The longtime head chef of Commander’s Palace, Tory McPhail, has resigned from his role at New Orleans’s world-famous fine dining restaurant after 19 years. He will be replaced by Meg Bickford, currently in the kitchen at Commander’s and formerly head chef at Cafe Adelaide, marking the first time a woman will lead the restaurant’s storied kitchen.
Commander’s, a restaurant that has catapulted chefs such as Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, and Jamie Shannon into renown over its 110 years in operation, announced McPhail’s departure in a press release Monday night. McPhail is heading to Bozeman, Montana, where he will lead culinary career development for a restaurant group there. The release said McPhail was taking the opportunity “to move closer to family out West and enjoy the great outdoors.”
McPhail’s time in the kitchen of Commander’s Palace began in 1993, where he cooked for four years before departing for a role overseas. He returned to the US and the Commander’s Family of Restaurants in 2000 at the restaurant’s offshoot in Las Vegas, and was recruited to lead the original in New Orleans two years after that. Then head chef Jamie Shannon, who hired McPhail right out of culinary school, had just died of cancer at age 40. A decade later in 2012, McPhail won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef: South.
Bickford has worked with the Commander’s Family of Restaurants since 2008, when she joined the kitchen at Commander’s Palace after graduating from the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. She was tapped for the role of head chef at Cafe Adelaide, the company’s 15-year old restaurant located in the Loews Hotel downtown, in 2018. When it closed shortly after, she returned to the kitchen at Commander’s, where she served as sous chef.
Bickford, a Louisiana native, has been responsible for some notable menu additions at Commander’s Palace in recent years, including a miso and sugarcane shrimp-coated redfish; duck confit with pumpkin au gratin, roasted apple salad, and white bean crisp; and stuffed crab with fennel, mirlition, Cajun caviar-crab fat aioli, and filé gremolata. “Creole cuisine has always and should always evolve, and our team gets excited about different flavors and ingredients that are shaping cuisine all over Louisiana right now. We are not about standing still,” Bickford said in the release.
Commander’s Palace resumed dine-in service on September 11, nearly six months after New Orleans’s stay-at-home order went into effect and four months after restaurants could reopen dining rooms. In August, the restaurant reported to the state that layoffs for 240 employees issued in March would last more than six months. Upon reopening last month, the restaurant debuted a takeout-only shop next door to Commander’s, Le Petit Bleu.
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