Monday, April 28, 2008

Meet the Man Behind the Book: Ralph Brennan

According to his profile at the Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook website, Ralph Brennan is a third-generation restaurateur who entered the restaurant business after a stint as a CPA for Price Waterhouse and Company. It's stated that his grandfather, Owen Edward Brennan, opened the first of the family's many restaurants in 1947, which quickly became a popular eatery of the French Quarter scene. Since that time, the Brennan Family legacy of fine food has only increased, composing 12 restaurants owned by different branches of the family. Among Ralph's restaurants are Bacco, Ralph's on the Park, Red Fish Grill and Disneyland's Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. He also co-owns Mr. B's Bistro, Commander's Palace and Brennan's of Houston.

His love of fine food has garnered Ralph the laurels of success. Among his many awards are the The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association's Gold Plate Operator of the Year for 2004 as well as his 2005 induction into the Louisiana Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame. But along with his love of food is his love of the city he calls home: New Orleans. He chooses to open restaurants in historic structures which are lovingly renovated. Among them are Ralph's on the Park which is located in a structure identified as the first concession stand opened at City Park in 1860 and Commander's Palace which has been a restaurant since 1880.

His current project, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, has been garnering rave reviews. Ironically, this book may never have happened had Ralph not had his first oyster as a teenager. With his father very allergic to seafood, Ralph was raised on a diet of steaks and potatoes. In a piece at by Judy Walker, he states:
"I was in high school when some older guys invited me to play golf with them," Brennan said. After their round they went to Bozo's, where a couple of beers helped the first oyster, perched on a cracker, go down." I said 'That isn't bad,' and had a couple more," he said.
The spark of inspiration for a cookbook was lit when Charlee Williamson, VP of Ralph Brennan's Restaurant Group, overheard food writer John Mariani comment that the definitive seafood cookbook has yet to be done. At in an article by Emilie Bahr, Ralph states the idea floated around in his head for about five years before he began to bring together his team of talent for the project. Originally projected to take about two years, the project took four, largely due to Hurricane Katrina. He had this to say about his cookbook:
“What makes this different is it’s not just a restaurant cookbook,” Brennan said. “I think it will have a broader appeal. We also wanted to make a statement. Seafood is very, very important to our cuisines here, to the people that live here.”
Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook: "Ralph Brennan and The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group" 2008 "Seafood city: New Orleans Recipes Abound in Ralph Brennan's Cookbook" 04/17/08
New Orleans City Business: "Ralph Brennan Serves Up Seafood Cookbook" 04/08/08

Photo by Kerri McCaffety. Copyright by The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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