Commander’s Palace chef stays true to Gulf
By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 14 February, 2011
Commander’s Palace is an institution — legendary not only in New Orleans but recognized nationwide for its fine-dining New Orleans-style cuisine. The longstanding restaurant and its chefs have received numerous James Beard Foundation awards and recognition from the Zagat survey. Over the past year, Commander’s Palace Executive Chef Tory McPhail — and winner of the 2009 Great American Seafood Cook-Off — has made headlines for his unwavering support of the Gulf seafood industry.
SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Christine Blank recently talked to McPhail about the Gulf seafood industry and new additions to the restaurant’s menu.
Blank: It has been about 10 months since the BP oil spill started. How are your guests reacting now?
McPhail: We are still getting questions, but not quite so many from local consumers. For over 130 years, we have been focused on flavor, consistency and local product. That hasn’t changed at all, even in light of what is going on in the Gulf. We spend a lot of time with our wait staff. We tell customers our end of the story. I stake my entire professional reputation on what we are serving.
How has the oil spill impacted the supply of Gulf seafood?
It is still very challenging for me to get items that I am used to getting. There is little to none of the oysters that are east of the Mississippi River. A lot of fresh water was forced into those beds, which killed them. West of the Mississippi River, we are at about 50 percent. Currently, we have Galveston, Texas, oysters in the house. Since we are a pretty big account, our price has been fairly consistent: about USD 85 a gallon. Also, all the guys in the Gulf of Mexico should be harvesting and processing a lot of pink shrimp, but the big boats aren’t processing as much as normal. They are trying to rebuild their life, career-wise. There are many guys whose life is held up in pending settlements. Our stocks of Louisiana white shrimp in cold storage are quickly getting depleted. We are getting 10-15s, head-off shrimp for around USD 10 a pound.
What seafood items are you using a lot of? Who are your suppliers?
Redfish has been popular for years. I am using more of it, and it is farm-raised from Texas. We use Gulf Coast fish, including speckled trout and fresh drum. In February, there is amazing tuna coming out of the Gulf. We are able to get the pick of the crop, and we make a Tabasco-encrusted, sea-salt tuna. We buy Tabasco in bulk, dehydrate it, and make a spice out of it. We butcher-block the tuna in 5-ounce blocks, roll them in the Tabasco and sea salt, and sear them in old cast iron pans. We take the rest of the tuna and do a Spanish and Mediterranean-themed rustic tartar with preserved Maier lemons, Cajun olive mix, and fresh capers. We put that on the plate with fresh chilies. New Orleans Fish House is one of our largest suppliers, and we also have Louisiana Seafood Exchange and Harlan’s Louisiana Fish.
What new seafood dishes are you serving in February?
For Valentine’s Day, we have fresh scallops on the menu, because we wanted to do something different. We are serving scallops with bone marrow cream and local mushrooms.