A Whole Lot of Dough
Drew Pope “Rises” to the Role of New Bakery Manager for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group
When Drew Pope, Bakery Manager of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, was young, no one in his family was professionally connected to cooking – so, learning the ropes was, at some level, unchartered territory. His passion only grew during his middle and high school years when his parents’ careers moved the family to Naples, Italy and Panama. The experience instilled in him a deep respect for the use of only the best ingredients, consuming it at its purest state, as well as a commitment to preservation and the reduction of waste.
After the initial culture shock of returning to America, his eyes were opened, once again, to new ways of eating. The family home was in Houma, Louisiana, and Pope got his start in the industry washing dishes at a local restaurant, working his way up to kitchen manager in just four years. “I understood and loved the science of cooking and was always excited to tackle a new recipe after work,” he recalls. Setting off for New Orleans, Pope worked for two years as a line cook at Commander’s Palace before taking a baking position at The Ritz-Carlton, where he learned about bread from pastry chef Thomas McGovern, and gained experience in large-scale banquet and restaurant production. As manager of Laurel Street Bakery, Pope was in charge of a massive operation supplying baked goods and petite desserts, bagels and pizza dough, to hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores all over the city. The volume was tremendous, and because Pope thrives on all of the action, he earned an Associate’s Degree in culinary arts during the day, while maintaining the overnight hours of a professional baker.
He began at the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group [RBRG] in 2017 as Bread Supervisor and was promoted to Bakery Manager after a year and a half. There’s so much variety in the range of restaurants and their needs, he says, that his work is always fulfilling with plenty of stimulating challenges. His domain is now the cavernous commissary in the city’s Third Ward, where his team produces all the baked goods required by all of the RBRG restaurants, and breads and desserts for the extensive catering operation. For the restaurants alone, that includes muffuletta bread for Napoleon House and a croissants program supplying breakfast for Brennan’s and Café NOMA; sourdough toast points for passed hors d’oeuvres, and bread service for Brennan’s and Ralph’s on the Park, both of which change seasonally, and are devised in close collaboration with the executive chefs. Lately, it’s been a rainbow of rolls from Potato to Hawaiian, Crimson Raisin and Fennel Ciabatta, and Sourdough Buttermilk Rye. Catering is where Pope and his team really get to splash out: “The fun is in responding to clients’ wishes, and concepts that span the gamut of cultures and concepts. Right now, I’m looking forward to creating traditional desserts of the Philippines for an upcoming wedding reception, and an international dessert spread for another event – everything from cannolis to a mousse, or Turkish delight.”
Pope especially appreciates Ralph Brennan’s support of ‘extracurricular’ baking initiatives, such as the team’s 2020 foray into King Cake production. “It was just an idea we had for a way to connect with the public during the pandemic,” says Pope. “None of us knew how great the response would be, but selling over 12,000 we clearly tapped into the love affair New Orleans has with king cakes, which apparently extends to innovations like chocolate and strawberry cream cheese versions – who knew?”
When he’s not at work, Pope enjoys cooking for his family, and woodwork and construction projects around the house – and he does it ALL with a smile!