Restaurant 1796 is thrilled to announce Executive Chef, Daniel Dreher and Chef de Cuisine, Austin Egan. With each their own extensive set of training and restaurant experience, together they bring a sense of collaboration and experimentation to our menu—all in hopes of achieving one single, precious goal.
Dreher described it: “It’s that moment when you bring something to someone to try for the first time. When they take a bite, and just sit back and you can see it on their face, right there and then. Like ah, this is so good.”
“I chase that reaction,” said Egan.
The first seeds of this passion were planted during Dreher’s two years working at The Magnolia Cafe, where he made the decision to attend the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University. There, his fate was sealed. “I fell in love with it,” he said. He left Nicholls in 2006 with a degree, and a fiancée too. In the following years, he worked at a number of restaurants and under a number of different chefs—the most influential of which was Chef Bryan Carr in St. Louis, Missouri. “He was like a father figure to me,” he said. “Just really kind and passionate, really cared about making great, simple food.”
Dreher then went on to open up Fresh Kitchen in Baton Rouge, a healthy prepared-meals business, which he and his co-founder Ryan McNeil sold to Lafayette’s Good Eats Kitchen in December 2018—perfect timing for him to join the team at Restaurant 1796, which we opened in early 2019.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s like it’s always been a dream of mine to work at a nice restaurant in St. Francisville. Growing up, if you wanted to do something, you had to go to Baton Rouge. It’s just nice having this in our backyard, seeing people come in who’ve known me since I was a little boy.”
For Egan, who spent his first eight months in St. Francisville commuting to Baton Rouge’s Ruffinos, the Myrtles’ new restaurant was almost too good to be true. “In this little out of the way town in Louisiana, somehow we’ve managed to get so many qualified people in the kitchen,” he said. “When I got here I was like, ‘What are you all doing out here?’ There is definitely like some higher power whisking everything into this little spot so we can do some really cool stuff.”
Egan cut his culinary teeth in high school in Ocala, Florida at the Marion Technical Institute—through which he competed in the Skills USA Culinary Arts Competition in 2011. “I actually cut the tip of my finger off like halfway through it, but I really wanted the scholarship they were offering,” he said. “It was the only way I could afford culinary school. I needed stitches, but I just got some masking tape, taped a glove onto my hand, and threw everything I had been cooking away. I started over and still finished in time, and won the competition.” A recruiter offered him a scholarship that day.
Egan finished high school early, packed his bags, and two weeks later moved to New York City to attend the Culinary Institute of America. “I was the kid who just read cookbooks, absorbed everything I could,” he said. “So when I got to this place, where the best of the best in the industry are, I just soaked it all up.”
For his externship in the program, Egan worked at Ralph Brennan’s Red Fish Grill in New Orleans, where he returned years later to work as a sous chef. After starting his family, he decided to make the move out of the city to St. Francisville. In late 2018, he joined the team at Restaurant 1796.
Both men have worked for the past five months under Chef Ben Lewis, who left Restaurant 1796 in May. The two credit him as an active force in establishing the high concept experience of the restaurant. “Me and Dreher, our cooking styles are very European,” said Egan. “Ben’s experience in the Virgin Islands brought in totally different influences. I was really forced to go outside of my comfort zone, use different spices. I really enjoyed the idea of making classics in a totally new way.” Dreher agreed: “He taught me a lot in a very short time.”
Now leading the kitchen themselves, Dreher and Egan both walk around with notebooks in hand. “We’re constantly writing ideas down, stuff to play with for the menu,” said Dreher, whose cooking philosophy is drawn from Chef Carr—less is more. “I’ll put my ice cream up against anybody,” he said. “It’s just eggs, sugar, cream, and flavor if you want—all about technique and ratios. There’s nowhere to hide.”
For his part, Egan approaches cooking from a standpoint of taking classics, and twisting them on their head. “I like reading old recipes, traditional dishes that aren’t always used anymore—or stuff that is overly popular, and doing my own thing with it.”
Going forward, the two chefs plan to each come together with their ideas—as well as the ideas of their fellow cooking staff—and to experiment, see what can happen, and keep it all fresh.
“The menu is going to change all the time,” said Egan. “Even things we like are going to make way for something new. We want people to try new things, to get excited about food with us.”
“It’s that look on your face that we’re after, just knowing that our food has made someone happy,” said Dreher.