Changing of the Chefs
Felder and Butterworth add new flair to New Orleans fare
The Grill Room’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPHS
Brandon Felder of Le Foret was recently promoted as executive chef of the Central Business District fine-dining destination.
Notably, the 26-year-old Felder’s work shows a focus and refinement uncommon to chefs this young. A graduate of Culinard in Birmingham, Ala., Felder returned home to his native New Orleans to intern at Commander’s Palace. They soon hired him on full-time, and he spent the next two years there, soaking up skills and experience.
Commander’s excels at preparing chefs for high volume, high-pressure execution. This skill set was complemented by Felder’s next job at Stella!, where he worked as sous chef for a year before moving to Le Foret to work alongside his former colleague, Carlos Briceno. “Chef Carlos was my executive chef at Stella!, and he had left to come over here and just said great things,” Felder recalls. “Then I met the owners, and it just seemed so right to come over here. It is a beautiful restaurant and a perfect fit.”
An opulent layer cake of a space, Le Foret offers private dining and a courtyard on the fourth floor, a third-floor event space, a spillover dining room on the second floor and a lushly appointed main dining room on the first. In terms of accommodations, the only thing a person might reasonably ask for would be perhaps a little more light.
While the overarching theme is French, Felder enjoys working within the framework of traditional New Orleans flavors, refining them and sometimes adding a dash of “Creole flair.” For example, his softshell crab gets dusted in cornmeal and pan-fried, then plated with a corn maque choux. Peppery arugula is the base for a light salad rounded out with mirliton, lump crabmeat and cherry tomatoes dressed in Creole mustard vinaigrette. “We just put on a dish of seared red snapper with a fricassee of baby squash, wild mushrooms and baby limas in a Creole corn sauce,” he says. “We get most of our produce from Covey Rise Farms.”
Le Foret may be best enjoyed when diners stick closer to the French and contemporary dishes. Among the best at a recent meal was a torchon of foie gras. Utterly creamy wedges of foie gras shared a plate with toasted banana bread and fig jam. Aged balsamic contributed acidity and black truffle added depth of flavor. Carryover dishes from the old menu include the Le Foret champignons, a pâté composition artfully arranged to resemble mushrooms in a field (“That one was too pretty to take off,” Felder says) and an appetizer of prosciutto-wrapped grilled quail with potato gnocchi.
Going into winter, Felder hopes to add some wild game dishes, perhaps featuring venison or elk, and will run osso buco as well.
Recommended is the five-course tasting menu, a relative bargain at $60. “That menu changes monthly.”
The Grill Room’s La Belle Farm Duck
Like Le Foret, the Windsor Court recently announced a change of executive chef. But unlike Le Foret, the new talent for the Grill Room came from outside the organization. Kristin Butterworth was working at Lautrec, the fine-dining arm of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania when, unbeknownst to her, the Windsor Court’s general manager and a few other hotel principals came in for dinner. They were so impressed with her tasting menu that they invited her down to New Orleans to interview. “The rest is history,” Butterworth says.
With a resume stacked with high-end resort dining, including famous names like The Inn at Little Washington, she was reasonably confident that there would not be too many adjustments to make in the transition to the Windsor Court Hotel. What she hadn’t counted on was a hurricane.
“Probably the biggest challenge was getting hit by (Hurricane) Isaac about two weeks in,” she says. “But if I can make it through that, it should be smooth sailing from there on out, right?”
Butterworth rode out the experience on-site with her sous chef and her executive pastry chef, taking care of the guests that flocked to the hotel to ride it out and avoid the widespread power outages. “It was fun in a way. It was hard and stressful and really long hours during that stretch, but it really solidified the dynamics of my management team.”
Butterworth launched her new menu in mid-September. She spent some time getting to know local purveyors and figuring out how to fit the sourcing into her system. She describes the Grill Room’s new style as “refined Southern.” “We’re taking food that people are familiar with and are approaching it in a way that they haven’t seen before,” she says “Taking it to that next level and making it really clean and crisp and beautiful.”
For example, on the dinner menu she riffs on the local traditional Monday meal of red beans and rice with fried chicken. Her version switches out buttermilk-fried quail for the poultry and she sets the red beans and rice component into a savory custard.
Other restyled comfort foods include a couscous macaroni-and-cheese made with Fiscalini white cheddar, black truffle and fresh-snipped chive.
She has a nice touch with soups, including a delicate white bean version optioned out with shaved black truffle and honey-candied Allan Benton ham. Lacquered pork products also featured in a recent amuse shooter of butternut squash soup, finished off with candied bacon. “The squash is roasted, cooked down with leeks and onions, puréed and finished off with a little coconut milk,” she says. “For the candied bacon, we cook it crispy, baste it with syrup and then sprinkle on some Cajun seasoning and put it in the oven at a low temperature to set the glaze.”
Along with the Grill Room, her responsibilities include the Polo Lounge, suite service, banquet functions and more. Familiar figures like sommelier Sara Kavanaugh help to ensure some continuity with this new transition.
Shake It Up
In other chef shakeup news, Jared Tees recently left Besh Steak House to take over the kitchen at Manning’s Restaurant on Fulton Street. Here is to the hope that Chef Tees turns it into what it should rightly be – the sports bar with the best food in town. Taking over Tees’s spot at the Steak House is Chef Todd Pulsinelli, who shifted over from the American Sector outpost in the Besh collection to man the helm at Harrah’s.