By Marshall Wright
Tucked in the heart of the New Orleans Garden District, Commander’s Palace has inspired diners for over a century with innovative riffs on Creole and Cajun dishes that star the abundant local produce, meats and seafood from the surrounding Louisiana Gulf area.
In the kitchen, Executive Chef Tory McPhail discusses a few trailblazers in the Commander’s past and what he thinks his role is in helping to shape the future.
“Paul [Prudhomme] was first to merge Cajun [and] Creole; Emeril [Lagasse] started cooking to order. Jamie [Shannon] wanted every plate to be its own thing—not just protein, starch, veg. Our thing is to have fun—bring a modern spin to it.”
McPhail points to the huge whiteboard that hangs above one of the many prep areas in the kitchen and explains the written list entitled “Some of Our Local Products.” Three columns are filled with native fruits and vegetables like Creole pumpkins, satsumas, crowder peas and kumquats and Louisiana seafood like sheepshead, speckled trout, wahoo, alligator and the alligator snapping turtles used to make their famous turtle soup. “We change the menu twice a day, every day,” he says.
“I’d much rather have eight cooks doing everything to order than pull stuff from a steam table,” McPhail says against the background blur of activity. Cooks and sous-chefs buzz around the kitchen—moving to and from the dedicated butcher shop, walk-ins, prep stations and hot line, while chefs in the pastry kitchen sculpt desserts under a sign that reads “Our Job: Making Dining Memories.”
At Commander’s Palace, that’s a job well done.