The luckiest man in the world may be a restaurateur in New Orleans, LA.
On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” world famous restaurateur Richard (Dickie) Joseph Brennan Jr. attributes his successes to his family’s legacy, New Orleans’ unique qualities, and sheer luck. “I think I’m one of the luckiest guys on this Earth. To live in New Orleans, being in the restaurant business I think is a huge advantage and gift, and with my family’s crazy background,” says Dickie.
Dickie’s family legacy stems from his grandfather, Owen Brennan, a New Orleans native and restaurateur. Owen opened the original Owen Brennan’s Vieux Carre Restaurant in 1946, and each of his six children—including Richard Brennan Sr., Dickie’s father— and many grandchildren owned or operated restaurants.
By transforming and opening restaurants, the family supported the New Orleans food system. In the midst of a mechanized, shipping-based national food system, “they wanted to evolve Creole cooking, they wanted to work with farmers, and they wanted local products,” says Dickie.
Dickie’s mission to amplify Creole cooking shows not only at his four restaurants—Palace Cafe, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, Bourbon House, and Tableau—but also in the connections he establishes with farmers. For Dickie, sourcing locally grown ingredients with Creole history is only a part of improving the local food system: the ingredients should also come from farmers with the best practices.
“When you’re a cook, it doesn’t get any better than what comes in the back door,” says Dickie. “And what I certainly know and have understood is you have to get out there because what’s going to come in the back door is not the best that we can do. You have to go encourage people to do it the right way, to do it better.”
His commitment to the New Orleans food system is a testament to his love for the city. Five weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Dickie re-opened Bourbon House and helped recovery work. Community members brought fresh ingredients to the restaurant, for a menu that reflected the city’s unique cuisine. “There’s a silver lining,” says Dickie. “I’m glad that we kind of jumped in the way we did, and I think we received a lot of gifts by being active and proactive.”
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On the new podcast, which was recorded at the Palace Cafe in New Orleans, LA, Dickie explained successful restaurateurs search for ways to improve their impact on their communities and source ingredients responsibly. “I think there’s so much opportunity to do it better,” says Dickie.
Doing it better is a Brennan tradition, one that Dickie is passing on to the next generation. Both of his children and his nephew joined the culinary and hospitality industries, lead by their family’s values. “It’s such a relief to me that I know they’re capable. I don’t have to tell them what to do, I can get on the sidelines, and I can support them: it’s their turn. Let them take it to the next level,” says Dickie.
Dickie hopes to equip the new generation of chefs and restaurateurs at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI). Co-founded by Dickie, NOCHI will welcome students in spring 2019. “One of our biggest goals is for any kid in this city that has the right heart and the right attitude, no matter what your background or means are, is going to be able to get this world class education,” says Dickie.
Educating a new generation of restaurateurs and hospitality managers at NOCHI will inspire more leaders to work with farmers and pay tribute to Creole cooking with new, innovative technologies, Dickie notes. “My Dad always said, ‘don’t change for the sake of change, but you need to always evolve.’ There’s a big difference there,” says Dickie. “We’re in the city, we have rich traditions. We have classic restaurants, 100-year old restaurants, so classic tradition is important. But at the same time, we need to evolve what we’re doing.”
Photo courtesy of Great Chefs Channel.