By Debra Liu
Mardi Gras has arrived! What better way to bring the flavor of NoLa into your home than by cooking up traditional New Orleans foods with the help of the Palace Café cookbook. Leslie Brennan, a co-author of the cookbook told me recently, “New Orleans is more than just Bourbon Street.” This is so incredibly true. On a recent visit to NoLa, I fell in love with the energy of the city, and even more so with the food.
Palace Café is a classic New Orleans restaurant located in the French Quarter, owned and operated by Dickie Brennan and his sister, Lauren Brennan Brower, of the Brennan restaurant family known for Commander’s Palace (opened in 1880). The Palace Café cookbook was published around the 10th year anniversary of the restaurant, which opened its doors in 1991. At that time, “cookbooks were becoming a great vehicle to connect to patrons,” says Leslie. And according to Leslie, the Brennan family is always “delighted to share their recipes with people” so creating the cookbook was a natural next step for the restaurant.
The cookbook is wonderful because it’s truly made for everyone and anyone to use, even those who are not aspiring chefs. And that’s exactly what Leslie aimed to do from the start: “when we did the book, one of the things that I really wanted was it to be a book that I could use…that anyone could use.”
“I also wanted [the book] to start through the backdoor of the restaurant which is where everything begins; where the chefs meet and set the menu for the day, where what is fresh for the day shows up at the door and is what you’re going to have sitting down at the restaurant. My hope was that there would be this very familial element about this whole experience to cooking,” says Leslie.
If you flip through the cookbook, that warm, familial element is evident in every chapter. “There’s a picture in the cookbook of a family meal, that’s what they call it, it’s actually an employee meal but they call it family meal…everybody sits around and eats and I think that the concept of ‘the more, the merrier’ is a huge part of the culture here,” Leslie tells me. The book also portrays the major moments throughout the restaurant’s history; one chapter has a menu for when Bill Clinton dined there.
Leslie’s favorite recipe in the cookbook is the Carrot Cake. “It is probably the finest carrot cake you’ll eat in your life. It’s just a simple cake, very moist. It has finely ground pecans and carrots in it with cream cheese frosting and is just magnificent,” she says.
The Crabmeat Cheesecake and the White Chocolate Bread Pudding recipes in the cookbook are two of the many recipes that were on the Palace Café menu when it first opened its doors, and are still on the menu today. And little known fact, the restaurant went through 34 tons of white chocolate during the first 10 years of operation, an amount so large that the man who owned the Switzerland-based white chocolate company they sourced from, personally flew to New Orleans to see what was going on.
According to Leslie, “what to me makes New Orleans cuisine so incredibly different is the phenomenal blend of flavors that come from different cultures. New Orleans is a different place, different from the rest of the South. New Orleans is this little oasis. The food is universally good here. It’s hard to have a bad meal anywhere in this city.”
If you don’t have the chance to go to the little oasis that is New Orleans for Fat Tuesday, simply pick a recipe, any delicious recipe, from the Palace Café Cookbook and you’ll be sure to bring the familial warmth and flavor of New Orleans into your home for Mardi Gras.
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