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It is not a prerequisite for the proprietor of a Louisiana seafood house to have a European Master Chef certification, but for Horst Pfeifer, one did eventually lead to the other. Horst grew up on a small farm in a Bavarian town of 150 residents where his parents raised and grew nearly everything the family ate, including the wheat that they ground at the local mill. Horst began caring for his brother at a young age while their parents were in the fields, and his duties included some cooking.
When at fifteen years old it was time for him to choose a career path, a chef’s life seemed to best fit his interests and skills. A go-getter then as now, Horst went straight for his master’s degree, working in kitchens all over Europe and the United States. He spent three years running a private resort kitchen in the 1980s in Texas, where he met his wife, Karen. Connections from that gig brought him to New Orleans, where at the age of 29 he opened his own fine dining restaurant, Bella Luna, in the French Quarter.
Bella Luna was a casualty of Hurricane Katrina in 2005—Horst and Karen rented the space from the City of New Orleans, which did not repair wind and water damage soon enough for them to reopen. After a year and a half in limbo, downhearted and ready for change, they purchased Middendorf’s Restaurant from Suzy and Joey Lamonte in what some of their friends judged was a rash move. It certainly was a sea change, trading their condo in the French Quarter for a few acres in Ponchatoula; going from linens to laminated menus. And the transition wasn’t easy: the restaurant flooded twice in their first two years of ownership.
But when you listen to Horst and Karen talk about what running Middendorf’s means to them now, it sounds a bit like evangelists proselytizing. They are proud to oversee the survival of such a longstanding and beloved institution and can hardly believe their good fortune at having discovered this new way of life.