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Women Command the Kitchen at Commander’s Palace

Commander’s Palace has been a breeding ground for many leading New Orleans chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, Tory McPhail and the late Paul Prud’homme and Jamie Shannon. For the first time in the restaurant’s 128-year-old history, a woman is leading the kitchen.

Chef Megan “Meg” Bickford is no stranger to Commander’s Palace. She worked closely with former executive chef, Tory McPhail who decided last year to move to Montana. McPhail was born in Bozeman and accepted a position working with a restaurant group there. Many were surprised and saddened to see him depart. He had served as both a de facto culinary ambassador for New Orleans and had earned many awards during his long tenure at Commander’s Palace.

Chef Megan Bickford (Photo by Chris Granger)

Everyone was equally delighted to see Chef Meg assume her new role. The Louisiana native has family in Bayou Lafourche and attended the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. After graduation, she joined Commander’s Palace, advancing through the ranks over the years. For a time, she was executive chef at family’s restaurant, Café Adelaide until it closed in 2018.

Since taking over Commander’s kitchen, Chef Meg has upheld the restaurant’s award-winning haute Creole menu and “dirt- to- plate within 100 miles” philosophy, as in 90% of ingredients come from within 100 miles of the restaurant. And she’s added her personal flair.

Corn-Fried Louisiana Catfish with tomatillo, grilled corn and salsa over Bibb lettuce
Corn-Fried Louisiana Catfish with tomatillo, grilled corn and salsa over Bibb lettuce

Dishes we tried included Wild Louisiana White Shrimp Curry, ancho-citrus glazed Gulf shrimp with crispy artichokes, fire-roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes and spiced coconut curry broth; Corn-Fried Louisiana Catfish with tomatillo, grilled corn and salsa over Bibb lettuce and Griddle Seared Gulf Fishcakes, smoked redfish over Louisiana soybeans, local mushrooms, roasted squash and truffled cauliflower cream.

Griddle Seared Gulf Fishcakes, smoked redfish over Louisiana soybeans, local mushrooms, roasted squash and truffled cauliflower cream.
Griddle Seared Gulf Fishcakes, smoked redfish over Louisiana soybeans, local mushrooms, roasted squash and truffled cauliflower cream.
Pecan crusted Drum with Crabmeat, Kale and Corn
Pecan crusted Drum with Crabmeat, Kale and Corn

Hospitality is in Lally Brennan’s DNA. Both she and her cousin Tí Adelaide Martin grew up in the family restaurant business and now serve as co-proprietors of Commander’s Palace and Sobou, a stylish restaurant in at the W hotel in the French Quarter. They also co-authored In The Land of Cocktails from the Cocktail Chicks. After all, New Orleans is the origination of some classic cocktails, including the Sazerac, French 75 and Ramos Gin Fizz, among others.

Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin
Lally Brennan, Tí Adelaide Martin

Both Lally and Tí are longtime friends who make us feel like family every time we pay a visit to Commander’s Palace. But we’re really not alone. Everyone who dines at Commander’s Palace feels extra welcome. On any given day or night, one or both will be working the floor saying hello to every table of guests. And how lucky you are if you on hand for Sunday Jazz Brunch or twenty-five cent martinis at lunch. We’ve done both and celebrated a birthday and an anniversary.

In December 2016, we had the pleasure and honor of having both Tí and her legendary mother, Miss Ella Brennan, join us on The Connected Table Live! Ella was 91 and had co-authored a memoir with Ti entitled Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace: I Don’t Want a Restaurant Where a Jazz Band Can’t Come Marching Through. A film called “Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table” had been released. Both can be ordered at www.commanderspalace.com

In this edition of Link to podcast“>The Connected Table Live, we visit with Lally Brennan and Chef Megan Bickford.

Lally Brennan, Tí Adelaide Martin, Chef Megan Bickford outside Commander’s Palace (masked in 2020 due to COVID-19)