On behalf of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, we are deeply saddened by the passing of legendary restaurateur Ella Brennan. We had the joy of interviewing her in late 2016 for the LRA magazine about her life, passion and her then, new book with her daughter Ti Martin, Miss Ella of Commander's Palace.
She was inducted into the LRA Hall of Fame in 1987 and mentored countless culinarians throughout her long career. Daughter Ti Martin and cousin Lally Brennan helm the Commander's Family of Restaurants and were selected as the LRA's Restaurateurs of the Year in 2016.
Miss Ella of Commander's Palace
by Wendy Waren
“Who would want to hear about this?” said Ella Brennan, when asked why she waited so long to write her book. “I just didn’t think people would want to know about me and my work in the restaurants.”
Her memoir titled, Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace, written with her spitfire of a daughter Ti Martin, is one you will not be able to put down. Chalk full of food memories, stories of family connectedness, heartbreak and heartache, and overcoming adversity in the midst of turbulent times, this book has it all. There’s even threatening ruffians and a call in to a New Orleans mob boss.
“There’s a lot to be said about Ella,” said Chef Frank Brigtsen. “She has a sharp mind and sharp palette. She is a quick read. She can look at a dish, taste it and immediately tell if it’s a winner or not.”
When you read the book, it will seem like she’s sitting right next to you telling you these remarkable stories about her family’s history—her parents Nellie and John, her beloved older brother Owen and glamorous sister Adelaide, and siblings John, Dick and Dottie. If you’ve ever dined at one of the family restaurants, especially Commander’s Palace, you will really begin to understand the Brennan philosophy of hospitality.
“He (Owen) was always saying to us, ‘You’ve got to make these people feel that you’re happy to have them. You’ve got to make them feel, and you just don’t show, you feel.’ That was a big word-feel,” said Ella, take from the book.
Learning how to cook never happened for her and she was thrust into Owen’s first restaurant when she was barely 20 years old. To hear her tell it, the place was a pitiful excuse for a restaurant as the shrimp was teeny and the menu boring and she would tell Owen constantly, “Your restaurant stinks.” Finally, to shut her up, he challenged her to go fix it.
“She won’t tell me what’s wrong with the dish, she’ll just tell me something’s not right,” said Tory McPhail, Executive Chef at Commander’s Palace. “In the beginning, I’d ask her to tell me what’s wrong and she doesn’t know, and I’d have to go back through all the ingredients and reevaluate each component until I got it right.”
A breakfast of scrambled eggs and sautéed bananas like her mother made, is to this day one of her favorite things.
“Thankfully my sister Dottie has mastered making them just like my mother,” she said sharply. “I live right next door to the restaurant and when the chefs make it, I have to coach them on how to do it right.”
When asked what she enjoys to eat right now, today, she replied, “Whatever the chef says is fresh. I love a good soft shell crab and redfish or trout.” Ti quipped, “She loves fish.”
If you ever wondered how Paul Prudhomme came to be at Commander’s Palace alongside Ella Brennan, the book tells the story. Brigtsen testifies that “She and Dick took a dramatically bold step in hiring Paul, and together, they broke the mold of New Orleans cuisine of the time and evolved it with a freedom that revolutionized Louisiana and New Orleans food.”
“He’d put a sauce on part of the dish and another sauce somewhere else, and I would find myself saying, ‘Stop it, Paul. Calm down. Let’s do something simple,’ and he’d respond, ‘But did you taste it?’’’
Brigtsen added, “They were both self-confident enough to insert their opinions and compromise on dishes. For example, Ms. Ella thought his gumbo was too heavy to be a first course or appetizer, so she challenged him to lighten it up and he did—with a roux-less gumbo.”
Emeril was a baby of a chef when he began at Commander’s and she didn’t think much of him at first, but he came to be a good leader and mentor to others and she is proud of the mark he made on Commander’s and the culinary world at large.
“Emeril furthered the evolution of the Haute Creole cuisine and expanded on what Paul had been doing with Cajun, but he also brought his French-Canadian/Portuguese heritage and his own insatiable curiosity to bear on the menu, “ said Ella.
Tales of Emeril’s hand-selected predecessor Jamie Shannon and his cut to short life, and current chef McPhail, are educational outlooks on identifying and fostering talent within the four walls of the restaurant.
All of this behind the scenes work was done with the diner first and foremost. She is passionate about her patrons having an unforgettable experience complete with a feeling that they are family. As I’ve been lucky to experience on a number of occasions, course after course of conversation stopping, mouthwatering cuisine—my favorite meal at Commander’s goes like this: the Shrimp and Tasso Henican, followed by the boudin stuffed quail lacquered with bourbon or cherry brandy, and the bread pudding souffl é or Strawberry shortcake in season.
“Upon first meeting Ella, many people have reported how truly intimidated they were, especially chefs,” added Brigtsen. “While she is direct and to the point, she is never rude and would never use a mistake to tear you down, but rather use the experience to build you up and make you better.”
In the beginning of his career at Commander’s, Ella would meet with McPhail in the restaurant kitchen, and she taught him early on that every dish has to tell a story and that she wanted something on the menu from the grill.
“How do you make steak on a plate tell a story,” asked McPhail. “We are not a steak house, but if you want a steak, we know the Louisiana farmers of Black Angus beef and for the first time ever, we are aging our beef on the second floor of the restaurant. Pair that with fresh vegetables from Covey Rise Farm on the Northshore and you’ve got a great local story.”
Everyone who has had the opportunity to sit with her tells of her ability to get them thinking about things from a different perspective.
Her peers in the industry speak of her as someone who is always doing for others, giving to the community and does not want any fanfare. One of her most notable admirers is Leah Chase of Dooky Chase Restaurant who could not say enough nice things about Ella.
“Let me tell you how exceptional Ella is,” said Chase. “Our restaurant had gotten the worst review from a critic and I was ready to take it on the chin. But Ella wasn’t going to stand for it and she got everyone she knew in huff about it and ended up talking to the writer about it. She sent me the biggest bouquet of flowers. That’s the kind of woman she is and I’m proud she’s my friend.”
“She does this thing called trust and respect,” said Martin. “I come to work every day and I have to try to earn your trust and respect. As an employee, the cook, the dishwasher, General Manager, you don’t owe me any trust and respect, I have to earn that, and you got to earn mine. If we can work from that premise every day,
we can do some magical things.”
The recently released Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace is available in book stores nationwide now.
Working with the LRA Advocacy Team on multiple initiatives has given Jeff Gulotta a crash course in what it means to advocate for your business and the industry at large. We interviewed Gulotta for the Spring issue of A La Carte and ICYMI, we want to share his story with you here.
Jeff Gulotta and his younger brother, Michael, have an arrangement decades in the making and is playing out daily with Asian-inspired cuisine at MoPho in New Orleans’ Mid City neighborhood and internationally infl uenced dishes at Maypop in the South Market District.
Their paths converged professionally after Hurricane Katrina, when Jeff went to work in management at an emerging restaurant group where Michael was a chef. The company where Jeff had moved up from wine director, head of the beverage department and then assistant general manager wasn’t reopening in the city.
In this post Katrina era, Jeff continued his journey in restaurant management, while Michael was honing his culinary acumen. Each with complementary skills and a growing business knowledge, the two began to contemplate a restaurant of their own. They really loved Vietnamese Pho and Bahn Mi, but at the time, getting that type of cuisine outside of New Orleans East and the West Bank was unheard of. In 2014, the two opened MoPho where they now bring Vietnamese and Louisiana cuisine together in what was once Delgado Community College’s Chimes book store. Two years later, they doubled down and opened Maypop—a Southeast Asian-inspired eatery in an up-and-coming downtown district formerly made up of parking lots used for Saints tailgating.
Gulotta’s learned firsthand the challenges of restaurant ownership and the importance of advocating on behalf of the family business. “The LRA was an important resource for me when we started the business and certainly since then,” he said. “From helping connect us with the City’s Special Projects division regarding a massive construction project around MoPho to giving me the opportunity to meet with U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise to share my concerns about health care, immigration and tax reform, they’ve really shown me how to be an advocate for myself and our industry.”
May 25 is #NationalHeatAwarenessDay, and here in Louisiana, we know about heat all too well. It’s often said that Louisiana has two seasons- hot and hotter (with a cold weekend or two thrown in there). Summertime is definitely the “hotter” season and there are many instances where your employees may have to perform duties outside or in environments with no air conditioning. While those job functions may be necessary, so is safeguarding them against heat related injury.
Exposure to heat can cause illness and death. The most serious heat illness is heat stroke. Other heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash, should also be avoided.
There are precautions that should be take any time temperatures are high and the job involves physical work.
Risk Factors for Heat Illness
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
To Prevent Heat Illness, You Should
How You Can Protect Yourself and Others
What to Do When a Worker is Ill from the Heat
IF THE WORKER IS NOT ALERT or seems confused, this may be a heat stroke. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY and apply ice as soon as possible.
As the Louisiana Legislature begins its Second Special Session of 2018, we'd like to provide a recap of the Regular Session. You can keep up with the legislative session through the weekly LRA e-newsletter,The SnapShot (sent on Mondays), and through the new Capitol Connections video series with your Lead Advocate, LRA President and CEO Stan Harris. If you have questions or would like to update your contact information or add one of your team members to the LRA's email list, please contact the LRA Communications Department at (504) 454-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your engagement with the LRA and to those members who connect with the LRA Advocacy Team on our advocacy initiatives. The trust you place in us to represent your business before the legislature is something we never take lightly.
House Bill 126 by Rep. Jordan
Jordan's bill sought to eliminate the tip credit in Louisiana based on the flawed premise that tipping contributes to sexual harassment. It would have raised the minimum wage for tipped employees over 300 percent--from $2.13 to $7.25. The bill was voluntarily deferred by the author after noting industry opposition, killing it for the session.
House Concurrent Resolution (HRC) 68 by Rep. Jordan
This effort by Rep. Jordan sought to create a task force to study the issue of a minimum wage for certain tipped employees and whether an increase would reduce instances of sexual harassment. The LRA opposed this measure. It was returned to the calendar and died for the session.
SB 159 by Sen. Carter
This bill sought to repeal the restrictions which prohibit local government from enacting local labor ordinances to establish a minimum wage or what we call "preemption." The LRA was successful in passing a bill that gave authority solely to the Louisiana Legislature for setting wages and benefits several years ago. The LRA opposed this measure. It was returned to the Senate Labor calendar and died for the session.
SB 162 by Sen. Carter
This bill would have increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8 in 2019 and $8.50 in 2020. The LRA remained neutral on the bill. It was returned to the Senate calendar and died.
SB 252 by Sen. Carter
This bill was a constitutional amendment to establish a state minimum wage for every employer with 50 or more full-time employees who are 18 years or older. The state minimum wage beginning Aug. 1, 2019 would be $8 and and further increased Aug. 1, 2020 to $8.50. The LRA opposed this bill. It was returned to the Senate Finance calendar and died.
SB 516 by Sen. Price
This bill sought to eliminate the tip credit for casinos. The LRA opposed this bill. It was returned to the calendar and died.
HB 191 by Rep. S. Bishop
This bill sought to mandate that 5 percent of seating in restaurants contain armchairs. This bill was involuntarily deferred and died for the session.
HB 846 by Rep. Simon
This bill eliminates an onerous regulation on small operations (500 square feet) that could be a concession stand at a ball park that has seasonal operating hours. The LRA supported this bill and it passed.
SB 192 by W. Bishop
This bill sought to allow individuals or businesses to seek private action (lawsuit) to enforce zoning restrictions or regulations. This is the responsibility of the municipal or local government. The LRA opposed this measure. It was returned to the Senate Local and Municipal Affairs calendar and died.
SB 375 by Sen. Barrow
This bill as amended would have required restaurants to post a letter grade for its food safety inspection and use numerical scoring to calculate the letter grade. We amended this out of the bill, but because of challenges from the small retailers, it died on the Senate calendar.
SB 541 by Sen. Morrish
This bill sought to amend the regulations on the reporting of terminated employees. Unfortunately, what the bill envisioned violated federal law. The LRA was neutral on this bill and has met with the Workforce Commission as it beta tests its HiRE employer login for reporting on employee separations. The bill died in the Senate Labor committee.
SB 489 by Sen. Morrish
This bill proposed to allow beer and wine to be delivered with restaurant food. The LRA's position was that third party delivery providers would need to be licensed by the ATC, their employees would need to have responsible vendor server permits, the firm would need to maintain liquor liability insurance and be able to verify the age of the purchaser. Unfortunately, all of the required items did not make it into the final bill before the House Judiciary committee. The LRA did not oppose the bill as we had the assurance of the author it would be amended as requested. Unfortunately the House Judiciary committee did not vote to move the bill favorably and it died.
HB 235 by Rep. Stefanski
After SB 489 failed to pass, House Bill 285 was substituted. This was the original form of SB 489 that we opposed. The confusion as to its intent led to its defeat by a committee vote, thus it was involuntarily deferred and died.
HB 428 by Rep Coussan
This bill proposed to change the definition of "premises" as defined for the service of alcohol. The ATC and LRA opposed it because of its expansive nature. The ATC agreed to work with the craft brewers to provide additional special event days that motivated their interest in changing the premises definition.
HB 899 by Rep. Hilferty
As more awareness has been raised around sex trafficking and sexual harassment, this bill proposed adding awareness and educational requirements to the existing ATC Responsible Vendor Program for bartenders and servers. It was amended to allow the ATC to distribute an informational pamphlet with new license packets and renewals. The LRA supported this bill as it was amended and it passed.
SB 314 by Sen. Hewitt
This bill originated to provide exception for native wineries to sell native wine at wholesale for consumption on or off the licensed premises. It was expanded to change beer distribution laws in Louisiana. The LRA opposed this bill. It was voluntarily deferred in Senate Judiciary B and died.
SB 539 by Sen. Ward
This measure would have rolled back the provisions that currently allow LRA members with alcohol service to purchase competitive liquor liability insurance, instead replacing this with strict liability that existed in statute prior to 1989. The author worked with us to have a hearing in committee and reported favorably to address a constituent concern however he did not call it from the calendar for a vote. The bill died.
HB 790 by Rep. Connick
This bill sought to deem hearing loss as a compensable and classified as a permanent partial disability. The LRA opposed the bill as it relates to workers' compensation. We worked with Rep. Connick to amend it however we were unable to craft a workable amendment. He agreed to leave the bill on the calendar and it died.
SB 180 by Sen. Milkovich
This bill would have allowed for a tort option for workers' compensation insurers should medical treatment be denied. As the worker's comp system is the sole remedy for injured workers, this could have brought any workers' comp dispute to state district court seeking damages, in addition to statutorily provided benefits for medical expense and lost wages. The LRA opposed this bill. The Senate Labor committee voted not to favorably report this bill and it died.
SB 536 by Sen. Luneau
This bill would have given injured workers additional remedies outside of the current medical guidelines reforms instead re-instituting broad authority for the workers' comp administrative law judges to determine outcomes. The LRA opposed this bill. It was returned to the Senate calendar and failed in two floor votes.
HB 553 by Speaker Barras
This high profile bill was related to the $350 million Harrah's Casino hotel expansion in New Orleans and the 30 year extension of their contract. The bill died in conferencecommittee. The LRA executed a new memorandum of understanding with Harrah's this spring that defines the type, size and scope of restaurant operations in the existing or future casino operations.
SB 184 by Sen. Martiny
This bill modified some of the requirements for video poker truck stops as it relates to fuel sales and restaurant operations for those in business over 10 years. (Many of these operations are LRA members.) The LRA supported this measure and it passed.
SB 316 by Sen. Johns
This bill permits riverboat casinos to move its operations on land within a specific radius and cease requirements related to maritime operations. (Many of these operations are LRA members.) The LRA supported this bill and it passed.
HB 680 by Rep. Leger
This bill sought to clarify and amend a prior bill that was passed five years ago to help Louisiana's efforts to attract national and regional sporting events. The Major Events Incentive Fund will be used for qualified major events like the NFL's Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, NBA All-Star Games, etc. The Senate further amended this bill after a hearing to provide an appropriated revenue stream to meet the current obligations for events over the next four years. This amended bill will provide a great tool for attracting events and provide a less cumbersome approval process while retaining the oversight of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to approve any distribution of funds after an events proposed economic impact has been validated.
HB 749 by Speaker Barras
As mobile app and riding sharing platforms (Uber and Lyft, for example) have emerged in recent years, this bill sought to define and make consistent rules statewide regarding permitting, fare transparency, driver responsibilities and user safety. If an Uber or Lyft driver took you from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, this bill proposed allowing them to pick up a client in New Orleans for the return trip. The LRA supported this bill, however it died in the Senate Judiciary A committee.
HB 881 by Rep. Miller
This bill sought to further restrict indoor smoking in all public accommodations (bars, casinos, etc.) rather than continue to allow local ordinances to govern this. The LRA opposed the bill and the author sought to convert it to a study resolution.
SB 227 by Sen. Morrell
This bill defines the board membership and reporting structure of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. In essence, it returned the SWB board make-up to less control of the Mayor of New Orleans. The LRA supported this bill and it passed.
As senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s Research and Knowledge Group, Hudson Riehle directs consumer, economic, market, human resources, tourism and operations research. He also oversees the National Restaurant Association’s Knowledge Center, which provides information services to restaurant operators and researchers.
Frequently cited in major national and international newspapers, he has appeared on major national TV broadcasts and has authored a variety of articles. Riehle serves as an information source and spokesperson for the restaurant and hospitality industry.
What is the state of the restaurant industry today?
We expect sales this year will exceed $825 billion, despite some challenges. Among consumers, there is still pent-up demand for dining out. Our research indicates 90 percent of Americans enjoy eating out, but income issues restrict their ability to patronize restaurants as often as they’d like.
Who is dining out and where?
Income and employment are often related and, generally, the areas of the country posting the highest restaurant sales growth have the highest employment growth, income growth and population growth. Where are people dining? Tableservice restaurants last year posted sales of $263 billion, and quickservice, which includes fast-casual restaurants, posted sales of $234 billion. Consumers also are interested in restaurants specializing in the snack and nonalcoholic beverage category.
How important is takeout and delivery to the restaurant business?
The off-premises market – takeout, delivery, drive-thru, curbside and food trucks – has been an important driver of sales over the past decade and is only growing more important. The most rapidly developing component is delivery, especially in quickservice. From the consumer perspective, there’s nothing more convenient than having a restaurant come to them.
What are the biggest challenges to the industry today?
Labor costs and talent recruitment. After analyzing hourly eating-and-drinking-place wages over the past three years, we discovered that wage growth in our industry has become substantially higher than private-sector wages. New minimum wage mandates in multiple states and a shallow labor pool caused a dramatic increase in labor costs, making it much more difficult economically to operate a restaurant. If you ask restaurateurs, 50 percent will tell you that high labor costs threaten their long-term success.
What should we expect a year from now?
We’ll still be talking about labor, and there will be even greater focus on the off-premises market, especially delivery. That will include alcohol, not just food. We also expect there to be greater emphasis on sustainability, sourcing, technology, kids’ meals and global flavors.
The Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund (ASSF) provides one recipient with a fully paid culinary scholarship to the
International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City and a paid internship in New Orleans upon completion of the ICC program. Recipient must be an aspiring chef from the Latin community in the Greater New Orleans area and committed to bettering themselves and their community through food. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2018.
Yesterday was a day many of us in the industry have been waiting on for nearly 10 years. Effective May 7, 2018, the menu-labeling regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – eight years after Congress called for the provision as part of the Affordable Care Act – officially becomes the law of the land.
The menu-labeling requirement applies nationwide to chain restaurants and businesses that serve prepared food and have more than 20 locations. These establishments will now have to post calorie counts on foods they sell – although many in the industry already do.
This is a welcome development for both the restaurant industry and consumers, and we are pleased that our efforts to preserve the May 7th compliance date were successful. By setting a clear standard, this rule provides the necessary guidance and expectations for America’s restaurants to follow in order to continue delivering a high quality experience and customer service to everyone who walks through our doors, as well as the transparency our customers demand. We applaud Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the Trump Administration for working with the National Restaurant Association to push this policy across the finish line.
To read an op-ed by the National Restaurant Association’s Cicely Simpson, click here.
Going forward, the FDA intends to actively assist restaurants and foodservice establishments comply with the new requirements, and they will not issue penalties during the first year of implementation. To read the FDA’s guidance on this rule, click here.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to the National Restaurant Association with any questions we may assist with.
The Lt. Governor and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board are proud to announce the selection of 12 chefs from across the state to represent their areas in the 11th annual Louisiana Seafood Cook Off (LASCO).
The chefs include:
Paul Gibson Pont Breaux's Cajun Restaurant Breaux Bridge
Scott McCue Cypress Bayou Casino and Hotel Charenton
Joshua Hebert The Cabin Restaurant Gonzales
Kris Allen Pamplona Tapas Bar & Restaurant Lafayette
Ryan Trahan Blue Dog Café Lafayette
Justin East Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse at the Golden Nugget Lake Charles
Paige Lucas Pork Belly's Bar and Grill Marksville
Nick Simons Wine Country Bistro Shreveport
Anthony Felan Fat Calf Boucherie Shreveport
Justin Ferguson BRQ Restaurant Baton Rouge
Noah Lessard Ruffino's Baton Rouge
Richard Brennan III Bourbon House New Orleans
“Seafood is a part of our culture and has created a culinary identity for Louisiana unlike any other state,” Lt. Governor Nungesser said. “Oysters Rockefeller, shrimp poboys, crab boils and all the wonderful dishes these chefs create with our abundant seafood keep tourists coming back. This is a chance for us to celebrate the great contribution chefs and our hard working seafood industry make to the state.”
LASCO will be held in conjunction with the Taste of EatLafayette event which will be held at the Cajundome Convention Center on June 19. The evening will include the live cook off with chefs from all over the state participating in a competition with the winner to be announced that evening.
This event features the best of both worlds: a taste of EatLafayette restaurants and a world class cooking competition. This is the 14th year for EatLafayette and the 11th year for the state’s premier cooking competition, which is presented by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board in partnership with the Louisiana Restaurant Association.
“We are delighted that the Lt. Governor and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board are staging the Cook-off in Lafayette again this year,” said Ben Berthelot, President & CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. “Last year it helped take our popular Taste of EatLafayette Event to another level, while providing great exposure for our area, our chefs, restaurants, the Cook-off and EatLafayette. It is exciting to see this partnership and event continue this year.”
The Taste of EatLafayette showcases locally owned restaurants that participate in the annual EatLafayette™ campaign. The event has traditionally served as the kick off for the summer campaign that drives customers to local eateries and is a sell out every year.
The winner of LASCO will represent Louisiana at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off (GASCO) in New Orleans on Saturday, August 4 at the Morial Convention Center. GASCO is held in conjunction with the Louisiana Restaurant Association EXPO and will feature chefs from around the country competing for the title of King of Queen of American Seafood.
Follow @LaSeafoodBoard on Instagram and Twitter and keep up will all Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off (LASCO) events via the official hashtag, #LASCO18.