What I’m not trying to do is change the world with my food. I’m not trying to recreate the wheel. I’m only here to make people happy, and gumbo does that. And—and I think, you know, for me to be a chef in New Orleans is a very special thing because I’m part of a very long continuum of great cooks and chefs that have kept this cuisine growing and kept it alive, and I think now more than ever that’s important. And I also believe that just because something is 200 years-old doesn’t mean it’s not good anymore.
723 Dante Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
A young, broke, newly girlfriend-less Frank Brigtsen had no idea that he was about to begin his life’s work the day he answered a classified ad for aspiring Creole cooks at Commander’s Palace. It was the 1970s, and Paul Prudhomme was Commander’s revolutionary executive chef. This was also the defining era when Chef Paul opened his own restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, in the French Quarter—a restaurant that, according to Frank, was the first in New Orleans to serve home-style Cajun specialties such as jambalaya. Soon enough Chef Paul hired Frank to direct K-Paul’s kitchen. Several decades and thousands of pots of gumbo later, Frank has a landmark restaurant of his own, Brigtsen’s, where the rabbit and andouille filé gumbo is a deep brown, velveteen potage. His secrets? Baking his roux slowly in the oven, rather than browning it on the stovetop, and sautéing the filé powder with his seasoning vegetables. And one more thing: always keeping his Louisiana heritage close to his stirring arm.
Date of interview: July 26, 2007Interviewer: Sara RoahenPhotographer: Sara Roahen