Cookbook Review: Commander's Kitchen by Ti Martin and Jamie Shannon

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Review
 
Commander's Kitchen by Ti Martin and Jamie Shannon
Cookbook

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Our many trips to New Orleans have been rewarding in that we have reached a deeper understanding of the Creole and Cajun food cultures and we have been able to determine which restaurants cater mainly for tourists and which ones are trying hard to maintain exacting standards and to showcase the best of the local recipes.
Let's be brutally honest - there is a lot of bad food in this southern city especially in restaurants in the tourist areas such as the French Quarter. However there are also a number of fine restaurants serving authentic local cuisine.
Such a place is Commander's Palace. This is a restaurant run by a branch of the ubiquitous Brennan family that dominates the New Orleans dining scene. We expected it to be good but nothing exciting. What we experienced was precisely the opposite.
There is a real energy in this gargantuan establishment. There needs to be if they are going to turn out such high quality food for the number of people they serve day in and day out.
And it isn't just a rehash of the standard Creole fare. This is thoughtful food with deep roots in Creole cooking mythology, yet modernised and refined for modern tastes.
So, on one of our trips to this southern city we bought the cookbook. We didn't buy it to go home and try the recipes. Rather, we wanted to understand why this restaurant is just so much better than all the other Creole restaurants in New Orleans. We also wanted to know how they had managed to modernise without destroying the links to the past.
This is a book that should be read by all restaurateurs to find out why they get it right here most of the time. Statements in the book such as 'strive for the absence of negatives' and 'doing the boring bits right every day' show that they know that running a first class restaurant is as much about perspiration as inspiration.
Also the any little things that they do add up to an experience where mistakes are less likely to happen. Next time you go here watch as they take your first drinks order. The waitperson will deftly rearrange the salt and pepper containers - thus giving a signal to other waiting staff that the orders have been taken.
A quote from Dick Brennan also rings true when he describes running a restaurant as being partly a fanatical commitment to the consistent execution of the fundamentals. By this he means dicing the vegetables, preparing the stocks from scratch, making sure that the frying oil is clean and all the other myriad things that help get things right.
So the book has it all. From the early days when gentlemen took 'ladies' to the restaurant through a side door and ate in curtained booths to the time when the family decided to paint the building a bright aqua despite the wisdom to the contrary to the recent past when former chef Jamie Shannon provided inspiration in the kitchen, the full story is told.
[Note: Jamie Shannon sadly died not long after this book was published.]
Supporting the story are the recipes which probably don't translate too well outside Louisiana, but may provide some inspiration for adaptations. We tried the turtle soup at the restaurant and loved it. We think that the recipe would be adaptable to beef or veal or even game such as pheasant. Don't be put off by the old-fashioned use of a roux as a base. Everyone uses a roux in New Orleans. Provided it is cooked through and provided there is plenty of flavour in the ingredients it isn't necessarily a problem.
Another recipe that can easily be adapted is the lovely crab and corn Johnny Cakes with caviar. These are delightful small morsels along the lines of smoked salmon and blinis with caviar.
Two other parts to the structure of the book add interest. Every few pages there is a page entitled Lagniappe. This is one of those delightful local terms meaning something like 'a little extra'. Restaurants do it by sending out little extras during the meal. The local newspaper has a column with that title. The Lagniappes in this book give some deeper background or some humorous asides that add human interest to the book.
The other very useful addition is the Chef Jamie's Tips. Here, Jamie Shannon gives very practical and very detailed hints for cooking.
Overall we found this to be a beautifully produced book with something of interest on every page.
 
     
   
     


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