Recipes and Food
Sweet Surrender in New Orleans
There’s a reason Commander’s Palace is consistently named among the top restaurants, not only in New Orleans, but in the entire country. Since 1893, this grand dame institution has been a landmark for culinary memories, graduating such lauded chefs as Emeril Lagasse (“Bam!”) and Paul Prudhomme (Magic Seasoning) into celebrities and creating legacies like the amazing Jamie Shannon. At the helm about a decade ago, and still to this day, was Tory McPhail: a James Beard Award winner, cookbook author, seafood and spice spokesperson, and most importantly, an executive chef extraordinaire.
My first meal by Chef Tory was for one of my very first spreads for Where Y’at Magazine, a popular local publication that continues to capture the laissez-faire spirit of New Orleans while also celebrating its higher-falutin’ aspects. It was 2008, and I had pitched a listicle to my editor, before a listicle was even a term. I was new to the position of Food Editor and I was eager and excited to make it work to my benefit. I wanted to write about dessert.
This grand tour took me to some of the most lauded and creative restaurants in the city for the first time, for the last, and some would say the best course of any meal. But the one sweet that stuck with me the most, even after all this time, was the dessert spread and presentation at Commander’s Palace.
For the assignment, I had dinner with someone on the Commander’s Palace team — a beautiful and vivacious blonde whose youth and enthusiasm made the time pass like a meal with a friend. I enjoyed every delectable bite, thinking it would be no problem to save room for what I came for. I was in my 20s — my voraciousness was an abyss.
Most restaurants feted me with a handful of their favorite house-special desserts, samplings of their highlight reel. But at Commander’s Palace, under Chef Tory? That’s a powerful combination of pulling out stops.
As I dabbed my napkin to the corner of my mouth, I sensed before I saw a mass moving at the corner of my eye. From the kitchen door, a dramatic formation of servers split in a clean line diagonally across the dining room, orderly and straight through the tables. Three to the left with both hands full, and three to the right; Chef Tory led the charge.
Coming together to my table in Vic formation, they flanked me, armed to the (sweet) teeth with 14 plates of exquisite pastries, confectionery, cakes, and more. A full plate — not ramekin — of creme brulee, dusted with a powdered sugar fleur de lis; a bread pudding souffle rising ethereally from its porcelain bowl; Creole cheesecake, a dream of cream; elevations of comfort classics like cobbler; inventions named over-simplistically like “Citrus” and “Chocolate” that had me questioning the definitions themselves.
It was a presentation and display as literally stunning as it was visually; I was locked in place, entranced by the sight. In hopeless abandon, I surrendered to it, falling guilty victim to gluttony. Needless to say, this course felled me; I couldn’t clean all 14 plates. But losing a battle never felt so good.