At last night’s James Beard Awards we were posted up in the media room, where somebody thought it would be a good idea to cook bacon for four straight hours. It was in this tight space where we also met a bunch of the winners, including Tory McPhail of the legendary Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Having worked there for over 20 years (since he was a teenager), the Washington native was finally been recognized with one of the cooking world’s highest honors. And how was he going to celebrate? We found out.
You just won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, in what is arguably the most competitive category. What are you thinking, man?
I do think the rest of the chefs in the category are amazing. I’m certainly proud to be hanging out with those dudes.
What do you do now?
On the agenda tonight? Drink a ton of Champagne. We also put some on ice back at the Hotel Elysee, just in case. And we’ll probably end up at the Monkey Bar at some point.
What have you been doing in New York?
We checked out four restaurants yesterday: Momofuku Ssäm, Minetta Tavern, ABC Kitchen and Angelo’s. And tomorrow we eat twice for dinner. The tasting menu at Le Bernardin. Then we get up, run around the block a few times, and head to Momofuku Ko. For me, coming up here is like visiting Disney World.
How did you get that reservation at Ko?
Tory’s girlfriend Brit responds: It’s magic. I’m a magical reservationist. Exactly 10 days out I was on it.
So you moved to New Orleans 20 years ago. What is your background?
I grew up in a small farming town Ferndale, Washington. We raised more raspberries than anywhere in the country and worked for Ocean Spray. After graduating from culinary school. I moved to New Orleans. I’ve been living in New Orleans for 20 years.
So you really saw New Orleans as a culinary boom town, well before the boom…
It was a town of 10 recipes, and everybody had a different version of those ten recipes. Gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp Creole and etouffee. But these days people are blowing it out of the water and doing all sorts of crazy things.
You’re heading back to New Orleans on Wednesday. What are your plans when you land?
I’m back to the kitchen early on Thursday and I’m going to give my sous-chef and my cooks a big old hug and thank them for their hard work. On the back of this medal that I am holding, it says Best Chef South. But it should be saying Best Kitchen South. Although my name is on the menu, this is about 50 people.