Oktoberfest time has become fodder for special menus at local restaurants, and this year, there’s a new one at Ralph’s on the Park (900 City Park Ave., 504-488-1000) with a unique link back to Germany.
Chip Flanagan, executive chef at this Ralph Brennan restaurant in Mid-City, is part of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership. Created by the U.S. Department of State, this program sends American chefs overseas to showcase the cultural richness of our nation’s cuisines. Flanagan’s deployment came over the summer, and his destination was Germany.
“Their ideas of American food were all hamburgers and fast food,” said Flanagan. “Our job was to show them that we know how to cook, that we care about the ingredients we use and that we take our time to do it right.”
In a report on Flanagan’s visit by NPR Berlin, American Ambassador to Germany John Emerson pointed out that European concerns about American food and agriculture had been an issue in trade negotiations. With chefs showing the tradition, skill and inventiveness of American cooking at its best, these trips could underscore that Americans do value quality food, despite what stereotypes the big brands may export.
As with any proper act of diplomacy, Flanagan’s mission proved mutually beneficial as the New Orleans native learned more about German cooking, too. Upon his return, he started planning an Oktoberfest menu at Ralph’s on the Park for the first time. It’s keyed more to the high-end than the beer hall (though not to exclude pretzels with a Camembert cheese spread), with his take on braised pork shanks (schweinshaxe), marinated brisket (sauerbraten) and chicken schnitzel. It’s served through Oct. 11 this year.
This runs alongside Flanagan’s daily menu, which from its contemporary Creole base has grown increasingly international, with a Colombian milk soup, beef-stuffed sopes (a Mexican corn cake) and shrimp and grits with Indian spices all in the mix. If Oktoberfest proves successful at Ralph’s on the Park, Flanagan says more German-Creole flavors are a future possibility.
“We’re always open to ideas like that,” he said. “We’re a New Orleans restaurant that serves locals, and we don’t want to bore them.”
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.