfect in size and amazing in taste. A perfect BBQ lamb chop was paired with pepper-crusted Chappapeela Farms (a Brennan supplier) duck served with “fried oyster loaf” grit cake, St. Agur bleu cheese, brűléed lemon, and a New Orleans style BBQ dipping sauce. Not being from the south I do not usually appreciate grits, a southern staple, but the little round of cake topped first with the bleu cheese and then the fried oysters was a revelation. The 2010 Mondavi Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley was a perfect balance for the richness of the meat. Dessert was a pineapple rum cake with a lime-condensed milk “snowball” accompanied with a frozen bourbon milk punch… to end the meal, you got it, with a punch!

James Beard New Orleans Lunch D. Brennan Group

After such a tribute to the culinary excellence of the Brennan stable of talented chefs, Dickie called them all out to introduce them and to take their well deserved bows for pulling together a showcase of Creole Cuisine.

̽  let the good times roll




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