Behind the Scenes

Toast and Talk:
Ralph Brennan

Welcome to Toast and Talk! Each month, we’ll sit down for a conversation with chefs, restaurateurs, business owners, and fellow foodies who inspire us and love food just as much as we do.

In New Orleans, the name Brennan is synonymous with some of the city’s most notable restaurants and today, those restaurants are led by third-generation scion, Ralph Brennan. Brennan is President of the restaurant group that bears his name and includes Brennan’s, café NOMA, Napoleon House, Ralph’s on the Park, and Red Fish Grill. As a child, the iconic French Quarter establishment, Brennan’s, was his playground. Brennan got his start in the kitchen during high school as a summer prep cook, eventually being promoted to the line where he learned his the basics and not-so-basic of New Orleans cuisine. To Brennan, it’s all in the family. While he manages over 500 employees, he says, “They’re all family, and no one calls me anything but Mr. Ralph.”

What is your favorite toast?
My favorite toast is classic and nostalgic – buttered cinnamon raisin toast. Growing up, I ate buttered white toast with cinnamon sugar. These days, my favorite white bread comes from our in-house bakery.

What is your favorite thing to order at a Ralph Brennan restaurant?
Ask any of our chefs and you’ll find out that my favorite thing to order is any grilled fish from the Gulf such as drum, snapper or pompano paired with farm fresh vegetables. Keeping it light allows me to indulge in desserts like Bananas Foster and Double Chocolate Bread Pudding.

What is your biggest food inspiration?
My biggest food inspiration is the rich bounty of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. We are so blessed to live in south Louisiana with ready access to fresh fish, shrimp, seasonal crawfish and crabmeat.

What’s your go-to weeknight meal to cook at home?
I eat in our restaurants every day, sometimes more than once a day, and my go-to is a mixed green salad with Heirloom or Creole tomatoes when in season. I toss the salad with avocado, boiled egg, Parmesan, feta or chevre and top it with Natchitoches Louisiana pecans (pronounced “Na-ka-tish”), and a simple balsamic vinaigrette. I often pair this salad with one glass of red wine – the more interesting the better.

What’s your favorite restaurant to go to when you’re celebrating something special? And, conversely, on any given night?
There are too many great restaurants in New Orleans to have a favorite; however, I can name one restaurant that fits the bill both ways – Company Burger. It’s a splurge reserved for special occasions; however, I find it’s far too delicious and accessible to limit my indulgence to occasion-only dining!

What’s the best cooking advice you ever got?
The best cooking advice I have ever received was “Overcooking is a culinary sin.” Don’t do it!

What’s your favorite food destination and why?
My favorite food destination would be New Orleans. Outside of home, I would say Napa Valley because of the lighter style, access to fresh ingredients straight from local farms, and the incredible outdoor seating overlooking the vineyards from which to enjoy it.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?
If I could have one food and I was stranded on a desert island, it would be a chocolate milkshake. Enough said!

Sweet or salty? Sweet
Burger or hot dog? Burger
New York or Chicago style pizza? New York
Soup or salad? Salad
Chocolate or vanilla? Swirl

Photos courtesy of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.

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