2020 Food Forum: Resetting the Table - The Restaurant Industry in Times of Turbulence and Change


November 9–13, 2020

Presented with co-organizer Dr. Jessica B. Harris, writer and food historian

Celebrated internationally and beloved locally, New Orleans restaurants knit our community together. The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the survival of local restaurants, but many have risen to the challenge with innovative ideas and partnerships. Join us at the virtual table for a week of conversations with local restaurateurs and chefs, where we’ll explore the pandemic, racial equity, and how our rich history might illuminate the way forward.



Monday, November 9–Friday, November 13 on Zoom

Participants will receive a prerecorded welcome video on Sunday, November 8, with an overview of the week and a conversation between THNOC programming manager Amanda McFillen and Dr. Jessica B. Harris, featuring special guest Dana Honn, owner of Carmo and Café Cour, the museum café at THNOC. All programs begin at 7 p.m. Registration includes access to all events. 

Monday, November 9, 7 p.m.

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Historic Restaurants Discuss the Pandemic and Lessons from the Past
Moderator: Lolis Eric Elie, writer, filmmaker, and food historian
Deidre Barrow Johnson and Kenneth Johnson Jr., owners, Barrow's Catfish
Ralph Brennan, president and CEO, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group
Cindy Mandina, owner, Mandina’s Restaurant


Tuesday, November 10, 7 p.m.

Screening of Leah Chase: The Queen of Creole Cuisine
Introduction: Edgar L. "Dooky" Chase III, son of Dooky and Leah Chase, and Stella Chase Reese, president, Dooky Chase's Restaurant Corporation

Special thanks to WLAE for graciously providing the film for this screening.


Wednesday, November 11, 7 p.m.

Upending the Table: Racial Equity and the Restaurant Industry
Moderator: Lauren Darnell, executive director, MiNO Foundation
Syrena Johnson, owner and executive chef, Chef Syrena Johnson LLC
Serigne Mbaye, owner and executive chef, Dakar NOLA
Michael Shelton, executive chef, Café Amelie


Thursday, November 12, 7 p.m.

Screening of Lost Restaurants of New Orleans
Introduction and commentary: Peggy Scott Laborde, documentary producer

Special thanks to WYES for graciously providing the film for this screening.


Friday, November 13, 7 p.m.

Pivoting, Adapting, Simmering, and Waiting: The Future of Restaurants in New Orleans
Moderator: Poppy Tooker, host, Louisiana Eats!, New Orleans Public Radio
Dennis Bagneris, CEO, Liberty’s Kitchen
Megan Forman, co-owner and executive chef, Gracious Bakery
Ali Grieb, COO, LeBlanc + Smith restaurant group




Dennis Bagneris

Dennis Bagneris is a native of New Orleans and graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana. He currently serves as the CEO of Liberty’s Kitchen, a café and workforce-development training program. As a social enterprise, Liberty’s Kitchen is dedicated to transforming the lives of the opportunity-vulnerable youth population of New Orleans, providing them with the support to develop self-sustainability through an intensive life-skills curriculum and employment-skills training program set in a culinary environment. Bagneris has more than a decade of experience in mentoring and supporting the challenged and underserved youth in his community through Liberty’s Kitchen and other like-minded organizations and initiatives throughout the city.

Deirdre Barrow Johnson and Kenneth Johnson Jr.

Deidre Barrow Johnson and Kenneth Johnson Jr. are the proprietors of Barrow’s Catfish, which was originally founded as Barrow’s Shady Inn in 1943 by Deidre’s grandparents, William “Cap” Barrow Sr. and his wife, May. Barrow’s operated from its original location on Mistletoe Street in the Carrollton-Hollygrove neighborhood until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the storm, the Johnsons moved to Georgia, but they always knew they would bring Barrow’s back. In July 2018, the couple opened Barrow’s Catfish on Earhart Boulevard. The family’s recipes and legacy as one of the longest-running black businesses in New Orleans have been carried in the hearts of its founders and heirs for 75 years and 4 generations.

Ralph Brennan

Ralph Brennan is the third-generation patriarch of the Brennans, a family name synonymous with New Orleans cuisine. Brennan owns and operates five restaurants and a catering company in New Orleans, plus a restaurant in the Downtown Disney District at the Disneyland Resort in southern California. He is also an investor in three family-owned restaurants, including the venerable Commander’s Palace. His most recent projects have been the acquisition and operation of two French Quarter landmarks: Brennan’s on Royal Street and the Napoleon House on Chartres Street. Brennan is the first person from New Orleans named to the Culinary Institute of America’s board of trustees, for which he serves as vice chairman.

Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase III is the only son of Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase Jr. and Leah Lange Chase, owners of the legendary New Orleans eatery Dooky Chase’s Restaurant on Orleans Avenue in Treme. From beginnings as a sandwich shop and lottery-ticket outlet, which opened in 1939, Dooky Chase’s blossomed into a thriving restaurant that played an integral role in the civil rights movement, the arts and music industries, and the cultural development of New Orleans. Dooky Chase III served as a captain in the US Marine Corps from 1968 to 1978. He received degrees in business and law from Loyola University New Orleans and an MBA from Columbia University in New York. His many careers included lawyer, entrepreneur, CPA for Price Waterhouse in Manhattan and New Orleans, and dean of the Business School at Dillard University in New Orleans.

Lauren Darnell

Lauren Darnell is the executive director of Made in New Orleans Foundation (MiNO). At the individual level, MiNO provides educational resources, individual mentorship and culinary scholarships, and business coaching. At the industry level, the organization amplifies the voices of professionals of color and provides support to hospitality companies that are seeking to eliminate bias and disparities. Darnell is committed to facilitating conversations about growth and freedom. She has trained in the UK with the Concord Institute for Integral Studies and assists in training and programming with THE SPACE BodyMind Consulting in Como, Italy. Darnell holds a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology and women’s studies from University of New Orleans. She also serves on the New Orleans Food Policy Advocacy Committee as co-chair of the business development working group.

Lolis Eric Elie

Lolis Eric Elie is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, and television writer. His books include Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans, as well as the forthcoming Rodney Scott’s World of Barbecue. His food writing has appeared in The Art of Eating, Gourmet, the New York Times, and Saveur. His television credits include Treme, The Man in the High Castle, Bosch, and the documentary Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.

Megan Forman

Megan Forman graduated from the New England Culinary Institute and worked at several fine dining institutions in New York City, including Park Avenue Café and Payard Patisserie and Bistro, before returning to her native New Orleans in 2001 to accept the pastry chef position at Susan Spicer's acclaimed restaurant Bayona. In 2004 Forman received a StarChefs Rising Stars’ Chef Award. In 2007 she joined the Sucre startup team as the executive assistant pastry chef. She and her husband Jay opened Gracious Bakery and Café in 2012, realizing their dream of being business owners. Over the past eight years, Gracious has grown from one retail store into three retail outlets, as well as a 3,000-square-foot production facility.

Ali Grieb

Ali Grieb was acting in various theaters in New York City when she stumbled upon her true passion: hospitality. She spent eight years as director of service and events for Andrew Carmellini at Joe's Pub and The Library at the Public. Ali's love of live entertainment, culture, and hospitality brought her to New Orleans with her husband, chef Ricky Mungaray. She was hired as the general manager of Sylvain before being promoted to director of development and eventually COO of LeBLANC+SMITH. Ali was crucial in L+S’s complete redesign of their post-COVID restaurant business model and in the successful launch of The Chloe.

Jessica B. Harris

Jessica B. Harris is the author, editor, or translator of 17 books, including 12 cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African diaspora. She has lectured widely in the United States and abroad and has written extensively for scholarly and popular publications. Harris consults internationally, most recently for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new cafeteria. She holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Queens College/CUNY, Université de Nancy, and New York University. Harris was recently granted an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Johnson and Wales University and a lifetime achievement award at the inaugural Soul Summit, a gathering of people working in the area of African American foodways. She was elected to the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America and was inducted into their Cookbook Hall of Fame for her body of work. Dr. Harris was a professor at Queens College/CUNY in New York for five decades and is currently professor emeritus at that institution.

Dana Honn

Dana Honn is the chef/owner of two restaurants in New Orleans, Carmo and Café Cour, and has been an advocate for gulf seafood for over 15 years. His interviews and articles profiling sustainably minded chefs, fishers, and farmers around the tropics have been featured in regional and national publications. Honn founded the Tropical Foodways Institute in 2013, with the primary goal of acting as a conduit for research, education, and resources relating to the cuisine and culture of the tropics. He is a member of the Audubon Nature Institute’s G.U.L.F. Chef Council, Slow Food Chef’s Alliance, American Culinary Federation, and Chefs Collaborative. He has been a featured chef, speaker, and educator at multiple local and national events, including Farm to Table International, Slow Fish, SeaWeb, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Syrena Johnson

Syrena Johnson became the first recipient of the John Besh Foundation’s Chefs Move! Scholarship to study at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York City in 2011. In 2014 she received a grant from MAD, a Danish nonprofit dedicated to empowering the hospitality community. Johnson is a chef instructor at Liberty’s Kitchen, where she got her start in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She has made many media appearances, including the ABC News special “Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm,” The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC, and Roadtrip Nation. She has also been featured in Food and Wine and Louisiana Cooking magazines, and she was recently a champion of the Food Network’s Chopped.

Peggy Scott Laborde

Peggy Scott Laborde is an Emmy Award–winning producer and the host/producer of “Steppin’ Out,” New Orleans’s only weekly arts and entertainment discussion program, which is now in its 34th season on WYES-TV (PBS affiliate) in New Orleans. Laborde is a charter board member of the Tennessee Williams and New Orleans Literary Festival, for which she served as president for 14 years. She is also the co-author of five books and has produced over 30 documentaries focusing on the food, culture, and recent history of New Orleans.

Serigne Mbaye

Serigne Mbaye was born in the United States but raised and educated largely in Senegal. He graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in 2016 and moved to New Orleans. From beginnings as a line cook, he rose to the level of sous chef at Commander’s Palace and was the sous chef at Café Adelaide. He left New Orleans to hone his skills at Atelier Crenn, a three–Michelin Star restaurant in San Francisco, and at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, a two–Michelin Star restaurant in New York City. In 2018 he was awarded the Paul McIlhenny Culinary Entrepreneurism Scholarship at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Mbaye has created Dakar, a local pop-up restaurant, to bring modern Senegalese food to the city that he has come to love.

Stella Chase Reese has served as the president of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant Corporation since 2016. As president, she is charged with leading, sustaining, and growing the nearly 80-year-old New Orleans icon. Before joining the Dooky Chase’s team, Reese worked in the Orleans Parish School system for over 35 years at various elementary schools, including Phillis Wheatley, James Lewis, and Lafayette. Reese has served as the president of the local Associates of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, of which she was a member for many years. She was also the chair of Xavier University of Louisiana’s St. Katharine Drexel Chapel fundraising committee, helping to raise more than $10 million to build the chapel on the university’s campus.

Michael Shelton

Michael Shelton was born in Philadelphia, attended high school and college in Mississippi, and moved to Louisiana in 2005. He got his start in fine dining at 2 Johns Steak and Seafood in Bossier City, Louisiana. Shelton moved to New Orleans in 2014 and worked in several restaurants—including Mondo, Pizza Domenica, Apolline, and La Petite Grocery—before taking his first executive chef position at the Little Gem Saloon in 2015. He was executive chef at Café Amelie and is now owner at Flossie Hayes Culinary Endeavors. Shelton has worked with a variety of community organizations, such as Café Reconcile, Son of a Saint, and the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Poppy Tooker

Poppy Tooker is a food personality, radio host, teacher, and author, who is passionate about food and the people who bring it to the table. She brings all of these elements together in her weekly radio show, Louisiana Eats!, which airs on the New Orleans NPR-affiliated station WWNO. In both 2017 and 2018, Louisiana Eats! was recognized as a Best Food Program finalist by the Taste Awards. The program was also recognized by the New Orleans Press Club in the Best Radio Show category in 2015 and 2016. Tooker has published five cookbooks and has been instrumental in reviving many endangered foods and food traditions.


View schedules from past Food Forums (previously named Culinary Symposium).