Chef Meg Bickford of Commander's Palace Wants You to Start Cooking With Booze

On Location

Woman tossing shrimp in a pan

Spruce Eats/ Todd Coleman / Amelia Manley

Welcome to On Location, where we talk to the coolest cooks and makers around the country about what's inspiring them right now.

Chef Meg Bickford has been executive chef at Commander's Palace since 2020, but she's served in various roles in the iconic institution's kitchen for 14 years. Going further back, Bickford has been cooking since she was a kid, watching Cajun and Creole flavors blend in her parents' kitchen. “Everybody in my family just knows how to cook. It’s something that you do because everybody helps and everybody wants to. Everyone is in the kitchen all of the time; it's the heart of the house," she says.

Residents of New Orleans and visitors alike are lucky enough to sample her takes on the region's cuisine while enjoying the signature atmosphere of Commander's Palace. That includes Bickford's lime daiquiri lacquered shrimp, a signature dish that blends regional flavors and turns them into something new.

Tell us about the lime daiquiri lacquered shrimp you made in the video.

The dish is a lot of fun. It’s a lot of great Louisiana flavors. In our kitchen, we cook with alcohol a lot, and this dish was a fun exploration of that. Lime daiquiris are the perfect cocktail—they’re three ingredients, they’re so wonderful and refreshing—so this is really just in honor of that. 

The base is a crab boil pineapple coulis that’s hit with a little bit of cilantro and fresh lime, then the vegetables that go with the shrimp are crab-boiled sweet potatoes. There you get this beautiful sweetness that’s paired with this great spice and goes well together. There are lots of charred chiles for that little bit of bitter and then some caramelized pearl onions and wilted greens. Then you have the gorgeous Louisiana white shrimp right over top that are flambéed with rum and fresh lime and topped with the lime daiquiri glaze.

Why do you like to cook with booze?

Deglazing the shrimp with rum brightens the entire thing up. It pulls the sweetness out of the shrimp and highlights the salt just enough. The alcohol is just there to help highlight the natural flavors in the food.

We also love flame here at Commander’s. We’re pretty famous for bananas foster, which is a very famous dessert. There’s a lot of technique and reason for flambéing your alcohol. You walk through the Commander’s kitchen and you see flames shooting up all over the place, it’s pretty cool.

What's your advice to someone cooking with alcohol at home?

It’s just thinking about what flavor profiles you’re going for and not being afraid of it. Alcohol can be so complimentary to what you’re doing.

All of that fond that’s left in the bottom of the pan after you caramelize your onions and garlic or shallots or the holy trinity (onions, bell peppers, and celery)—after cooking all of that to really build your base flavors, using alcohol (whether it’s white wine or brandy or whiskey) to deglaze the pan really gets all of that flavor off the bottom and reincorporate it back into the food. That’s really a big base for us in terms as we build flavors for dishes.

What do you think is so special about Cajun and Creole cuisine?

Cajun and Creole cuisine is pretty complex with the amount of influence that it’s had and how old the cuisine is. The massive amount of cultural influence—the French and Spanish influence, the Native American influence, the Caribbean and African influence, the Italian and even Irish influence—that’s where we got this melting pot of a cuisine from.

The exciting thing is it didn’t stop there. As south Louisiana continues to be a melting pot, the cuisine is constantly evolving. And we as a culture of people are very accepting of the outside influence coming in because that’s what got us here in the first place. It’s not just this thing of old that we study. It’s constantly changing and there are fantastic chefs in the city that are continuing to evolve with the cuisine. It’s staying new and exciting, and to me, you couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

How do you feel about putting your own stamp on the cuisine?

I’m really lucky to work with people who are so dedicated to the challenge. My sous chefs and I talk about food all of the time, and it’s a really easy conversation. It’s a lot of fun to talk about what some of our favorite old dishes are and how do we pay honor and tribute to the cuisine that we grew up with and love so much and have studied so much. That’s important to us.

It can be a little daunting. While we take food very seriously, we don’t take ourselves seriously. It’s fun that the conversation is always changing because the cuisine is always evolving.

What are some favorite places you've eaten lately?

I have to say, Michael Gulotta is one of my favorite chefs in the city. He has Maypop, which is one of my favorite restaurants. He does a beautiful mix of the deltas. The guys at Palm & Pine are doing wonderful things, and Marjie’s Grill is always a fun and exciting dining experience.

Lightning Round

  • Last thing you cooked at home? Braised smoked brisket and rice
  • Cooking soundtrack? At home, anything from Al Green to Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
  • Favorite cocktail? Whiskey smash
  • Top 3 spices? Hand-ground filé, cayenne pepper, Calabrian chile
  • Kitchen tool you can’t live without? Japanese chef knife and heat-tempered rubber spatula
  • Favorite snack? Potato chips