Longtime Commander’s Palace chef departs, and for first time a woman leads the kitchen | Where NOLA Eats

For the first time in almost two decades, Commander’s Palace has a new chef. For the first time in the famous restaurant’s long history that chef is a woman.

Tory McPhail, executive chef since 2002, has resigned and is moving to Montana, where he will work with a local restaurant group in the mountain town of Bozeman.


Chef Meg Bickford of Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans, Oct. 2020.

His successor at Commander’s Palace is Meg Bickford, who was previously executive sous chef.

Bickford, 34, has risen through the ranks at Commander’s Palace and is now the first woman to lead the landmark restaurant’s kitchen.

To Bickford, that speaks to a culture of mentoring at Commander’s Palace and to its family leadership. The restaurant is run today by Ti Martin and Lally Brennan, cousins who grew up in the restaurant.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to grow here, and a lot of people who invested the time and effort and who believed in me,” Bickford said. “That’s what we do here, and that’s why I’m in this position today.”

Passing the torch

Bickford’s new position is among the most prominent in the New Orleans culinary world, with a role that goes beyond directing its sprawling kitchen.

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Commander’s Palace was voted tops in four categories, including Best new Orleans Restaurant.

Commander’s Palace is a byword for New Orleans fine dining and among the best-known restaurants in the region. Though its history goes back to 1893, it became an emblem of modern New Orleans cuisine in the 1970s after the Brennan family acquired the vintage restaurant. It pioneered haute Creole cuisine, which reshaped the national reputation of New Orleans food from a bulwark of tradition to a hotbed of innovation.

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Commander’s Palace chef Paul Prudhomme instructs apprentices in the restaurant’s kitchen. Prudhomme, then-executive chef at Commander’s Palace Restaurant, had eight apprentices working under him.

Commander’s Palace has produced some of the world’s most famous chefs, namely Paul Prudhomme and his immediate successor, Emeril Lagasse. At the same time, the restaurant has held a reputation as the “finishing school” for New Orleans culinary talent, for the generations of hospitality pros who have come through its doors.

Matriarch and mentor: How Ella Brennan’s belief in mentoring profoundly impacted culinary life of New Orleans

Ella Brennan has an expression she uses to describe her favorite chefs, especially those she worked with closely at Commander’s Palace.

That role is foremost in Bickford’s mind as she steps into the kitchen’s highest position. She acknowledges the issues of equality and inclusion now running through American discourse, and she’s driven by the potential she sees to do more.

“We need to recognize our responsibilities to our people, in our community and in our workplace,” Bickford said.

“I love that our leaders have stepped up. Our business has to reflect our community. Diversity is incredibly important to me and to this business. I also think we need to do a better job than what we’re doing, and

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Carolyn Hax: If you can’t stand the eats, get in the kitchen

This weekend, he criticized my cooking to other people, then he complained his dinner wasn’t ready and stormed out to a drive-through. I was literally pulling a meal out of the oven for him, not me, when he left.

I think it’s time for me to stop cooking for him. Do I just stop? After 25 years? This is not the only lopsided deal I signed up for.

Anonymous: Which 50s are you in?

Yes, you stop. And, yes, Triscuits, cheese and wine are dinner.

If by “just” stop you mean quit without comment, then I’d advise against that; your husband’s recent foray into public shaming and tantrums notwithstanding, you two are in a marriage and owe each other mature status reports and chances to respond. If the point is to be punitive then you have bigger problems than dinner.

Don’t speak up to ask or justify, but only to say what you’re planning and why, so he knows how you feel and what to expect.

If this triggers more outburst cheeseburgers, then replay his stance for him calmly when he’s back: “You seem to want me to keep making a dinner I don’t want to cook or eat anymore. Yes, no? Please explain.”

Everyone’s entitled to ask for unreasonable things (it’s just asking, after all), but we don’t have to let anyone get away with using implication or coded language or euphemism or emotional outbursts to spin them. We’re entitled to have things spelled out for us before we respond to them. So hold out for his true reasoning.

And while we’re here: He is also entitled to make his case that your “deal” isn’t lopsided, if that’s what he believes, and that dinner isn’t just about food.

To be clear, this is all just about the communication part; as for the chore itself, you quit or keep doing it as you see fit. But either of those choices will sit better with both of you if you invest in the hard work of mutual understanding.

Please apply this same process to all lopsided “deals” that need right-siding, and soon. If he’s cooperative, then a one-time empty-nester overhaul can hold you another 25 years. If not, then dinner might be the first of many course corrections.

Hi, Carolyn: I’m going weekly to my longtime therapist and not feeling like I’m getting anything from the sessions anymore. How do I bring this up and “break up,” or take a break from my therapist?

Breaking Up: You say thank you! For the long time you did get something from your sessions. Then say you feel ready to stop.

If you don’t want to take the scaffolding of your appointments away all at once, then you can also cut back to every other week or once a month, then reassess.

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Local Eats: Nipote’s Italian Kitchen offers 24 Italian wines to pair with classic food

MUSKEGON, MI – Jeff Church says that visitors to his restaurant often tell him that it’s a ‘hidden gem.’

“But we’re a bright yellow building in a shipping container, so I don’t know,” the owner and chef at Nipote’s Italian Kitchen told MLive in a recent interview.

The unique downtown structure opened to the public in July, 2019, offering a range of Italian favorites, from appetizers like bruchetta, caprese salads and garlic shrimp, to salads, soups, paninis, chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmesan, and, of course, pastas.

There is also a full bar, including a rotating list of 24 Italian wines.

It has been a year full of “ups and downs” for the business, located at 98 W. Clay Ave., Church said, as they went from bright and busy beginnings to shutting down for three months during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

RELATED: Shipping container restaurant ‘swamped’ during 1st week in downtown Muskegon

Business is picking back up, Church said, and while it’s “not back to where we should be,” he is optimistic after a beautiful summer that saw many customers out on the patio, even after plans to hold an anniversary celebration in July were dashed.

“Social distancing isn’t ideal for a social establishment, but there’s nothing we can do about it, so we’re rolling with the punches,” he said.

Church, a Reeths-Puffer grad and Muskegon native, said he’d opened the business – his first brick-and-mortar – inspired by family trips to Italy. He wants prospective customers to know that they are welcome regardless of whether they’ve had Italian food before, or whether cacciatore trips easily off their tongue.

“I get fresh food in every day, keep everything fresh, fun and approachable,” he said. “(I want customers) to not be intimidated by any Italian words that they might not be able to pronounce…we’re very casual.”

The restaurant can be reached at (231) 725-5100. It is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Check out the menu here.

Visit the website for wine and dine events and other information.

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Mona Shores enjoys ‘absolutely amazing’ new soccer complex, even in defeat

Jill Biden focuses on veterans issues, food insecurity in West Michigan campaign swing

Loans available to small Muskegon-area businesses affected by coronavirus

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