Thank Goodness It’s Cork Day: Diving Into Mardi Gras with Commander’s Palace Executive Chef
Carnival is not a day, but a whole season in New Orleans, and who better to celebrate with than the Executive Chef at Commander’s Palace. For the past 20 years, Commander’s Palace has served our special production Commander’s Cuvee at their iconic restaurant and we’ve enjoyed visiting our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs at the renowned landmark for even longer. Tory McPhail graciously spared some precious moments during this busy time to explain what the festivities mean for New Orleanians and how the rest of us can invoke this spirit in our own homes with Creole dishes paired with Iron Horse.
We’re feeling especially festive today following the Krewe of Cork’s picture perfect parade. This wine-centric social club celebrates the fruit of the vine, food and fun. A group after our own hearts. So today especially, we honor their motto “T.G.I.C.D.” (Thank Goodness It's Cork Day).
Tarin: The Carnival season started on January 6th and runs through February 9th, can you explain a bit about what the city looks like from your prime Commander’s Palace location?
Tory: That’s right, 12 Days after Christmas, on Twelfth Night, we kick off the fun with the Parade of the Sunny Phunny Phellows. They commandeer four street cars with an arsenal of alcohol and then run up and down the street car line from Charles Avenue down to Canal Street and back again in a Paul Revere style. This krewe heralds the coming of Mardi Gras through the most exclusive neighborhoods and from then we’re off to the races.
Tarin: How do you prepare for this and for Mardi Gras in your restaurant?
Tory: This year Mardi Gras is on February 9th, so til then it’s all about revelling in the Carnival spirit. There’s fantastic music all over the city and tourists flooding in. I try to educate our servers about the season. Our restaurant plays a key role in perpetuating what this special time means to New Orleans.
Tarin: What’s the ideal schedule for a tourist visiting during this period?
Tory: Tourists can ride the streetcar which connects the entire city together. They can walk around the Garden District and stroll by the mansions before stopping in Commander’s Palace which is right in the middle of Mardi Gras parade routes. We provide an elegant lunch set up with our curated wine menu and as the parade starts up with the clatter of drums, we encourage guests to leverage our open container laws by diving in with a bourbon cocktails to go.
Tarin: What can a guest typically find on your menu during this season?
Tory: Our staff is rejuvenated after the holidays and ready to deliver on our twice daily menu changes. We update the offering for Carnival time and offer some of our signature dishes. This includes a King Cake for dessert. But we also do savory versions which can include seared foie gras toppings and vegetable purees that invoke the colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold). We call this Mardi Foie. Overall, we don’t take ourselves seriously at all, instead we try to mirror the spirit of the city.
Tarin: Can you tell me about signature flavors and styles associated with New Orlean’s Creole cooking?
Tory: I like to say that out of towners should understand that New Orleans food is not Cajun food. Cajun is country cooking established before the days of refrigeration when hunters needed to preserve meats with heavily salting and smoking. The resulting food was hearty and rustic. But New Orleans is a port town so from the beginning, we were a ground zero for trade. Cooks and chefs in town could visit a market daily for more diverse ingredients and Creole cooking emerged with more refined styles through equally flavorful.
Tarin: This tradition of daily market trips seems related to your current strategy of produce sourcing, can you explain that a little?
Tory: I took over as an executive chef 14 years ago and always wanted to make sure that our food screamed Louisiana. So it was important to me to source produce locally to provide a fantastic product on our menus. Because we’re farmer driven, often working with groups who have been our partners for generations, we have a sous chef position dedicated to maintaining relationships with the guys out in the Bayou who provide resources like catfish. Dishes have authentic New Orleans roots which adds a lot of different dimensions of life and history. It’s this understanding of the unique virtues of small producers and a reverence for multi generational businesses that drives us to continue our great relationship with Iron Horse every year.
Tarin: You have an award-winning sommelier in Dan Davis (@cpwineguy), how does wine come into play with your big, flavorful menu items?
Tory: I really enjoy wine and just as we want our food to provide an exciting bite each time, we want our wines to do the same thing. I like floral notes, wines with balanced acidity and a lot of ripe fruit, or a decent amount of oak or vanilla. It’s important to me that the wines we chose tell the story of the vineyard, another reason that our philosophy integrates so well with the Iron Horse product.
Tarin: You pour our special production Commander’s Cuvee and have been dear friends for many years. What about these bubbles pairs perfectly with your menus?
Tory: These bubbles go with anything. A lot of our food has serious spice to it or involves a lot of richness and butteriness. So the cuvee perfectly cuts through with the right amount of acidity and effervescence. It achieves this better than any other sparkling wine out there and our guests love enjoying it year after year.
Tarin: You have a classic dish you’d like to share with our readers who want to infuse the Carnival season spirit in their own kitchens. What’s your secret recipe and what would you pair this with?
Tory: I’ve got a recipe “Crawfish Boil” Fried Chicken which goes wonderfully with sparkling wine, particularly Commander’s Cuvee.
For the Chicken:
2 – 3 ½ - 4 lb chickens (8 pieces each)
2 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons Zataraines Crab Boil
3 cups flour (divided)
3 teaspoons salt (divided)
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper (divided)
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
Combine the chicken, water and crab boil in a large pot and marinate chicken overnight or at least 16 hours.
Remove chicken from brine & pat the skin dry. Combine 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt & ½ teaspoon black pepper and coat the chicken with the mixture. Place coated chicken on a sheet pan in a single layer and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (this will help pull excess water from the chicken and create a crisper skin.)
Season 2 cups of flour with 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp Creole seasoning. Toss the chicken in the new flour mixture to coat liberally and shake off excess flour. Fry chicken at 350° for 12 – 14 minutes. Strain and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
For the Crab Boiled Vegetables:
3 celery ribs, cut in 1 ½ - 2 in pieces
3 ears of corn (leave on cob) cut into 1 inch thick rounds
2 small red onions (peeled) and cut into 8 pieces each through root top to bottom
4 med red potatoes cut into 4 pieces each
1 lemon cut into 8 wedges
1 orange cut into 8 wedges
1 cup Crystal hot sauce
2 tablespoons Zataraines crab boil
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
3 bay leaves
3 qts cold water
¼ cup lemon olive oil
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients through bay leaves in a pot of water and marinate overnight in refrigerator.
Place pot on stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Then lower heat and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Strain vegetables and discard liquid. Place strained vegetables in a bowl and toss with ¼ cup of lemon olive oil and 1 bunch of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place vegetables on a large serving platter and arrange the fried chicken over the top.
Serve with Iron Horse Commander’s Palace Cuvee
We hope you enjoy celebrating Mardi Gras with this fantastic food and wine pairing. And we’d like to send a friendly shout out to our lovely Commander’s Palace somm, Dan Davis, who is riding in the King Arthur Parade on Sunday. This is the largest krewe of the first parade weekend with over 1,000 riders but you can’t miss Dan’s winning smile and superb bead throwing skills….
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