By Francine Cohen Except as noted, all photos courtesy of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group
With just a little over a week before most of the spirit industry descends upon New Orleans to attend the 10th annual Tales of the Cocktail we decided it was our duty to honor the “f” in our INSIDE F&B title and bring you a taste of NOLA’s restaurant culture.
Since we’re returning to town for a second installation of “Eat Here Now – NOLA” we’re taking a slightly different approach this time. This time around we’re going behind the scenes to see what makes these Crescent City chefs tick and learn what they’re doing to shape the future of dining in this very food-centric city where the locals have always fashioned an afternoon or evening out around their mealtimes.
New Orleans’ restaurants have, through thick and thin, been a community center and a neighborhood gathering place where you could count on all your favorite dishes filling the menu. These days, as new chefs move into town and up the line bringing new ideas about cuisine, you may be surprised at what you discover on your plate. While the classics are still cherished by locals and tourists alike, culinary change is afoot in this town that possibly sports more iconic dishes than any other in the nation.
From the land of beignets, turtle soup, po’ boys, muffulettas, grilled oysters, étouffée and Bananas Foster rises a new breed of chef. One capable of honoring the past while looking to the future.
First up, Haley Bittermann, Executive Chef, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (www.neworleans-food.com)
Mentioning the Brennan name in New Orleans is the foodie equivalent of referencing the Kennedy administration in DC- in an instant there’s recognition that you’re talking high profile people who have had an impact on their city, though here it’s all about dining, not politics (though certainly a lot of politicking takes place in restaurants). Fortunately for the Brennans their curse seems to be bearing the mantle of a great reputation for running exceedingly popular restaurants and landing in the role of benevolent elder statesmen who balance the past and the present by offering guests exactly what they crave on the plate and in the dining room. They’ve been awarded a James Beard Award for their contribution to the American culinary experience,
Though not a member of the award-winning Brennan clan by birth, Bittermann might as well be an adopted daughter or distant cousin; her contribution to the family’s success involves having spent her entire professional career in Brennan run kitchens.
Bittermann’s first taste of kitchen life took place during high school, in a much different venue…Dominos. The Cincinnati native confirms, “I started out as a pizza delivery girl at Dominos.” It was where she first got her taste of the food industry and then a stint during college spent working in a local family owned restaurant did the rest. She continues, “My family all did medical research. That’s what I was supposed to do, go into the medical field or research. But I started working in a restaurant in college and loved it. It was a small family owned restaurant close to campus and that taught me that the restaurant is a family. I loved the camaraderie. Finally, at one point I turned to my mom and said ‘I want to go to culinary school.’ And quite a look I got! Read the full article here »