Bananas Foster recipe is to die for

Published 9:19 am Saturday, March 18, 2017

I have just finished reading a great book about Ella Brennan called “Miss Ella.” She is, of course, the Ella Brennan, who as an 18-year-old worked in her brother’s bar and spent her professional life in the restaurant business with her crowning achievement being Commander’s Palace restaurant. We ate at Commander’s Palace just a few Sundays ago and it meant more to me after reading her book.

Miss Ella trained at the school of hard knocks in Depression-era New Orleans and viewed herself as “a little sawed off kid” from a nondescript restaurant in the French Quarter. And yet, Ella Brennan, with the support of a colorful, industrious—and sometimes contentious—Irish family, an insatiable desire for learning, and hurricane-strength will, blossomed into one of America’s most celebrated restauranteurs.

Her career began in the 1940s and still she was considered a pioneer of the modern American food movement. Fostering the careers of chefs such as Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, and befriending many Hollywood stars, she became the matriarch of a bountiful family of restauranteurs.

There are too many good stories in the book to repeat here, but this woman was something else. Her brother Owen, who was 15 years older, was the first Brennan to own a restaurant. It was called The Ole Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. Ella began working for him, and one morning he came waltzing in and said he was having a dinner honoring his friend Richard, who had just been appointed the chairman of the new vice commission. He wanted Ella to create a new dessert to honor him. She was taken aback that she had to do it that day, but she looked around at all the bananas in the kitchen and she thought everyone loved bananas and they were cheap. Ella’s mother would sauté them with butter and brown sugar. She also knew that everyone loved the baked Alaska at Antoine’s and love seeing it flamed, so she decided to sauté her bananas in butter and brown sugar and add some cinnamon and flame it and pour over ice cream, and yes, that night Ella showed off her dessert to Mr. Foster. Bananas Foster was born.

Ella was also the reason the jazz brunch was created. She said, “I don’t want a restaurant where a jazz band can’t come marching through.” The secret of her success is that she lets people feel important and you are greeted when you enter her restaurant. There is a rule that a BOD (Brennan on Duty) must be at any Brennan restaurant at all times. Commander’s Palace is where you come to have fun. Everyone is part of the party.

The last chapter is about the “saloon” in the sky. Her brother Owen loved the word saloon. In his mind, it was a gathering place for interesting people who were just enjoying themselves. Ella’s picture of the saloon in the sky will be food—New Orleans food; eggs and sautéed bananas for sure. Maybe Jamie Shannon is riding his motorcycle in and out of the kitchen, waving to Paul Prudhomme. Louie Armstrong will be playing, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, one more time. There will be after dinner drinks. She will have a stinger or two. She will not be sitting on a stool telling people what to do. She will be just having a good time. There is no BOD in the saloon in the sky. In the saloon in the sky, nobody works. You just enjoy.

Ella and her sister Dottie live in a house next door to Commander’s Palace. They call over to Commander’s every night and tell Tory McPhail, the current chef, what they want for dinner. Mr. McPhail stops whatever he is doing to give “room service” for the queens. They even send the dishes back to be washed. So as Ella would say about her life, “Lucky, Lucky Me.”

This book is a must read for anyone interested in the food of New Orleans and the Brennan family. I found it a delicious read!


A recipe for any occasion that is always good!

From the Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook, by Ella and Dick Brennan

Bananas Foster

Serves 2

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

4 tablespoons brown sugar

2 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons bananas liqueur

3 ounces light or dark rum

1 ½ cups French Vanilla Ice Cream

Melt butter in a flat chafing dish or skillet. Add brown sugar and stir until sugar is melted. Add bananas and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Pour bananas liqueur and rum over bananas, shake pan to distribute the liquid, and flame. Baste bananas with the flaming sauce until flames die out.

Serve immediately over the ice cream.


Laissez les bon temps rouler!