- Category: New Orleans area
January 2010. A growing phenomenon born from happenstance.
Related recipe: Yam and Sage Gnocchi with Roasted Tomato Broth
New Orleans is blessed with such amazing culinary talent, creativity, and so much dedication to detail, we often think, it can’t get any better than this. Yet, there’s a new chef in town at a new restaurant that is poised to raise the bar again on New Orleans’ already elevated status as the best dining-out city in the country. Make way for the city’s newest top tier French restaurant, Le Foret, and Chef Jimmy Corwell, one of only sixty-one Certified Master Chefs in the U.S.
Located in the Central Business District at the corner of Camp and Common streets, the restaurant occupies an historic 1840s era building which had sat idle and empty—except for the pigeons—for more than thirty years. It’s resurrection and restoration is an extraordinary gift to the city by Le Foret owners, Margaret and Mike Schexnayder. From the moment it opened its doors in mid-October, Le Foret, has charmed diners with its magnificent cuisine, superb service and elegant surroundings. In less than three months, it has taken its place as one of the most revered and respected dining spots in town.
In a sense this is even more astounding, because Le Foret is a totally new venture, without connections to the city’s older dining establishments or to any restaurant that existed before. The building, a former cigar factory, had been in ruins long before the oft-blamed Katrina.
The origins of the restaurant have almost as much to do with happenstance as with careful planning, excellent management and exceptional talent. Le Foret was first imagined and created by a gentle dreamer who’s never even been in the restaurant business before. Margaret Schexnayder—an artist, designer and nature lover—had chance encounters with two strangers that changed her life and theirs forever.
It all began one hot and humid day when Schexnayder was jogging through the French Quarter and paused to read Brennan’s menu, because she was looking for a place to take her sister to brunch. “I stopped to check out the posted brunch menu, when this gentleman who obviously worked there walked outside and handed me a cool bottle of water.” They chatted and he encouraged her to come for brunch, and that was the beginning of a great friendship. The gentleman, Danny Millan, was the maitre d’, later promoted to Brennan’s general manager, and deemed the “nicest, most caring” hospitality industry person Schexnayder had ever met. He made sure she and her sister had a wonderful experience.
Many more lunches, dinners, special occasions and events followed over the years with Margaret and her husband, Mike, and more family members. “We just thought so much of Danny, and we loved his work ethic,” she said. When he left Brennan’s after eight years to join the staff at Restaurant August as maitre d’ and general manager, the Schexnayders followed. Margaret and her husband kept saying, “this guy works so hard and is such a good guy, he should have his own restaurant.”
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