Culinard Grad Chef Brandon Felder Rising Star in New Orleans Dining Scene

Sep 29, 2014

Last month, Culinard graduate and New Orleans native son Chef Brandon Felder of Le Foret won Gambit's 2014 Emerging Chefs Challenge with a sugarcane-glazed Kurobuta pork belly with goat cheese spoonbread. To be eligible, chefs must have served for three years or less as head chef or chef de cuisine at a New Orleans-area restaurant.

Chef Felder wins Gambit's 2014 Emerging Chefs Challenge
Photo courtesy of Romney Photography, 2014

The win was just the latest accolade for Chef Felder -- and certainly won't be the last for this rising culinary star.

Chef Felder says cooking is a lifelong passion. "I was always in the kitchen," he says. "Both of my grandmothers were very good cooks. There was always a ton of flavor in their food. Something I learned once I got to Culinard is that they were layering flavors, using herbs and spices."

A native of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Chef Felder moved with his family to Gulfport, Mississippi, when he was a freshman in high school. He hurt his arm playing baseball in junior college and was at loose ends as to what his future would be. "My mom said, ‘Why don't you check out a culinary school?'" he says. "So I found Culinard [in Birmingham], and I absolutely fell in love with it."

At Culinard, Chef Felder began to learn the fundamental knowledge and techniques he would need to succeed in the culinary world. "Culinard gave me the background I needed for everything," he says. "They really prepare you for the demands of the restaurant business. They told us, ‘It's going to be hard, you have to work super hard. You're not going to have weekends off.'"

Chef Felder was the only student in his class to get an externship at Commander's Palace, the legendary New Orleans restaurant. He was hired immediately after his externship. "I started at $8.50 an hour," he says. "I've never worked longer hours. It was extremely hard work, but I would never take it back. It was the best experience I ever had, and going to Culinard was the best move I've ever made."

After two years learning the ropes at Commander's Palace, Chef Felder was ready for something new. He got a position in a hotel kitchen but says the hotel life wasn't a good fit. Then an opening at renowned (and, sadly, now closed) restaurant Stella! became available. The menu at Stella! was daring and often experimental, and Chef Felder made his mark, soon becoming sous chef. When Stella! executive chef Carlos Briceno departed for Le Foret, Chef Felder followed him to the chic Central Business District restaurant. After a year as head chef, Briceno left in 2012 to open his own restaurant and Chef Felder was promoted. At just 26, he had become executive chef of one of the city's finest dining establishments.

"I was very fortunate for it to happen so soon," Chef Felder says. "It's a trial by fire; you're never really ready to be executive chef. I'm constantly learning new techniques."

Named "Best New Restaurant" by New Orleans magazine in 2010, the elegant Le Foret has since become a city favorite. Housed in a beautifully renovated historic building, Le Foret's menu showcases Louisiana products and French techniques. "We don't use anything from more than 100 miles away," Chef Felder says. "I don't like to do fish not from the Gulf. Everything is from the state. We use the items from our culture, and it's a big experience for people who visit from out of town."

After becoming executive chef at such a young age, what's next for the talented chef? "I just want to be the best chef I can possibly be, someday build a restaurant empire and give someone else a chance to do what I've done," he says. "Almost every chef's dream is to build a restaurant and help out other nobodies like me."

While Chef Felder is no longer a "nobody" in the world of New Orleans cuisine, he doesn't consider himself a celebrity chef just yet. "My staff likes to keep me grounded," he says with a laugh.

Chef Felder doesn't hesitate when asked what advice he would share with current Culinard students who hope to follow in his footsteps. "My advice would be work very hard," he says. "If you want to be successful, sleep less and work extremely hard!"

Chef Brandon Felder posing alongside other winners of Gambit's 2014 Emerging Chefs Challenge
Photo courtesy of Romney Photography, 2014

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