23 February 2019

Weekend Cooking: Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (Film)

Review of Ella Brennan: Commanding the TableHave you ever heard of Ella Brennan? I hadn't, but I sure have heard about her restaurants and the chefs she nurtured into fame.I have also heard about (and experienced) the world-renown food scene of New Orleans, for which she deserves much, much credit.

The documentary film Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (directed by Leslie Iwerks, 2016, streaming on Netflix) introduces to this amazing NOLA native through vintage photos and film, visits to her restaurants, and personal interviews.

When Ella was just 20 years old and with no business experience, her much older brother put her in charge of a newly acquired family restaurant, which was to be called Brennan's and which soon changed the face of the New Orleans restaurant scene. It was at that restaurant that she came up with the dessert Bananas Foster, which is now served the world over.

From there, she bought and revived the Commander's Palace, which eventually became one of the best restaurants in the country. Her vision brought Cajun food to the general public after she hired a young local chef no one had ever heard of by the name of Paul Prudhomme. Later, she took a chance on another unknown, the 24-year-old Emeril Lagasse. Ella not only encouraged her staff and chefs to do their best for her own restaurants but she relished their growth and celebrated their decisions to move out on their own.

Review of Ella Brennan: Commanding the TableThe documentary is Ella's story, the story of a family, the story of American local cuisine, and the story of a city's evolution into a major food destination.  Ella Brennan ends with the rebuilding of the restaurant after the devastation of Katrina, highlighting the determination it took to start over again after the loss of absolutely everything.

Ella was an amazingly generous person and an extremely hard worker. Despite several setbacks--some personal, some financial--she never gave up, moving forward to help her family and her staff.

The film focused on Ella's life in the restaurant business and her influence on New Orleans food and American tastes. Still, I wish director Iwerks had featured the city and its diverse population more strongly. Despite that, Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table was a fascinating introduction to a shining star in the American food world.

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rhapsodyinbooks 2/23/19, 6:04 AM  

I have heard of her mainly because I had the great fortune of going to Brennan's many years ago, and still remember every dish after all this time; it was one of the best meals of my life! (Also one of the most caloric....) I bet the cookbook would be fantastic!

Mae Travels 2/23/19, 6:25 AM  

The story of those restaurants features in a couple of New Orleans food history books I've read, especially (if I recall right) about their comeback after the hurricane disaster. I didn't know about this documentary -- interesting!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Tina 2/23/19, 6:51 AM  

I’ve never heard of her but I certainly am a fan of bananas foster. Looks interesting, glad you highlighted this at Weekend Cooking.

jama 2/23/19, 7:56 AM  

Thanks for the heads up about this documentary! Will have to watch it. Had not heard of Brennan before -- anxious to learn more :).

bermudaonion 2/23/19, 8:22 AM  

We ate at Commander's Palace when she was there so we need to watch this!

Carla 2/23/19, 9:02 AM  

An avid reader, cookbooks included, and foodie I enjoyed learning of Ella Brennan. Thank you for sharing her story so I can watch the documentary. Looking forward to seeing it.

sherry fundin 2/23/19, 9:57 AM  

For me, food is like fuel for a car. Gotta have it. But, Mr Wonderful loves to eat and we hop over to New Orleans now and then so he can get his special seafood fix.
sherry @ fundinmental

Jackie McGuinness 2/23/19, 10:42 AM  

I've seen Brennan's in NOLA. Funny, Brennan was my maternal grandmother's maiden name and is my nephew's first name.

Deb in Hawaii 2/23/19, 10:51 AM  

The documentary looks really interesting. I knew the restaurant names, mainly from the Bananas Foster angle but not too much about Ella and her history. Adding it to my "to watch" list.

gluten Free A_Z Blog 2/23/19, 12:15 PM  

This is such an interesting post. Thanks for sharing it..I've never heard of her either but I sure do like banana's foster!!

Elisabeth 2/24/19, 10:13 AM  

Thanks for blogging about Brennan's movie. The hubby and I love watching food related shows and movies. Love your blog!!!

Abigail Pearson 2/24/19, 3:31 PM  

I love a good documentary! I'm definitely going to watch this one.

Laurie C 2/24/19, 8:35 PM  

I’m a wannabe foodie and not very knowledgeable so I’ve never heard of Ella Brennan. She sounds like a very influential and interesting person!

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