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FE&SEditorial Archives2002 — July — Facility Design Project of the Month
Commander's Palace
Las Vegas

One of three cooking batteries in the 6,000-square-foot Commander's Palace kitchen is equipped with a double convection oven, tilting braising pan, fryer battery, griddle-top range and ranges with convection and conventional ovens beneath. Across the aisle is a raised rail refrigerated worktable. Left: A fully equipped bar is among the featured attractions in one of several dining areas. kitchen

Photos by Jeff Klein

A 6,000-square-foot kitchen designed for the preparation of fresh ingredients cooked la minute is supporting the Brennan family's venture into the Las Vegas restaurant scene with the introduction of a new Commander's Palace.

Few restaurants conjure as much respect and admiration as the landmark Commander's Palace in New Orleans. The original establishment, located in a plush neighborhood 20 minutes from downtown and the French Quarter, recently celebrated its 122nd year in business. Known for its contemporary New Orleans and Creole cuisine and exceptional service-focused Southern hospitality, the Brennan family's signature restaurant has become a distinguished model of quality, receiving numerous awards from local and international publications and food societies.

Two years ago, the Commander's Palace concept was transplanted to the west, to the Desert Passage in the Aladdin Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, just steps from the main street known as the "Strip." "Las Vegas is another guest-oriented, party town where people come to have fun," explained Brad Brennan, who manages the restaurant with family members Alex Brennan Martin, Lally Brennan and Ti Martin. "We thought Commander's would be a great match for the city."

Though the Las Vegas restaurant is similar to its New Orleans sister, it was designed to have its own character. "The Las Vegas property's décor and style have a New Orleans feeling, and there are distinct similarities in some of the spaces, such as the Garden Room, and on the menu, with items such as turtle soup and bananas Foster," said Brennan. "But, we didn't want to create a replica. Rather, we wanted this restaurant to stand on its own merit."

When entering the Las Vegas restaurant, elegance and Southern-style hospitality are immediately apparent. Tables in the 200-seat dining areas are set with white cloths in three rooms - one outfitted with dark mahogany trim and a full-service bar; another in view of the appetizer and dessert display kitchen; while the third is a garden room with old world New Orleans-style décor and a 25-foot-high atrium ceiling. Complementing the design motif and emphasizing the raison d'etre of the Las Vegas Commander's are the aromas and visual presentations of a large menu, featuring signature dishes that have long attracted customers from all over the world: turtle soup au sherry, shrimp rémoulade, tasso shrimp henican, Louisiana pecan-crusted gulf shrimp, Creole bread pudding souffle and bananas Foster.

Directly behind the appetizer-prep display kitchen, which has a full battery of equipment, is a well-organized, 6,000-square-foot kitchen, where 32 staff members prepare all menu items from scratch and cook them la minute. Three fully equipped cooking batteries and pass-through shelving support kitchen staff as they work quickly to keep up with demand from the 200 guests (table turns at dinner can be as high as two and a half times). "There's no question that the New Orleans staff is jealous of our huge Las Vegas kitchen, especially the fact that it is situated on one floor," commented Brennan. "It is much more efficient."

In addition to the large space allotted for the kitchen, Executive Sous Chef Tom Robey* said he appreciates hand sinks at every station - "which help keep the kitchen clean and organized" - and ample refrigeration on the line - "which is perfect for storing mis en place."

Before designing the Las Vegas kitchen, John Whitlock, project designer at the Roswell, Ga.-based Smith St. John division of QualServ Corp., recalled that he had spent hours with the New Orleans staff to solicit input. "The layout and design were selected to accommodate the fresh preparation and la minute cooking," Whitlock explained.

Deliveries, which arrive at least once daily, come in through a back hallway. A scale is positioned nearby, so incoming products can be weighed and checked against orders. Products are placed into storage as needed or delivered to appropriate prep stations. "Storage is minimal," explained Brennan. "John was concerned about that, but we receive deliveries once and, sometimes, twice a day. This delivery schedule is possible only in Las Vegas because the casinos order so many food and beverage items."

In addition to a dry storage room, the kitchen contins a walk-in cooler, which is used primarily to hold items just until they are needed for prep. Hot dishes that have been prepared and must be cooled are placed in containers inside a three-compartment sink filled with ice. (Two machines produce about three tons of ice for use in the ice baths and for beverages. A small crusher prepares ice for seafood.) "After placing soup in the baths," explained Robey, "we put frozen ice sticks in reusable plastic casings in them, so they cool more quickly."

Other storage areas include a small walk-in freezer, used primarily for ice cream, and a cooler adjacent to the butchery, which is equipped with a meat saw used for breaking down racks of veal and lamb for entrées and sausages, a knife rack, and a butcher's table with a sink and pan racks. Fish is also broken down and boned in this area. "We put glass doors on the cooler so staff can take cut items from them without going in where they could interfere with meat cutting," said Whitlock. " I took this idea from C-store designs."

Perpendicular to the waitress pick-up counter, pass shelf with heat lamps and worktable where finished plates are assembled before they are delivered to dining guests is a station with soup wells, a heated cabinet and tray storage.

Nearby is a cold prep area, which includes a 40-quart mixer, a food processor, prep tables with a sink, a salad dryer and a cutter/mixer for making salads and dressings. Another prep table is situated next to this equipment, along with a mobile slicer. Within feet of the cold prep area is a smoker, one of the chefs' favorite pieces of equipment. Reported Robey, "We use the smoker as much as possible, for items such as tasso used in tasso shrimp henican, as well as apple wood bacon, andouille and fish for fish cakes."

Adjacent to the smoker are a double convection oven; a 60-gallon kettle; and two tilting 40-gallon kettles. On the opposite side are two 20-quart kettles; a tilting braising pan; a combi steamer/convection oven; and a double convection oven. Sauces, soups, baked and roasted dishes, as well as menu items for large parties, are prepared at these stations.

The adjoining areas contain cabinets, worktables with sinks, undercounter refrigerators, a raised rail refrigerated worktable, mobile racks and a hot well. Moving further toward the front of the kitchen are back-to-back batteries whose equipment includes four-burner ranges with convection ovens; cheese melters; four-burner ranges with conventional ovens (used primarily to hold warm plates); griddle-top ranges; 6-inch spreaders; a fryer battery with a built-in filtering system; tilting braising pans; a charbroiler; and double convection ovens. The front manifold covers for the ranges have been extended so plates can be positioned here.

The station closest to the seating areas holds a hand sink, a raised rail refrigerated worktable, hot well, a pass-through shelf with heat lamps, a waitress pick-up counter and a reach- in refrigerator.

Perhaps the most challenging obstacle to the completion of this facility occurred fairly late in the design process. Unbeknown to the Commander's project team, the hotel had planned to install a spa directly above the cooking battery. The hood and exhaust systems, therefore, had to be redesigned to allow for an extra 240 feet of duct work (arranged in spaghetti form) to be installed to reach the air purifying system, which has massive filters, on the roof. Explained Whitlock, "Las Vegas has more stringent air quality standards than any I've seen elsewhere. We knew our filter cartridge hood system that removes grease would pass inspection, because it is being used in other facilities in Las Vegas."

As Commander's Palace continues to establish its roots and develop its own traditions in Las Vegas, it will undoubtedly attract a new generation of clientele who find wonder and satisfaction in the many aromas and flavors of New Orleans and Creole cuisine. If they look closely, those customers will catch a glimpse of a secret known for generations by the Brennans and their staff members: A well-equipped kitchen that is designed for la minute cooking of fresh ingredients can express the soul of a family-owned independent operation.

Key Equipment List
1. Compressor
2. Bread storage shelving
3. Product container
4. Toaster
5. Custom worktable
6. Undercounter refrigeration
7. Fryer battery
8. Exhaust hood
9. 6-inch spreader
10. Raised rail refrigerated
11. 6-burner range w/
convection oven
12. Cheese melter
13. 4-burner range
14. Reach-in refrigerator
15. Worktable w/sink & cabinet
16. Raised rail refrigerated
17. Plate froster
18. Faucet
19. Pass shelf w/heat lamps
20. First course counter
21. Soup pick-up table
w/tray storage
22. Soup wells
23. Heated cabinet
24. Hot well
25. Mobile worktable
26. Waitress pick-up counter
27. Hand sink
28. Raised rail refrigerated
29. Worktable with sink
30. 4-burner range w/convection oven
31. 4-burner range w/oven
32. Griddle-top range
33. Pass shelf
34. 6-burner range w/oven
35. Charbroiler
36. Double convection oven
37. Tilting braising pan
38. Double convection oven
39. Worktable
40. Overshelf
41. Mobile racks
42. Lockable cabinets
43. 20-qt. kettle w/stand
44. Steamer/convection combi
45. Walk-in prep cooler
46. Smoker
47. 60-gal. kettle
48. 40-gal. kettle
49. Prep table w/sinks
50. Slicer
51. Mobile slicer table
52. 40-qt. mixer
53. Food processor
54. Salad dryer
55. Cutter/mixer
56. Walk-in cooler
57. Storage shelving
58. Scale
59. Walk-in cooler w/shelving
60. Walk-in freezer
61. Walk-in freezer w/shelving
62. Meat chopper
63. Wall shelving
64. Knife rack
65. Butcher table w/sink
66. Meat saw
67. Pan racks
68. Meat cooler shelving
69. Meat cooler
70. Fresh seafood ice pan
71. Ice machine w/bin
72. Ice machine
73. Mop sink
74. Mop holder
75. Chemical shelving
76. Grease storage
77. Dry storage shelving
78. Pre-rinse spray
79. 3-compartment sink
80. Pot & utensil shelving
81. Soiled dishtable w/overshelf
82. Dishmachine
83. Booster heater
84. Soiled dishtable
85. Clean dishtable
86. Mobile china carts
87. Silver sorting table
88. Pulper
89. Bag 'n box soda system
90. Wine & beer cooler & shelving
91. 24-inch drain board
92. 12-inch ice chest
93. 36-inch cocktail station w/rails
94. Dishwasher
95. 12-inch dump sink
96. 10-inch filler strip
97. 30-inch filler strip
98. 15-inch filler strip
99. Bar
100. Back-bar refrigerator
101. Beer dispensing system
102. 24-inch froster

Design Capsule

The newest Commander's Palace is located in the Desert Passage in the Aladdin Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, on the "Strip." The 200-seat restaurant serves contemporary New Orleans and Creole cuisine for dinner, lunch and brunch. The entire facility is 12,000-square-feet; the kitchen is 6,000-square-feet. A total of 160 employees work in the restaurant; 32 in the kitchen.
Project Managers: Brad Brennan, Alex Brennan-Martin, Lally Brennan and Ti Martin
Architects & Interior Design: Looney & Associates, Dallas; and Gamma Construction Co.
Foodservice Project Coordinator/ Consultant: John Whitlock, Smith St. John Division (Roswell, Ga.) of Qual-Serv Corp.
General Manager: Michael Smith
Office Manager: Jimmy Boudreaux
Executive Chef: Carlos Guia
Executive Sous Chef: Tom Robey* (Since the article was written, Robey has returned to New Orleans.)
Original Chef Consultants: Jamie Shannon, Commander's Palace, New Orleans (recently passed away), and Tory McPhael, who has since become the New Orleans Commander's executive chef.

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