By Sophie Sklar
The year was 1983, and Ella Brennan had gathered famous faces from across the food industry to speak at the American Cuisine Symposium. It had been 14 years since the Brennan family had taken over Commander’s Palace, a renown New Orleans restaurant, and Ella was eager to bring people from different ends of the industry together to discuss the new era of American cuisine. Panels were planned, menus were set, and the community of restaurateurs, chefs, and writers traveled to New Orleans to participate in what was considered the “start of the food revolution.”
This September, now 35 years later, Commander’s Palace hosted the second official Food and Hospitality Symposium to honor Ella Brennan’s passing last May and Commander’s Palace’s 125th birthday. This symposium acted as a celebration of traditions, new and old, and brought together food connoisseurs and hospitality experts from across the country. Caitlin Strother, marketing specialist for Commander’s Palace, even shared that the event was the “largest gathering of cuisine and hospitality luminaries in New Orleans ever” with 30 different speakers from the industry present.
What’s most spectacular, though, about these panelists, is the small list of familiar faces that also spoke at the 1983 event. Jeremiah Tower, Jonathan Waxman, and Ruth Reichl all had the honor of making their second appearance to speak in front of the American cuisine community this past September.
The panels had a diverse array of topics, ranging from hospitality trends, to women’s roles in the food industry, to food critics on social media, to wine and cocktail pairings. In
celebration of New Orleans’ 300th birthday, there was also a panel of local chefs speaking about neighborhood cuisine traditions.
In true New Orleans fashion, the symposium started and ended a little bit differently than your typical conference. Stella Blue, a local burlesque dancer, kicked off the day with an interlude performance that led all of the guests and speakers into the first panel. Despite the initial shock from out-of-town attendees, Stella Blue gave everyone a proper and spirited New Orleans welcome.
To wrap up the symposium, a local band took the stage and invited guests to dance and enjoy the music alongside them. Regardless of anyone’s individual opinions on the panels or the speakers, no one could say honestly that they left the event without having a good time.
Much like the original symposium in 1983, one of the topics of discussion was the food revolution taking place in America. This opening panel picked up exactly where it left off in the 80s, with Ruth Reichl leading the way. Participants discussed the ever-changing world that is American cuisine and projected where it will be going in the future. To tie together the new theme of hospitality, restaurateurs reflected upon how powerful of a duo good food and good service can be.
The question many people are wondering while thinking about all of the changes taking place in the restaurant business, is how has Commander’s Palace survived the rapidly changing industry? And not just survive, but thrive? What makes this teal blue building at the corner of Washington Ave. and Coliseum St. so special?
It can be hard to quantify exactly what it is that puts Commander’s Palace so prominently on the map, but customers and critics alike can all agree on two distinctive qualities that the restaurant prides itself on: good food and good service.
There are traditional items on the Commander’s Palace menu that put diners in a time machine back to the days of Southern, Creole home-cooking and comfort-style dishes. Options such as turtle soup and gumbo remain as popular, New Orleans-style courses. But, to stay at
the forefront of the nationwide food revolution, the Commander’s Palace menu features the “Chef’s Playground” section that is constantly being updated and changed. As the website states, the current chef is “respectful by the past – but never reined in by it.” This juxtaposition of new and old holds onto all of the fan favorites, while still keeping up with the changing times.
What truly defines Commander’s Palace, though, is the excellent service and hospitality. It’s not just the food that makes up fine dining, but the overall experience. Diners experience genuine “service with a smile” that makes for an uplifting and comforting ambiance. There is no shortage of the timeless, Southern hospitality at Commander’s Palace that keeps customers coming back for more.
With an overwhelmingly positive reputation of good food, good service, and good times, who wouldn’t want to come down to New Orleans to celebrate the 125th birthday of Commander’s Palace?