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Ella Brennan | Louisiana Legends

Jun 08, 2021
Louisiana Legends is made possible by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. This important series of programs allows us to discover, through the achievements of our fellow Louisianans, the unique character of a state so proudly served by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana for 60 years. I'm on the patio of perhaps the most famous restaurant in the world, Commander's Palace, and I'm with Ella Brennan, of the famous Brennan family, and Ella, this is a wonderful restaurant with food as good as Gus's, although it's always eaten Well, that's a great compliment and thank you very much for that.
ella brennan louisiana legends
I like that turtle suit, although that's something Dad doesn't touch. I want to ask you how Brennan's, a name synonymous with the restaurant business, came to be. How did you guys get into the restaurant business? The truth of the matter is very accidental. My brother kept saying that my older brother Owen, who is now dead, has been dead since 1955, that he went to find a business where the family could work together. My father and Todd had been working in the shipyards across the river. Those years and it was time for him to retire and for us to take care of him, so Owen owned the absent house on Bourbon Street for a short time, he had bought it and the restaurant across the street was intriguing, so one morning when I was going to work.
ella brennan louisiana legends

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He picked up the owner of the restaurant across the street from the bus stop and asked him. He said: I understand that dad wants to sell the restaurant. He said: How do you know? He didn't tell us last night. That's how we get the rest. Wow, very accidental and the family just fell in love with that business. Yeah, it really wasn't me. First of all, my mother was a wonderful cook. Now we all say that, but I tell the truth. Naturally, he was a great cook, so we had great food at home and we started working on this restaurant and we weren't satisfied with what we were getting out of the kitchen, so we all had to get really involved and try to find a way. to be at least as good as my mother was doing and then we moved on and finally learned that I fell in love with the business.
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It's a big business, if you make it your lifestyle, you can't fight it, it's not a job, no matter how full-time it is. You know well, until very recently I worked at least six days a week and I was here most of the time, I mean, when I wanted to, then I would take a break and, you know, I would take three or four days and go somewhere place to do something but when we were here we work now what kind of staff do you need to run this restaurant? Serve two meals a day, yes, seven days, seven days a week, less than 200, less than 200 factions, we keep in me less than 200, why, well, because there are too many people to manage and build a team and we've worked on these many wonderful systems and we feel like that's the right number to work with now, it's a family member that's always here, oh yeah, but we all have multiple jobs to do, which we do. and at the restaurant and then on the night we're scheduled there's one of us here every night if you can't come that night buddy call us - wobb because it's for your brother to come over and say look I can't come tonight, right? you can go? - I'll take next Tuesday for you or something like that now the Brennans are all over the police now in the restaurants aren't you in New Orleans?
ella brennan louisiana legends
I know this where the palace is. I used to direct that Dickie Brennan is there now directing that and we have let's see mr. B's and there's Paco and there's Redfish Grill and I don't think I'm leaving anything out uh and my son runs a used restaurant in Texas called Brennan's really how can you get a world class chef because when a person eats at Commander's he expects world class food world, we're not looking for burgers here, although you can probably make them fabulous, very good, yes, we have something called Stanley burgers which I think is one of the best dishes in the world.
We really make a great well-seasoned burger, lots of seasoning, onion, garlic, all that stuff and you put it on top of a creamy horseradish sauce and then the burger goes on top and then you put a little bit of our shoe on top. Wow, what do I want to ask you? Well, there's no real routine and that's been my department. I've been doing that, my brother and I, Oh, since the beginning and it's always accidental how you come across this, it's like most good things in life you come across them and it's very difficult to plan, although that's what what we do now, we are planning now, but what we do when you find the right person has the personality of the person, it has to be someone who is willing to put in the effort. the strong passion that is needed if they don't have a passion for cooking doesn't work and then you have to have someone who really wants to teach and who enjoys bringing other people into the kitchen and teaching and developing these people not just how to cook. talents but their personalities to fit into a team and you have to work with a lot of people to form a team and that's the way we do it, do you bring the chefs who are starting out here?
Jamie Shannon is our chef, now he told me that last time. The night was 13 years old, he had been, he came here since we graduated from the Culinary Institute in New Hyde Park and he came here because he wanted to learn, he was going to tour the United States and learn how to cook. He came here, they called us and gave us. He is a very loving recommendation. He now he is on his board of directors. I mean, he's an extraordinary guy and he came here when he was a kid when I first saw him. He must be six, three or four years old.
A very tall man and he looked at me. I looked at his shoes now with his pants. I looked when I said Jamie, what are we going to do with you? And he was from that generation. He has become one of the most extraordinary chefs we have ever had. able to get someone better than last time, I mean better, but contribute more. We have a lot to offer us that we didn't know before and Jamie runs a kitchen. He now he is an extraordinary young man. I have to tell you like someone. who loves my Liana and would love to go out with me and sometimes I can sadly say when he changes a chef.
I've never heard that word passion before, but I can certainly believe that I can instantly tell when the passion is gone. what's put in front of me, you put it in your mouth, you even say it, I mean, it's not hard to say and I think the secret is that he doesn't have the great passion but to be able to reach the people he's with. working because he can't do it all and build this team of people who feel the same how many people work in the kitchen we are over 30 34 maybe something like that and we are very lucky today it is a different world than it used to be for most of us those people come from culinary schools, the one in New York in Hyde Park, the one in Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island, now there's one in, I think it's Charleston, South Carolina, they call it Johnson & Wales, that's where Emeril came from. and Wales and they come out of that, the problem is that they are changing it now those schools will now be four-year schools, universities, colleges in the sense that they offered many courses related to cooking, but now they are expanding to four years and they are schools wonderful, if you are ever in the neighborhood check them out, they are extraordinary, I don't know why we don't have one here, I think we do, yes, the ankles for your development began.
They often think of a kitchen, what they do is start a culinary department, yes, ma'am, and that is part of the great school that these schools exclusively are, yes, for example, the one in Hyde Park took over a Jesuit seminary where people went to study to be Jesuits. priests is an absolutely beautiful place the buildings are magnificent the privacy grounds and the man who runs it is his and he is supported that is a secret he is very well supported financially She we are in the patio room how many tables here twenty four is good 24 tables how many people There will be waiters in these 24 days but we have teams of people and you like if you have four tables four teams in this room six tables each and a team would be made up of the captain who is the most experienced person the main waiter who helps the captain in the dining room and the back waiter who does all the things, like maybe keeping up with them, helping them in any way he can, so we literally run six tables with three people, what kind of person does a good job? maitre d, how difficult it is to fly to someone who can greet you and make you feel if there are thousands of people, I love them, it makes you feel special, quite strong, ah oh yes, because you see, now we are just becoming a profession, for That's what I am.
I am very excited about cooking schools, we are just becoming a profession, now we say it is the year of my son the chef instead of my son the doctor, yes it is happening and the front of the house is just starting to arrive there, that's why We were very excited five years ago when the James Beard Awards gave us the best service award and we came home and said well, if we're the best, it helps others, so we knew we had a lot of work to do. do and We never really stop working and it comes from the people who work here, they contribute what they think will make it better and if you get that team going and get people to use their brain instead of having a job and if they start, you start. to develop with them, I think one of the best things you can do when they first come to work is sit down and look them in the eye and say: I know you're not going to do what we need you to do until you let us, we earn your trust and respect and then vice versa and when we have your trust and respect we can figure it out, so we know we have a lot of work to do until we get it.
Wow, I'm not sure. I wouldn't quit that day uh She to be named let's face it Louisiana has the best cuisine in the world we really are we are the best I mean, it's amazing to keep saying it's extraordinarily good, but wow, I'm learning the East. I mean the whole Middle East, where am I trying to talk about Thailand, parts of Hong Kong and all those areas around you? They know how to cook, but you know it's interesting that they come here and bring American cooks from Louisiana of all kinds. Jamie actually went for the Hong Kong turnover, yeah, he spent three weeks there this year and came back, learned a lot.
Well, we decided to come from Baton Rouge to eat at Commander's Leanne and I go for what Ella Brennan considers the food, what would you start with? Can you do it right? Let me tell you what you do. You see? I can't do that because I don't know what's on the menu tonight. I see we have standards. Of course, we have the best veal chop in the world, lamb chops, rack of lamb and we have great fish on the side, but where I go is to see what Jaime has tonight and that's the best he can eat, yeah , today and so that's where I ate it and it's whatever's in it, if it's fish, it's fish, they make a great game.
I love a game, they make a lot, they make a lot of game sausages and grilling, the mixed grill, that is. all game animals are something divine to eat. I mean, I'm not talking about that phenomenal turtle, right, okay, it's amazing. People are just crazy about that surface. How long have they all used? That break when we bought this restaurant, it was here. It was mm- hmm and we went on like that, we had eaten it at Brennan's - yeah, and it's just one thing that there's no audience, people in the turtle soup and it's divine that a lot of New Orleanians come here oh yeah, they do it because that it would be the biggest compliment you can, it would be more than anything else, it's a job to see that the majority of New Orleanians come here and we actually have a color coding system in our reservation system.
I can walk up to the leaf any day and know who's local, phones find that out. when people call if they are from Des Moines and they highlight it in yellow and you can go see the Chi, they made you want how many yellow highlights are there, that's how many local people are here now to be named the best, that's ridiculous . It's something, but I want to ask you this once a restaurant is named the best as you have been according to practically all the indexes that do that type of thing, the responsibility must be fierce to maintain that quality, as I see it, is what you get.
Get up every day and go to work like everyone else on your team does, and if you know it, you know what you're doing, you experience what you're doing, you just keep trying to do better and you're not going to win every meal. something happens there gremlins in the world and they come from space and we, but basically we, if you enjoy what you're doing, I'm looking at this young cameraman here and I think if you enjoy what you're doing that's the secret is when you develop the passion for it and when you get your day you do it, for example, when you walk among the commanders, which is right through the glass, yeah, Jaime, what kind of things is Ella Brennan looking for that we would look for?
Don't be aware that you are always looking, you are always looking for cleaning, he is always looking that they know Kona is dirty, does the carpet need cleaning? It's just that Tracy, they have been waiting too long for you to be seen, justyou keep looking, I mean, we always. You say you have to learn to see that many people didn't go to a place and don't see you try the food. I try food frequently. You do it when I'm here every day, but the food test, my brother. Dick always did that and he's not with us, he's retired and spends some time downtown with his son in the palace cafe, but basically who does it is Jamie Shannon and his sous chefs.
If you go to the kitchen right now you see that there is a grate. with spoons and your job is to arrive in the morning and yet, a handful of spoons and follow the line and anything that is already prepared, basic sauces and things, try it and all you have to do is put the spoon in this and you pick it up and you can taste, you don't have to eat a large amount. tablespoon and you get to know like you know you're going to go and say gumbo needs the seasoning needs the night you know it's too hot it's too much this is also something that you look at to see that the heat is appropriate for the dishes and it's supposed to and you know, I mean it's like running a house when I never stop when I retire, is there any chance I can become an official taster here?
You sure make a promise here before we need it. You know, look what happened to me, I got it. Some of the famous people that you all have served, we are very, very fortunate because we have the opportunity to most of the things that people who come to the city think about when they come here and a lot of them do and I think It's a funny story. Not more than a couple of years ago, Mick Jagger was here one night, they called him very late and they arrived, in fact, this group was in this room and I went home and told him that Mike Jagger was in the restaurant, well, there I'm.
I've been ridiculed by the family why of course I know who Mick Jagger was but no but you really know you're very lucky we've had a lot of them they behave and they weren't very nice it couldn't be a business , Let's say. You've got all the movie stars, how's loyalty? We've had Princess Margaret here, as far as I know, and we once had the Queen of Holland, uh, Howard's husband, the prince, someone or another Bernard, yes, Bernard, yes, Bernard and I remember it because it's a cajun named Bernard, yeah, I don't know any other royalty I can think of, the princess died, now we had the Agha Khan once, oh yeah, with Rita Hayworth reloading, but that's royalty, I don't know, that's money, yeah , She. what is it, oh, music, it just plays and I love it, I can see it, it has the TV people upset, but it comes, it gives us a charm, uh, let's say you know, walking into an empty room, was that you?
They are the most demanding people, unfairly demanding. I said food critics aren't really food critics, they just accept you for what you can do. We've been very fortunate in New Orleans to have some. I mean, people knew what they were talking about. I mean, they know how to cook. and I had studied a lot about it. Jeanne Borg was excellent and the young man said that he now really understands cooking and seems to be excellent. No, you live in a beautiful house right next to the restaurant. Yes, I lived four blocks away. and it was too far away.
I must ask you what the kitchen facilities are in that beautiful sacred place. I want to know when we moved there, but now I understand that twelve years ago we moved four blocks away and my sister and I lived together. and she was putting the house had been enough announcer of the apartment she was putting it back into a single house and the architect said yes, well, I know you're going to want a magnificent kitchen, let's talk about it, she's old, no, no No, paint it white and lock it. the door is so big for the no, it's just that when you work in a restaurant and you get to our age, I mean, you're not ready to go home and cook after a day in the restaurant business, do you ever Over the years have you had to go to the kitchen? in Camaros and cook I'm sure that no good help help you're sure someone someone didn't show up just give my hand when they need it and when they know yes yes but we don't need that anymore that doesn't happen anymore you see everyone has become the world of cooking has become professional and he has become a professional and Jamie runs this kitchen, he has five sous chefs and each one has a section of the kitchen to manage and they are accountable to their people and what they do and come and Make me some fabrics and They are ready and then they leave.
Do you have some high-level employees here, what did people do to you? You're talking about the maitre d' with George Rico. We found it here when we got here. He came here. in '74 and he had been here a long time before, he came here when he was young as a busboy and before that he was the paperboy in the neighborhood, so George has been here on i-35 maybe a few odd years and I I call him the only one. he is from Honduras and I call them the only han Deranian and I know that is wrong they just hide the radian who speaks English with a Japanese accent but George really speaks too fast so it is a problem for people to understand him but he has a such wonderful body language.
People love it, right? You wouldn't dream of not having George at the helm. Oh, I must ask you. Do you really like going to other restaurants? We go out a lot. Do you really do it all the time? Oh, you're a harsh critic. I don't think so, no, I have it, I enjoy it, I'm going to enjoy it, it's not good, it's not good, I'm not going to go back. Do people get nervous when they see you sitting there? Don't know. I think most people in New York. Orleans in the Russian business over a period of time become friends very quickly, we send business to each other, we share employees, we keep them growing by going from restaurant to restaurant.
I think most people and this is one of the only cities I know in the country if I don't think the Russian people are as competitive how do you like the food in France like in Paris? I love it, but it's very different, very different, but I love it, but it's very, very different, and yes it's the most important thing. is the condiment that they make very subtle subtle see and good condiment but very subtle and they are changing and that is changing all over the world now and that is why these condiments that you see sold everywhere now Tabasco came out first and now we have all the other condiments and better say that my nephew-in-law Owens bombs foods that are crystal clear hot sauce and they have a series and we do some tastings for him from time to time and we really enjoy it, he makes different types and it's wonderful, do you like it?
Chinese ethnic food using you I like Mexican I have learned a lot of Japanese, very Japanese, I could eat Japanese food first, really. I'm kissing my head. I wasn't going to get into this marinated fish thing fairly, but I really wasn't. I'm going to like Japanese food. I saw him and went to Nobu, you know, and he blew me away. Now I have cravings and I go up here on the main street. There's a little Russian called Kyoto, oh, and we love doing that. yeah, well, what are you doing in your free time? that there is not much read read read read read what do you like to read that they love to read I have two piles of pleasure and fun and something that I am going to learn something from yes I like to read and learn about different I love business, strange, Hey, here are books of pleasure, then I have food and wine.
I love wine. I'm reading all about the other world, yes, but I mean, once you get into it, you realize it's not that complicated and it's fun, so it's not just about reading about what people do. there, because they are doing very interesting things and that is the next big thing in the restaurant business, is really changing our wine list to be much more customer friendly, when you come to a restaurant. Instead of listing wines by district or in France or California, something to list the type of group they taste like and what they pair well with and mix them all together, what about the cigars that have become all the rage I think?
I started with that door, well they weren't sure it was in Europe and I did it, and I promise you, I thought it was surprising that the cigars were so strong for everyone who smokes, but they are a problem with customers, so we do a lot of us separate places to smoke cigars, really uh, I didn't know, yes, and if you want, we try to ask people not to smoke a cigar in the dining room, yes, ma'am, but we have cigar parties and we invite . The customers who come will do a cigar dinner and we'll have some great cigars here and some great wines and we'll do the dinners and then we ask people if they would go out on the patio just because other people object yes and I don't.
I don't think they really know what they're against. I think they'll learn it in time, but he says leftover cigarettes are people. You are a lovely lady and what you and your family members have created here is simply amazing in the most culinary place ever. I think in war being dominant is probably the biggest compliment one can receive all week since we are RFM and thank you Ella, thank you for the Irishman, thank you very much, yes ma'am, Louisiana Legends is made possible by Blue Cross. and Blue Shield of Louisiana, this important series of programs allows us to discover, through the achievements of our fellow Louisianans, the unique character of a state that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana have so proudly served for 60 years.
To obtain a copy of this program, call number one eight hundred. nine seven three seven two four six or send 1995 to Louisiana Legends by Louisiana Public Broadcasting seventy eight sixty and Selma Lane Baton Rouge Louisiana seven oh eight one oh please allow four to six weeks for delivery

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