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Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken Recipe

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From Nola Cuisine

This is part 2 of Great Chefs of New Orleans: Austin Leslie, which I’ve been working on with my friend Texas Chef Bill Moran. Like I said, with each Chef we feature, we will include a recipe that he/she is most famous for, in this case Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken.
A lot of people think Austin Leslie had a secret ingredient, heck, maybe he had a little secret, but I believe his main secrets were patience and knowledge.

The following passage about frying chicken by Austin Leslie is from the 1978 book Creole Feast by Nathaniel Burton and Rudy Lombard:

“The first time I cut up a chicken I was working at Portia’s. The chef there , Bill Turner, asked me where I learned how to do it. I said I learned from my mother at home. He taught me how to get twelve pieces from a whole chicken; my mother was able to get thirteen pieces from the same chicken because she broke the back into two parts. I learned all about fried chicken from Bill Turner, too. It’s the easiest job in the kitchen. You can tell by the sound when fried chicken is done. If you listen to it, you can hear how the sound of the grease crackling in the fryer changes. Then you know it’s time to bring it up. I never cook it well done; I never cook any meat well done. What I do is take the blood out of it first-while the chicken is frying, take a pair of tongs and squeeze each piece. Squeeze it till it bursts to let the blood out. You can look right down there by the bone and see if there is any blood there. When it’s ready the chicken will float to the top, a part of it will stick up. Then you take it and check it over. If you cook it properly you can keep your guests or customers from ever seeing any blood. That’s what they object to, when they prefer well-done meat-not the taste, but the blood.
If you’re serving fried chicken to twelve people you will need three chickens so you can provide three pieces each. The wings-two pieces; the breast-four pieces; the back-two pieces; the thighs-two pieces, the leg-two pieces; that’s twelve in all. Since people want to handle chicken easily when they eat it, we cut it that way. Actually we can fry it just as well in larger cuts. When you cut it properly you won’t loosen the skin. You start by cutting it down the back. Split it down the middle. Then take a sharp cleaver and place the chicken firmly on a block and hold it down. After you split it down the back, then you open it up and take out the insides and put them aside. Then you cut straight through the breast. Cut it into quarters with the cleaver, seperating the thighs from the breast. Then disjoint it at the wings, and disjoint the legs from the thighs. If you use a cleaver, be careful. If you use a knife, always cut away from yourself. Always move all other knives away from the board when you use a cleaver because you can mis-strike, and if that cleaver hits a knife, it can jump up and hit you.
After the chicken is cut up, salt and pepper it, mixing the pieces around so the salt and pepper get all over the chicken.
If you are preparing the chicken to be cooked later, don’t do what they do in markets-cover it with plastic wrap or wax paper. If you do that and then put it into the refrigerator, some of it might go bad. The best thing is to put the seasoned chicken in a bowl uncovered. That way the cold air can get call around the chicken and keep it fresh. The next step is to make an egg wash. Use any kind of cream-for one chicken, use one egg and half a can of evaporated milk. Add some salt and pepper, stir it up, put the chicken in and let it sit. Put enough flour to cover the chicken either in a bag or in a flat bowl and coat the chicken with flour. If you use an electric fryer, set it at 350 F, if you pan-fry, wait till the oil is beginning to bubble. I use peanut oil for frying. Put the heavy pieces in first (thigh, leg and breast), making sure you don’t crowd the chicken. If you put too much in at one time the heat and oil can’t get all around the meat and it will cook unevenly. You have to watch the flour that falls to the bottom of the pan very carefully. After each set of pieces gets done, strain the oil out and clean the pan, otherwise the flour at the bottom is going to burn. You’ve heard people say the first chicken looks good, the second so-so, and the third you can forget. That’s why. Never fry anything else (meat, fish, or sausage) along with the chicken, because it will give it a bad taste. It’s like frying hot sausage on a grill and then following it up with steak or ham. You see that a lot in restaurant kitchens and that’s why the food has a strange taste. You can’t cut up a lobster on the same board you use chicken or some other meat.” -Austin Leslie

The above pic is my recreation, using the instructions at the bottom of this page and following the recipe. It may not have been Austin Leslie’s, but it was a damned good plate of Chicken. Here is the recipe:

Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken with Persillade Recipe

1 ¼ Cups Peanut Oil for frying
1 3-3 1/2; lb Fryer cut up (see above)
Salt and Black Pepper
1 Egg, lightly beaten
1 cup Evaporated Milk
1 cup Water
½ Cup flour

Garnish:
4 Tbl fresh minced garlic
4 Tbl fresh minced parsley
Dill Pickle Slices

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet to 350 F, the oil should come about halfway up the sides of the skillet. Adjust the amount in accordance with the skillet size. Combine garlic and parsley (persillade) in small mixing bowl and set aside.

Wash chicken pieces in cool water, pat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk egg, evaporated milk and water. Season with salt and pepper. Place flour in a separate bowl. One piece at a time, starting with heaviest pieces, dip chicken into egg wash, squeeze, dip into flour and place gently in skillet. Do not overcrowd skillet.

Maintain temperature of 350 F. Use tongs and long fork to turn chicken often for 7-8 minutes. Remove chicken from oil with tongs, pierce with fork and squeeze. Place chicken back in oil approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Chicken is done when no longer hissing and juices run clear. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Immediately top with a sprinkle of garlic and parsley mixture. Continue until all the chicken is cooked.
Garnish each piece with a slice of dill pickle.

Related links:
Buttermilk Fried Chicken Recipe at American Gourmand
Austin Leslie related links:
Great Chefs of New Orleans: Austin Leslie
Austin Leslie Obituary at Egullet (Pictures)
Jason Perlow’s pictures from Jacques-Imo’s and Pampy’s Creole Kitchen
Pictures of Austin Leslie’s Jazz Funeral
Austin Leslie Obituary thread at Mr. Lake’s Nonpompous New Orleans Food Forum.

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Great Chefs of New Orleans: Austin Leslie

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My good friend Texas Chef Bill Moran and I recently came up with the idea to showcase some of the great Chefs of New Orleans, past and present. We’re not talking about the superstars like Prudhomme and Lagasse, but the somewhat lesser known New Orleans Chefs and cooks that, although not nationwide superstars, are heroes to anyone who has had the pleasure of tasting their top notch cooking. In addition to a bio on each Chef, we will have a follow up post with a recreation of a dish he/she is most famous for, in this case Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken Recipe. I’m sure mine won’t be as good as theirs, but I will do my best. Special thanks to Jason Perlow from Egullet for letting us use his wonderful photo.

For the many who never got to experience the late Austin Leslie’s expertise, he was one of the great, real Creole Chefs in the country. His long tenure at Chez Helene got him recognized by many as, “The Godfather of Fried Chicken” but he was more than adept at the other facets of Creole cooking like gumbo, stuffed peppers and many others.

Austin Leslie was born in New Orleans on July 02, 1934, and he began his food career as a boy, delivering herbs, peppers, and celery to his neighbors in the Lafitte projects. As a teen he began delivering fried chicken by bicycle for Portia’s Fountain on S. Rampart Street. As Leslie said in John T. Edge’s book, Fried Chicken: An American Story, “Back then, that was the black Bourbon Street. They were always telling me I was too little to work Rampart, but I proved myself. The owner Bill Turner, he looked after me, he educated me on how restaurants worked. That’s where I picked up a lot of what I know about fried chicken, where I learned how to season it right.”

In 1952 Leslie left Portia’s and his home town for a crack at business school, but returned home the next year, working for a time at Portia’s and then in a sheet metal shop. When times were slow at the shop he also worked at his Aunt Helen DeJean Pollack’s restaurant, Howard’s Eatery on Perdido.
In 1959 Leslie began to come into his own, working as assistant Chef at the restaurant in D.H. Holmes Department Store on Canal. There he learned from Chef Russell about Haute Cuisine and the classic Creole dishes that New Orleans is famous for. “I had grown up walking by there, hearing the dishes clatter and smelling the food, and then all of the sudden I was working in that big kitchen. I learned how to make oysters Rockefeller and shrimp remoulade.”

In 1964 Austin’s Aunt Helen moved her Eatery to 1540 N. Robertson Street off St. Bernard, and added an e to her name, calling the restaurant Chez Helene, for a touch of class. Leslie came along, working at the beginning as Co-Chef with Aunt Helen’s brother Sidney DeJean. Leslie brought along what he learned at D.H. Holmes, and combined those dishes with some of his Aunt’s menu items, this was the beginning of the cuisine he became famous for: Creole-Soul.

In 1975 Aunt Helen decided to retire and sold Chez Helene to her nephew Austin. The small unpretentious neighborhood restaurant, became known for wonderful Oysters Rockefeller served on bent tin pie plates, mustard greens, stuffed peppers, fried chicken livers, buttery cornbread and the best Fried Chicken around. Chez Helene built a steady clientele of black and white, tourists and locals alike, all coming together in the little restaurant for it’s excellent cooking. As Leah Chase said, “It was just good old Creole food, good old-time New Orleans food, and he was good, damn good. You couldn’t fry a chicken better than Austin. You couldn’t stuff a pepper better than Austin Leslie.”

Leslie’s persona also grew in popularity, with his big smile, mutton chop sideburns, a diamond crusted crab pendant, trademark yachting cap and the gift of gab. Business deals came out of the woodwork, including French Quarter and Chicago versions of Chez Helene, and a chain of Fried Chicken restaurants. He also published a cookbook in 1984 titled Chez Helene: House of Good Food. Leslie said, “Seems like everyone wanted to use my name to sell this, my face to sell that, I made the mistake of listening.”

In 1987 Chez Helene drew the attention of producer Hugh Wilson and actor Tim Reid, best known for his roll as Venus Flytrap on the show WKRP In Cincinnati. After dinner at Chez Helene the two thought the restaurant would be a perfect setting for a hit television show, Leslie signed on as a consultant and later ran television ads calling Chez Helene the inspiration for Frank’s Place. Frank’s Place aired in the Spring of 1987 to rave reviews, but was cancelled after a year, citing low ratings and a huge budget. This was the beginning of the end of Chez Helene. Business at the original Chez Helene slowed and the other restaurants began to close, one by one. As Leslie told Edge, “I knew I could ride it out, that it all would pass, I was still cooking, still had my little restaurant. The real problem was that I was sitting on dynamite. The dope fiends and pushers were moving into the neighborhood. Now don’t get me wrong, I know the streets. I’ve lived my whole life around pimps and whores. They’ve got a job to do same as me. But this was something different.”

Leslie declared bankruptcy in 1989 and the last Chez Helene closed its doors for good in 1994. The building that once housed the original restaurant burned down shortly after. Here is a picture of the lot where Chez Helene used to stand.


View Larger Map

Leslie worked around town for a time, popping up in different restaurants around the city, like The Bottom Line and The Basin Street Club, but in 1995 he answered a want ad for a “Creole and Cajun Chef”. He hired on, not as Executive Chef or Sous Chef but as the Fry Cook at a funky little restaurant called Jacques-Imo’s (pics at Egullet), owned by restaurateur Jack Leonardi. Their odd couple partnership became legendary on the New Orleans restaurant scene. Jack Leonardi said, “I would have never really done the Creole-soul thing and the fried chicken if it hadn’t been for Austin, he also just taught me a lot about things, not just running a restaurant. He had such a big menu at Chez Helene. It was like a Chinese restaurant menu. He taught me how you could do that, how to incorporate sauces and stuffings in all sorts of different ways.”

At Jacques-Imo’s, Leslie turned his signature Fried Chicken on to a new generation of diners, finishing each order with a persillade (minced garlic and parsley) and a slice of dill pickle. During this period, Leslie also helped open a restaurant called N’Awlins in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in 2000 he released his second cookbook, Austin Leslie’s Creole Soul: New Orleans Cooking with a Soulful Twist. In October of 2004 Austin left Jacques-Imo’s saying, “I didn’t move away from Jack because of money. I moved away from Jacques-Imo’s because I wanted to get away from frying. I’m going to die. But I’m not going to die over that fryer.”

In 2005 he signed on as Executive Chef at Pampy’s Creole Kitchen (pics at egullet) owned by Stan “Pampy” Barre. There he taught a new generation of cooks some of his secrets, and could often be seen talking with the diners in the front of the house. When asked about retirement he said, “I’ll never quit, I’ll work as long as there is breath in my body.”

In the midst of the flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the 71 year old Austin Leslie, like many others, was trapped in his attic for 2 days in the stifling humidity and 98 degree heat. He was later rescued and relocated to the New Orleans Convention Center, until being taken to Atlanta. The last time Barre spoke with Leslie he was anxious to get back to work. Barre said, “Austin called me two days ago, and we had an extensive conversation. He wanted to get back to work. He wanted to get back into the kitchen.” On September 28 he was admitted to an Atlanta hospital for a high fever and died the next day.

On Sunday October 9, 2005, Austin Leslie was honored with the first post-Katrina New Orleans Jazz Funeral. Two dozen marchers carried black & white photos of Leslie (the one seen above, taken by Jason Perlow of Egullet), marched through the devastated Seventh Ward to honor the legendary Chef. The procession started at Pampy’s, taking a route that passed the former site of Chez Helene, and ending at the Backstreet Cultural Center at 1116 St. Claude Street. Stan “Pampy” Barre said the crowd was “going to march into New Orleans and dance him into Heaven.”

Related Links:
Part 2 to this post: Austin Leslie’s Fried Chicken Recipe
Pictures of Austin Leslie’s Jazz Funeral at Nola.com
Jason Perlow’s pics from Jacque-Imo’s and Pampy’s
Pampy’s Creole Kitchen Website (Pampy’s was destroyed by flooding)
Obituary at Egullet
Austin Leslie Obituary thread at Mr. Lake’s Nonpompous New Orleans Food Forum.

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Chef Austin Leslie gets Jazz Funeral

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**Update** See our Great Chefs of New Orleans Austin Leslie Tribute.

Chef Austin Leslie who passed away in Atlanta on September 29, was honored in New Orleans with a traditional Jazz Funeral through the Seventh Ward on Sunday, October 9. Marchers carried black and white photos of a smiling Austin Leslie wearing his trademark yachting cap.

For more photos click here. Here is an article from the Washington Post.

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R.I.P. Chef Austin Leslie

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**Update 11/07/2005** For more on Austin Leslie see our Great Chefs of New Orleans Tribute to Austin Leslie.

Bad news for fans of New Orleans Food, Soul Food, and Food in general, Chef Austin Leslie has passed away in Atlanta, Georgia, while on refuge from Hurricane Katrina. This sad loss is made worse knowing that Chef Leslie died when his home town of New Orleans was in such peril, and unable to do what he loved most, and did best; cook.
Chef Austin Leslie’s career was at its pinnacle when he was at Chez H&#233l&#232ne in the 1980’s, in fact, he and Chez H&#233l&#232ne were the inspiration for the sitcom Frank’s Place during the same era.
After reading the sad news I opened my copy of Creole Feast to the chapter on Chef Leslie, pictured confident, and smiling brightly in his younger years, in the midst of deboning a chicken, no doubt readying it for the fryer which he knew so well.
Sorry to share more bad New Orleans news, lord knows there has been enough lately. Fried Chicken for me tomorrow. Here are some notes from the late, great Chef Austin Leslie on Frying Chicken from the book Creole Feast:

The first time I cut up a chicken I was working at Portia’s. The chef there , Bill Turner, asked me where I learned how to do it. I said I learned from my mother at home. He taught me how to get twelve pieces from a whole chicken; my mother was able to get thirteen pieces from the same chicken because she broke the back into two parts. I learned all about fried chicken from Bill Turner, too. It’s the easiest job in the kitchen. You can tell by the sound when fried chicken is done. If you listen to it, you can hear how the sound of the grease crackling in the fryer changes. Then you know it’s time to bring it up. I never cook it well done; I never cook any meat well done. What I do is take the blood out of it first-while the chicken is frying, take a pair of tongs and squeeze each piece. Squeeze it till it bursts to let the blood out. You can look right down there by the bone and see if there is any blood there. When it’s ready the chicken will float to the top, a part of it will stick up. Then you take it and check it over. If you cook it properly you can keep your guests or customers from ever seeing any blood. That’s what they object to, when they prefer well-done meat-not the taste, but the blood.

Rest in Peace Chef Leslie, you’ll always be in our hearts.

My good friend, Texas Chef Bill Moran and I have been planning to colaborate on a Great Chefs of New Orleans piece once a month or more, Chef Leslie was definately on the list and still is. We want to concentrate on some of the Chefs from the past, that were busting out phenomenal food before Chefs were famous like rock stars. Great Chefs like Austin Leslie, Louis Evans, Warren Leruth, and Leah Chase, as well as many, many others. We will do a bio and a recipe that each Chef is most famous for, for instance, Chef Leruth’s Oyster Artichoke Soup, and Chef Leslie’s Fried Chicken. We’re really looking forward to it.

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Cafe Degas Survived

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News on the damage of Cafe Degas in New Orleans, with photos at my friend M.A. Sample’s Wreckroom! It seems the lovely little Bistro survived with no flooding but acquired a tree in the dining room, the damage is largely repairable! Check out the Cafe Degas website! They are located at:

Cafe Degas
3127 Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 945-5635

It’s great to hear some good news from New Orleans!

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How to Link Homemade Sausage

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While linking up my Chaurice sausage (pictured) recently, I realized that there are some little tips that I could share, most of which I learned by screwing up. I’m not claiming to be any kind of expert on the subject of sausage making, far from it, but I have learned a few things. These tips apply to just about any sausage, not just the ones associated with NOLA Cuisine. Any sausage: Andouille, Italian, Kielbasa, Chaurice, Boudin, Chorizo, you get the idea.
I use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, with a grinding attachment and sausage tubes. The kitchen aid works great, the only downside is that the sausage feeds about 10 inches off of the counter, instead of at counter level. No big deal. It’s just something I’ve gotten used to. I use hog casings, packed in salt, from the Italian market down the street from my house. I don’t like synthetic casings because they look and taste, well..synthetic. I use natural casings. When you’re ready to use them, turn your kitchen sink on cold, very low, then hook the casing over the faucet, it will slowly fill up like a hose. Let it run for a few minutes, then squeeze all of the water out. You do this for two reasons: To clean off all of that nasty salt, and to check for holes in the casing; holes are bad. Anyway, here are some tips:

* Keep all of your grinding equipment and meat very cold. I throw everything in the fridge a few hours before I start, the grinder, the plunger, the bowl that I’m grinding into, everything. Two reasons for this: Food safety, and to keep the fat from starting to render out of your sausage. The motor heats up quite a bit. If your making a large batch, keep half of the meat in the fridge until you need it.
* Put a little oil on your sausage tube to make the casing slide on and off easier. If your sausage casing is filling up and your casing is clinging to the tube, you may have a blow out.
* Once your casing is on the tube, pull out about 2-3 inches, make a fist around the tube and casing to keep air out, then start feeding some ground sausage into the chamber. Once some starts coming out, turn the motor off and tie the casing.
* When linking sausage on a kitchen aid, I find it more aggravating than helpful with 2 people. The one feeding is either going too fast or too slow for the one shaping the links. After a little practice you can do it faster alone.
* Now that your casing is tied, turn your motor on low and start plunging some ground meat through. I’m right handed so I feed with my left and form the link with my right. As the meat feeds in, gently squeeze it to the tied end with the back of your hand while holding the tube to prevent air pockets. Not too much or the casing will break, and not too little. I fill the casings pretty tight, although it takes some practice to know when to say when. Keep doing this until you have the correct length of sausage for the recipe you’re using, turn off the motor, pull out the casing about 2-3 inches and cut it. Now form the end of the sausage and tie it. You can adjust your motor speed to your pace.
* If you want a rope of smaller links, you can make one long casing, then pinch & twist between each link, then tie each division with butcher’s twine. Just make sure you don’t pack as much into the casings or they will burst. When first starting out it’s easier to make individual links.
* Don’t sweat air pockets while you’re linking, finish your link, then worry about it. Simply take a toothpick or skewer and poke the air pocket, just a tiny hole, then gently rub it until the air is gone.
* You now have fresh sausage.
* If I am are planning on smoking sausage, I tie butcher’s twine around one end each of two links, then hang them from hooks in the basement to cure. It is important to let the casings dry out before smoking. More on the smoking process in the future.

Later today I will post my recipe for homemade Chaurice (pictured) which is a Creole fresh sausage. Coming soon homemade Andouille Sausage.

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Back to the Kitchen

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I’m getting back into the kitchen to continue to pay tribute to the food and cooks of New Orleans, the same as I did before this disaster hit, but with a sadness in my heart, along with the joie de vivre that was there before. I know the New Orleans that I love will be back, stronger and wiser, as it has so often in the past, but changed. One thing that I’ve always admired about New Orleans is its sense of community, which is lacking in so many other parts of the country. The Looters and shooters made the headlines, while scores of others patroled their neighborhoods in boats looking for surviving members of the community, or simply guarding the streets where they live. Nice guys don’t make headlines as easily as the bad guys. So as before, here is my live cooking journal dedicated to the Restaurants, Chefs, and homecooks of New Orleans and their rich cuisine; I can only try to do it as good as you do. Here’s to a speedy recovery.

Forum for Restaurants affected by Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund

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Marisol needs your Help to feed the Hungry in New Orleans!

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I found this doing a search to see if Chef Pete Vasquez of Marisol Restaurant was OK after Katrina. He is not only ok, but he and his wife Janis are looking to feed the hungry victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. This is from a post at The Gumbo Pages Looka! Here is the INFO:

Marisol Restaurant needs YOUR help to feed rescuers & refugees!

Just received late last night from Janis Vasquez, wife of Marisol chef/owner Pete Vasquez:

Chef Pete is still in New Orleans. Marisol is undamaged. Please help us to help others.

We can feed the hungry with your help.

Massive clean-up and rescue efforts are finally underway and all of those rescuers and remaining displaced New Orleanians are very hungry.

Chef Pete is co-ordinating with one of our specialty produce suppliers, who is now in exile in Texas. The two of them believe that they will be able to round up enough supplies to feed many people for many days & weeks, but only with your help.

To those of you who are members of the press, or who already work with government agencies, or who simply have friends in high places; here is our question: How can we contact someone in charge at FEMA who can assist us with funding this work and spreading the news among those most affected?

Chef Pete’s home phone still works! You can call him at 504 263-5112 or you can call me in West Virginia at 304 242-6610 or you can e-mail me at food4fuel@aol.com

If you are sitting on a stockpile of bottled water and disposable and continues to requestplates and utensils, that would be great too.

If any of you are chefs or kitchen workers, your help will be most appreciated also. Please contact Chef Pete or me ASAP.

I can’t update the website and continues to request from here, but you can visit it anyway!

Thanks so much for reading this note. We hope to hear from you real soon!

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Restaurants Affected by Hurricane Katrina

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Thanks to Cookie Jill for the heads up on this link. The good folks of the Brennan family are helping with the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund which is being established by the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Here is the info:

New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund

A fund has also been established to benefit employees of the hospitality industry of the Greater New Orleans area who have experienced hardships because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Contributions may be sent to:

New Orleans Hospitality Workers Disaster Relief Fund
Greater Houston Community Foundation
4550 Post Oak Place, Suite 100
Houston, TX 77027
Call 713-333-2200 for additional information.

These are the folks that work from day to day to make New Orleans Cuisine a major standout in the American Culinary landscape! They need our help, if you have the means, lets help them out!!

Also on the Commander’s Palace site, there is a link to this forum of Restaurants Affected by Hurricane Katrina.

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