Generous Food, Generous Spirit: The Food Philosophies of New Orleans’ Chef Frank Brigtsen
A Philosophy of Food
Chef Frank Brigtsen, a popular New Orleans Cajun and Creole Chef, knows that food has a powerful effect on communities. His restaurant, Brigtsen’s, is known for making diners feel like they’re in his personal home, as its chef always takes the time to go out and visit the dining room, making sure his guests feel absolutely welcome. In fact, his restaurant has been a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service. This dedication to his guests is perhaps because he believes that food is all about sharing.
Chef Frank learned all about cuisine under Chef Paul Prudhomme, and, since 1986, Chef Frank has worked in his own restaurant to update the menu daily, while still honestly presenting Cajun and Creole cuisine. His food philosophy is driven by the idea that
Cooking should not be routine…the world of food is unlimited, and infinite really, and it’s a way to continue your mental growth…over time you develop meals that become a tradition
His best advice to cooks of all skill levels is to challenge themselves. Diversity is an integral part of food, and it’s within everyone’s reach.
In the Kitchen
Many of Chef Frank’s kitchen crew were drawn to Brigtsen’s because of his passion for research and development. Chef JP Daigle, another of Brigtsen’s mentees, recalls that his impression of Chef Frank was indelibly defined by his very first day at Brigtsen’s.
Chef Frank’s team stays at Brigtsen’s because of the character of their chef. His business decisions are made with his staff in mind, ensuring that no one finds his or herself set adrift. After Hurricane Katrina, when Brigtsen’s was able to reopen, nineteen of his staff of twenty returned to the restaurant, despite the damages and loss everyone faced. That first homecoming dinner was powerfully emotional, as crew and diners alike realized that New Orleans was not finished yet.
Always Looking toward the Future
For a man who owns, operates, and still cooks at a thriving New Orleans restaurant, not to mention teaches a weekly class at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute (CJFCI), perhaps the most surprising thing about Chef Frank Brigtsen is that he is almost universally known for his generosity of time and spirit. He eagerly makes time for young cooks and chefs, acting as a mentor in what can be a rather unforgiving industry. Like his cuisine, Brigtsen’s mentorship starts from a place of history and technique. Lauren Fendlason, a student of Chef Frank’s at both the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and now at the CJFCI, shares that, aside from his dedication to the culinary arts, Brigtsen’s most admirable quality as a mentor is how much he cares. He invests so much time in his students because…
Part of being a chef is being able to train and teach and give people opportunity and pass it on. If I have to cook your meal for it to be good, that makes me a great cook, but a lousy chef.
Chef Frank learned how to help cooks come into their own from his own mentor, Prudhomme, who helped Brigtsen get started with pots and pans to bring over to the new restaurant. If you’re ever lucky enough to visit Brigtsen’s kitchen, take a look at a hotel pan or two. You may just see “K-Paul” faintly scratched into a corner. Because of his history and intense dedication to Cajun and Creole cuisine, Frank Brigtsen has become an invaluable part of passing the torch of Louisiana cooking.