It’s common for local restaurants to take a summer hiatus, not so much for vacation but to make renovations and upgrades for the busy seasons ahead.
Palace Café will soon close for an uncommonly long span — for an estimated 45 days starting on Aug. 15. But it also has much more in store.
In fact, the Palace Café, slated to reopen this fall, is anticipated as a reboot for the Creole brasserie that Dickie Brennan and his partners originally opened on Canal Street back in 1991, one reflecting a new chef-in-residence program that is changing the way Brennan’s company develops both its menus and its people.
“It will be a snapshot of where we want to go in the next 20 years,” said Brennan. “I’m just ecstatic with the way this is coming together.”
Diners will find a new lounge upstairs with small plates, charcuterie and a focus on rum that Brennan said would be as intensive as the bourbon specialty at his nearby Bourbon House.
Behind the scenes, the main kitchen will be remodeled and joined by a dedicated charcuterie kitchen, an infrastructure investment directly tied to the chef-in-residence program.
Over the spring, Brennan’s company assembled a team of highly seasoned chefs to serve in dedicated training, mentoring and menu development roles. The roster includes Gunter Preuss, Rene Bajeux and Robert Gurvich, who worked with the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten before returning to his native New Orleans recently. They joined Darin Nesbit and Gus Martin, two longtime members of the company’s culinary staff (Greg Sonnier initially was part of the program but has since moved on).
Mixing staff development and menu development is an innovative approach to apprenticeship that keeps employees on the job while they learn from accomplished mentors and explore new dishes to serve across the company.
“A cook can spend four days a week working on the line and then that fifth day learning charcuterie with Rene Bajeux,” Brennan said. “The beauty of it is, with four restaurants, we can use what they produce across the different kitchens.”
Those four restaurants also will help keep Palace Café staff busy while renovations progress. For instance, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse will expand its lunch schedule from Fridays only to five days a week with a pop-up style Palace Café menu. Meanwhile, the popular jazz brunch at Palace Café will move to Bourbon House on Saturdays and Sundays.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.