Category Archives: New Orleans

posts about NOLA and it’s food

7 Mardi Gras Recipes…

Sorry so late…but here are 7 stellar Mardi Gras recipes so even if you are not in the Big Easy today…you can eat like you are.

Smoked Duck & Andouille Gumbo

Café Vermilionville
Servings: Serves a crowd
2 smoked Long Island ducklings
1 pound andouille
2 cups roux
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped bell peppers
¼ cup minced garlic
1 quart Chicken Stock
2 quarts Duck Stock
Seasoning salt, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste
1 cup green onions
½ cup parsley
Debone smoked ducks, discard the skin, and place duck carcass in 2 gallons of water along with
onion and celery trimmings. Cook for 1 hour to make duck stock. Strain and set aside stock. Heat
roux in black iron pot and add onions, celery, peppers, and garlic until wilted, being careful not
to burn the roux. Slowly add chicken and duck stock until you get the right consistency. Bring to
a boil and simmer for at least two hours, stirring often. Chop the duck and andouille and add to
stock with seasoning salt and hot sauce. Simmer for a half hour until duck pieces are tender. Add
green onions. Serve over steamed rice with parsley garnish

Louisiana Seafood Mixed Grill

Chef Tory McPhail
Grilled Black Drum, Wild Shrimp and Blue Crab over Sliced Creole Tomatoes, Basil and Grilled
Corn Butter
Makes 8 servings
1 pound Black Drum fillets
1/3 pound, 10/12 count White Shrimp – head on, or 4 whole shrimp
½ pound Jumbo Lump Blue Crab, picked over for shells and cartilage
1 ½ teaspoons Creole Seasoning
Salt and White Pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon Vegetable oil
3 ounces Butter
1 Shallot, peeled and brunoise
4 ears Sweet Corn (you may use three ears and supplement with baby corn if available)
2 ounces Jack Daniels
2 ounces Cream
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme, picked from stem
Salt and White Pepper to taste
2 large ripe Creole or Heirloom Tomatoes, sliced thinly (you may choose to peel the tomatoes
ahead of time)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ounce Basil leaves, chiffonade
1 Lemon
1 ounce Basil Oil
¼ ounce Chili Oil
¼ ounce Herbs or Micro Sprouts, as garnish
Preheat a gas grill, charcoal grill or grill pan to medium heat.
Method for the corn:
Remove the husk and silk from the ears of corn and lightly season with salt and white pepper.
Place on the grill and cook on all sides for 5 minutes or until the corn is cooked with a light
golden brown color. Remove from the grill and place into a medium salad bowl. When the corn
is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob using a serrated knife. Using the back of
the knife, scrape the corn milk from the cobs into the bowl with the kernels and set to the side.
Discard the cobs.
Place a medium sauté pan on the stove over medium high heat for 3 minutes. Add one of the
three ounces of butter to the pan and swirl. Add the shallots and continue to swirl for 30 seconds.
Add the corn and corn milk and season with salt and white pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Remove
the pan from the heat, deglaze with Jack Daniels, return to the heat and flambé. When flames
subside, add the cream and reduce to sauce consistency. Fold in the jumbo lump blue crab, add
the thyme and cook for 1 more minute. Swirl in the last 2 ounces of butter, check the seasoning
and set aside to keep warm.
Method for the Tomatoes:
Choose two ripe Creole or heirloom tomatoes for this dish. You can remove the skin if you
choose but it’s not necessary. Slice each tomato into 6 even slices, discarding the core and the
ends, and shingle them out onto a cookie sheet. Season both sides of the tomato with salt, pepper,
and fresh lemon juice. Chiffonade the basil leaves and sprinkle across the top of the tomatoes.
Set aside.
Method for the Seafood:
Portion the drum into 4 equal pieces, ensuring there is no skin, scales, or bones on the fillets.
Season on both sides and reserve. Remove the shells from the shrimp, leaving the heads and tails
on but exposing the meat in the middle. Using a sharp paring knife, devein and rinse the body of
all impurities, then season and set to the side.
Place the drum and the shrimp on the grill and cook for 2 ½ to 3 minutes on each side or until
just cooked. Take extra care to never overcook the seafood.
To finish the dish:
Spread out 4 hot entrée plates that have been pre warmed in an oven. To each plate, fan out 3
slices of tomato. Place one piece of drum on top of that. Add one shrimp to the top of the drum.
Remove the large pieces of jumbo lump crab from the pan and place it over the top of the shrimp.
Spoon the remainder of the sauce over the shrimp and around the outside of the plate. Drizzle on
the basil and hot chili oil and garnish the plates with the picked fresh herbs or micro sprouts.


Compliments of Chef Patrick Mould
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
One 14-ounce can diced tomato
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups water
3 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 pound peeled shrimp
1/2 pound white crabmeat
12 shucked oysters
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup minced parsley
1. In a medium size stockpot, heat oil, add flour and cook until dark roux forms. Add half of
onion, celery and bell pepper, cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic garlic, continue to cook for 5
2. Stir in diced tomato, Cajun seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme and simmer
for 10 minutes.
3. Stir in water, chicken broth, bay leaves and hot sauce, bring to boil, lower fire to medium and
simmer for 45 minutes.
4. Stir in shrimp and simmer for 5 minutes. Add oyster, crabmeat and simmer for additional 5
5. Stir in green onions and parsley.
6. Serve with steamed rice.
Yields 4-6 servings.


Compliments of Chef Patrick Mould
This is a hunter’s dream; if you don’t have a hunter in the family, a domestic duck works fine.
The mirliton, which are also referred to as vegetable pears or chayote squash, make a nice
addition to the gumbo, whose flavor they take on.
One 5 to 6 lb. domestic duckling*, cut up 8 ways
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1one-half teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
2 quarts of chicken broth*
1 cup chopped onion
one-half cup chopped celery
one-half cup chopped bell pepper
one-half cup Savoies Dark Roux
3 bay leaves
1 pound raw pork sausage
2 large mirlitons, peeled & cut into medium cubes
one quarter teaspoon salt
one quarter cup sliced green onions
8 cups cooked Toro Rice
1. Season duckling with Worcestershire sauce, 3 teaspoons of Creole seasoning, 1 teaspoon hot
sauce, granulated garlic and granulated onion. Marinate overnight in refrigerator.
2. Place duck on baking pan and roast in a 400 F. oven for 45 minutes. Remove duck from pan
and discard fat.
3. In a large saucepot combine chicken broth, half of onion, celery and bell pepper, roux,
remaining hot sauce, bay leaf, unsliced fresh sausage and roasted duckling. Bring to boil, lower
fire, cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes*.
4. Remove cooked sausage, cool and cut into slices. Set aside. Add remaining onion, celery, bell
pepper and garlic. Cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.
5. Add sausage, mirliton and salt. Continue to simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Cover and cook
for 15 more minutes. Stir in green onions and serve over rice.
Yields 6-8 servings.
* If you are using wild ducks, cook the ducks longer to tenderize, the length of time will depend
upon the toughness of the ducks. You will also have to increase the chicken broth by 1/2 quart.

Crabmeat Stuffed Artichoke Bottoms

1. Issue date: January, 2010
Louisiana Cookin’
Servings: Makes approximately 24
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1/3 bunch or parsley, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 pound of crabmeat
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
6 tablespoons of imported Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons of unseasoned breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
4 cans (13.75 ounces) of artichoke bottoms

Cajun Seafood Gumbo

Servings: Serves 10 to 12
6 cups cooked Mahatma or WaterMaid white rice
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons shortening
1 cup diced celery
1 large onion, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ can tomato paste
1 quart water
2 quarts chicken broth
1 can clam chowder
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound link sausage, sliced
1 package frozen perch fillets, cut in squares
1 package frozen okra (1-1/2 cups)
1 pound shrimp, cooked
2 sprigs parsley (optional)
1 teaspoon gumbo filé
Make roux by browning flour in melted shortening; add celery and onions and cook slowly
until clear. Add other ingredients with exception of shrimp, filé and parsley. Simmer for
at least 1 hour. Add shrimp about 10 minutes before serving. Just before serving, add filé
and parsley. Serve over hot, cooked Mahatma or WaterMaid rice.

Broussard’s Bouillabaisse

Issue date: October, 2002
Courtesy of Broussard’s Restaurant
Published in Louisiana Cookin’, October 2002
Servings: Serves 6
½ cup olive oil
½ pound chopped carrots
½ pound chopped celery
½ pound chopped fennel
½ pound chopped onions
½ pound chopped green bell peppers
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
¼ cup chopped shallots
½ cup brandy
1 cup white wine
½ cup tomato paste
1 gallon shrimp or fish stock, preferably lukewarm
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned or peeled fresh), crushed and drained
½ teaspoon saffron steeped in ¼ cup herbsaint
3 bay leaves
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup oysters, drained
½ pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over to remove shell and cartilage
½ pound crawfish tails
½ pound firm white fish, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ pound scallops
18 mussels
Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, celery and fennel and
sauté until the celery is fairly soft and the carrots are about half cooked. Add the onions, bell
peppers, garlic and shallots, and cook until the vegetables are thoroughly heated. Add the brandy
and flame, then add the wine to extinguish the fire. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring
frequently, for 10 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, saffron, bay leaves, salt and white pepper.
Bring to a full boil, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, adjusting the heat as
necessary to keep the soup from returning to a rapid boil, and cook just until the seafood is
cooked but not overdone, about 5 minutes.

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MoJo… 2 for 2

Back in the fall I posted chicken recipes, a superstitous prayer to the baseball gods for a Yankees World Series win…of course they won in 6.  Last week, I posted a jambalaya recipe hoping to loan my friends in New Orleans my sports mojo as the Saints vied for the Super Bowl title…31-17 Saints.

After the game I threw out an offer on Twitter to any other sports fans needing some recipe magic for upcoming events…Olympic medals…NBA World Championship, Stanley Cup, World Cup (I go international), Formula 1, Golf, Tennis, Ping Pong…I’ve got recipes for them all.

But today…we celebrate as we did after the World Series…with a recipe in honor of the winning team.  For the after party we call on another New Orleans legend, Leah Chase.  Ms. Chase, known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, is the owner of Dooky Chase’s on Orleans Ave. Here is her Stewed Shrimp recipe.

Dooky Chase’s Stewed Shrimp

¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup onions, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed and chopped
2 cans tomato sauce (16 ounces)
2 cups water
½ cup green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 large white potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cups cooked long grain rice

1. In a heavy-bottomed 6- to 8-quart pot or deep cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.
When the oil is hot, gradually stir in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, using a
wooden spoon. Cook the flour until it forms a medium brown roux, about 20-30 minutes. The
roux will be very hot, use caution while stirring. Do not allow the roux to stick to the bottom of
the pot. If the roux sticks or burns, discard the mixture and start over. A roux that sticks or burns
will give the finished dish a bitter and scorched taste.
When the roux is the color of peanut butter, lower the heat, and add the chopped onions and
celery. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic,
tomato sauce, and simmer for 10 more minutes,
Slowly add the water, stirring as you pour. Be careful not to leave lumps. Continue to stir, add
bell pepper, seasoned salt, pepper, thyme, parsley. Increase the heat to medium and allow to
come to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add potatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Lower the fire and add the cleaned shrimp.
Let the stew simmer until the potatoes and shrimp are done, about 10 minutes.
Serve over cooked white rice and garnish with parsley.

Photo Credit: Eugenia Uhl for The New York Times

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Super Saint’s Mojo Jambalaya

Who Dat? Alright football fans…the baseball guy is here to bring some of his temporary mojo to the rooting interests of Saint’s fans.  As you may remember quite clearly, I posted those chicken recipes that may (or may not) have been partially responsible for the Yankee triumph this spring.  I have spent some significant time in New Orleans over the past few years and have come to love that city, it’s people and especially their food. Here is a great Super Bowl recipe for your party this weekend…whether or not you have a dawg in the fight.

Today I am posting a recipe by the late, great Maude Ancelet, a most honored and documented creator of Cajun foods.  Her recipes have been recorded by the Smithsonian to preserve the techniques of true Cajun cuisine for posterity.  I had the honor of meeting her son, Sir Barry Ancelet, a decorated scholar of Cajun and Creole traditions. I bore witness to the traditions and foods of his family at an annual party held at his home last month.  Here is  an Ancelet family recipe from Maude’s book Vivre pour Manger. If this does not bring the Lombardi Trophy to the Crescent City…not sure what will.  Geaux Saints!

Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

3 lbs. chicken, cut up

1 lb. fresh pork sausage

1/4 c. oil

2 onions, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp. oregano

1 bay leaf

green onion tops and parsley

5 cups water

1 lb. raw rice

salt and pepper to taste

Cook chicken and sausage in oil until brown.  Remove meats from from oil and add onions, pepper, celery and garlic.  Saute well.  Add water, rice, salt, pepper.  Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to simmer until the rice is tender and water is absorbed.  Add green onion tops and parsley.  Keep covered and let steep awhile before serving, but do serve piping hot.


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I saw this dilapidated Partridge Family Bus traveling next to us as we entered New Orleans. The bus was a perfect metaphor for how I felt after this particular road trip. We arrived in New Orleans, exhausted and dirty, to discover the hot water in my friends’ apartment was not working.  So, in lieu of a soothing hot shower after another 600 miles on the road I had to settle for what else….more food.

My hunger for a complete meal prepared by a chef…not a short order cook…was sated in…well…short order.  We only needed to travel an additional 2 blocks on foot to Maya’s, a Latin fusion restaurant on Magazine Street.  I began with a mango avocado salad and nibbled on the crab avocado stack that arrived for my friend.  The three mains that we ordered were passed around the table rotisserie style and were all equally special in very different ways.  The first bite of my red seafood curry was an explosion of chili peppers and coconut milk.  The little neck clams, green mussels, shrimp and squid were all terrifically fresh and delicious but it was the fried frutte di mare to my right that garnered most of my attention.  The enormous pile of oysters, squid, clams and shrimp were topped with the most enticing soft shell crab.  The plate had barely hit the table before tore off a claw and dipped it in the rémoulade sauce.  The meat and rice stuffed poblano chile on the opposite side of the table was feeling a little ignored but I found some room to accomodate.  Two San Miguel’s in a frosted glass and a few more passes around the table and I felt human again…in spite of the lack hot water.

The next night I ventured out on my own into the French Quarter.  It took me all of 10 minutes to realize I was 15 years too old and way too cynical to remotely enjoy the reverie on Bourbon Street.  I looped back down a side street to avoid the throng and landed at the oyster bar at The Bourbon House.  A dozen Gulf oysters and 2 Abita Ambers warmed the engine, veal osso buco topped with lobster claws and a mushroom demi glace over cauliflower polenta and a Malbec had the motor humming and a frozen vanilla bourbon smoothie brought it into the depot for the night.

I wandered the Quarter for a while in the rain, dressed in black with a black ski cap on.  My inner New Yorker was on high alert walking the streets of  strange city alone but when I noticed people crossing the street as I moved toward them, I realized that I was projecting that criminal-on-the-prowl look…so I headed home. My cabbie tried to feign ignorance of my local address and take me on the scenic tour but my look and my…let’s say…inflection…convinced him he had the wrong tourist in his cab.  He found his way just fine after that.  I tipped him anyway…can’t blame a guy for trying.

The remainder of my trip was spent west of New Orleans in Scott, Louisiana.  The details and images of those days are much too abundant to be contained here today.   Upon returning to N.O. for one last night before heading north, instead of another glorious night of culinary bliss…it was spent with a blanket, a bucket and a belly ache.  I flew home with a stomach virus as an ironic souvenir of my latest foray to the Crescent City.

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Denial, Anger, Acceptance

I went to bed after the debacle that was day one with the ridiculous idea that I was going to wake up, have a fruit salad and all would be right with the world.  The hotel’s continental breakfast was a well stocked example of what not to eat to start your day…greasy sausages, lumpy grits, sugared cereals and oatmeals and syrupy canned fruit.  It was an abomination.  I stomped over to the coffee pot, grabbed a cup and noticed they had some small containers of lousy yogurt shoved over to side as a capitulation to the poor fools who don’t begin their day with a 5,000 calorie breakfast.  I grabbed two and bedrugingly ate.

About an hour before lunch I had a revelation…there may not be healthy food in my future but as we all know…naughty food can be really, really good food.  So I crossed back over to the dark side… but with a caveat…If I’m going to give up on eating lighter…then dammit I’m gonna eat well.  Enter Dreamland BBQ.

Dreamland was started by John “Big Daddy” Bishop in 1958, the same year Alabama coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant took the healm for the Crimson Tide.  If you love ‘Bama football… you worship the Bear, think Joe Namath is is a god and make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem Heights, just south of Tuscaloosa at least once in your life to eat ribs at Dreamland.

Some think Dreamland serves the “Best ribs in America” which is kind of like saying you have the best pizza in NY…completely subjective…but the full slab, baked beans, slaw and potato salad we ordered were absoluetly amazing.  The ribs were soft and tangy with a peppery punch but still chewy enough to have a really satisfying texture.  The extra BBQ sauce for dipping was so good I took two bottles to go.

My mission was blown, I was in the deep south and up to my neck in pork ribs… but man, I did it in style.

Next stop….New Orleans!

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Resistance is Futile

When agreeing to drive with friends to Louisiana to attend a weekend pig roast in Cajun country, I knew my chances of beginning to shed my holiday bloat would be tough since the annual Cochon du Lait has a reputation for legendary food and drink. I vowed to “eat light” on the trip down but avoiding fatty foods on I 81 is like trying to stay dry at a water balloon fight.

Our first pit stop was at a western Pennsylvania truckers rest area and I noticed a mobile chapel  in the parking lot with “Jesus Saves” emblazoned on its side. I wondered if praying for granola and yogurt could help but they offered little that wasn’t gray or fried. Finding a banana and some pistachios in this culinary wasteland was a small consolation.

By the time lunch time came we were in Winchester, Va…the home of the “Largest Apple Cold Storage Warehouse in the World”. A town that touts its relationship to fresh produce had me imagining  a  salad topped with sliced apples. I kept looking at  the menu at the Cork Street Tavern hoping my options would get better but everything was batter dipped, deep fried, covered in cheese, wrapped in bacon and slathered with gravy, mayo, sour cream or ranch dressing. I joked that even the salads were deep fried.

In defeat, ordered a BBQ’d chicken sandwich and an appetizer of 6 hot wings…I abandoned the roll, ate the lettuce, tomato and pickle that came with it and felt as if I had eaten the relative equivalent of a steamed veggie plate and brown rice.

By the time we arrived in Knoxville, I felt like a brown paper bag with a tuna sandwich in it, stuffed in a backpack…rumpled and greasy. At 9pm our options were limited, so a steak and a salad at a chain “neighborhood” bistro was the best I could do. Even with the balsamic dressing that was too sweet and the pound of shredded cheddar on top the salad felt almost healthy.

I accepted that Day 1 was one of abject failure…NY-NJ-PA-WV-VA-TN…6 states…3 meals…3 strikes. And I’m out.

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Crescent City Comestibles: Cinq

My last few days in New Orleans, which were interrupted by a short sojourn in Cajun country (which I will describe at a later date), reinforced my feeling that the sensitivity to how food is prepared, perceived and presented here matters regardless of where you are eating.

During the haze that was Mardi Gras I became so swept up in the mayhem that a proper meal consisted of whatever you could hold in one hand while drinking with the other. I landed at the Hi-Ho Lounge after a long day of parades and partying but alas they did not serve food. The Mardi Gras Indians were performing with clarinetist Evan Christopher (whom I had seen so many times during this trip that I am sure I have been classified as a stalker) and during a set break I went searching for sustenance.

The Hi-Ho is in a pretty rough section of town called the Treme and had few nearby options for a snack. I wandered across the street to a shady looking place with a sign that simply read “Po-Boys”. There was a police car outside, which gave me confidence that not only would I be safe but that I would get a pretty good sandwich. I put on my sunglasses and my best tough guy face and walked in to get a Po-boy. The place was as sparse as a sandwich shop could be. There was a counter (no chairs), a menu of four sandwiches, two tables, a scratch-off lottery ticket machine and a collection of locals who looked as tough as the neighborhood we were in. I had a Ham and Swiss Po-boy smothered in mayo, lettuce and tomato served on a paper plate for about five bucks. The sandwich was excellent compensation for the lack of atmosphere (or my sense of personal safety). I am positive that eating more than one of these in your lifetime would require a side order of Plavix to be survivable but it sure was good while it lasted. I escaped, belly full, cardio-vascular system only slightly compromised and without any gun play.

During another Evan Christopher stalking episode we were at Donna’s, a Jazz Club directly across the street from Armstrong Park on North Rampart St. Charlie, the cook at Donna’s, makes one dish per night. This night he was making hamburgers and fries. Charlie, nightly buys enough food for about as many people expected on any given evening, so you need to order early. Donna’s is a real Jazz dive and I did not have high expectations of Charlie’s hamburger styling. I could not have been more off the mark. Like everything else I have eaten here, the hamburger was great. It was thick, perfectly cooked and seasoned. The lettuce and tomato were fresh and crisp. The bun was light and perfectly toasted. The fries were hot, just salty enough and snapped when you broke one in half. It was nothing fancy but it was obvious that Charlie cares about what he is serving his guests, regardless of how simple it is.

When we had had enough Mardi Gras for one year we dragged ourselves to a local chain restaurant called Superior Grill on Charles Street that was serving late night meals. Superior Grill serves Tex-Mex style food. Again, I expected little else but something to fill my stomach before I gratefully flopped onto my hotel bed. And again, I was pleasantly surprised that even at a chain restaurant, where the majority of the clientele were 20-somethings stumbling in from their Mardi Gras revelling, they really cared about what they put in front of their customers. I had a chicken fajita that was obviously made with the idea that someone was going to eat it. In most of my chain restaurant experiences this concept is lost in translation between the server who resents you, the cook who actually hates you and the food runner who has lost his will to live. In New Orleans, everyone seemed honored to be participating in food and was invested in your dining experience.

My general thesis on this topic is this; In New Orleans everyone realizes that one of the reasons their city matters, why people love it and keep coming back is good food. Everywhere you go people try to make food with as much skill as they have, lots of love, personal pride and care. They got to my heart through my stomach…and both feel a little bigger thanks to my eager willingness to make their efforts appreciated.

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Crescent City Comestibles: Quatre

In New Orleans, the Monday before Mardi Gras is Lundi Gras and I was intent on having another of the city’s famous dishes, a beignet from Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. Getting a late start was partly due to my kitchen mishap of the previous evening and the subsequent anesthetizing. So, I had a swollen face and a big head. Bright side…I didn’t need a mask. What I did need was coffee and a beignet.

A beignet is the French name for essentially what we denizens of the San Gennaro Feast call a zeppole, what the carny folks call funnel cake and what everyone else calls a doughnut; dough fried in seething oil…traumatic flashback to previous evening….ok focus….topped with powdered sugar. Cafe Du Monde is regarded as the place to go in New Orleans to get your fix.

It seems that everyone else in New Orleans with a hangover, which of course is everyone, was on line at Cafe Du Monde for a coffee and beignet. A 90 minute wait? In 90 minutes I would be a crumpled, withering mess in a fetal position on Bourbon Street if I didn’t have caffeine and fried goodness. I soldiered on, found coffee elsewhere and ended up in the French Market along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.

I was cranky, hungry, tired, hungover, injured and annoyed at my failure to get a beignet. Now, I wanted a Bloody Mary. As I strolled through the French Market every manner of food and merchandise was available to me. I happened upon a stand that was selling crawfish eggrolls. They were fried. They would do. I was more than surprised at the subtle spicy flavors of the crawfish entombed in it’s perfectly crunchy shell. As I wolfed it down, it more than took the edge off, so I chased down my companion, several strides ahead of me and bummed a few bites more. Now, that Bloody Mary.

With food in my belly, I finally heard the music that filled the streets again. I noticed the characters all around me and the noise was less a mode of torture and more pleasant atmosphere. We found a little place that had come highly recommended at the end of the market area called the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. The Bloody Mary was like a meal in itself, stuffed with vegetables and tangy sweet with just the right amount of Tabasco and vodka. Things were looking up.

I started the meal with a selection of sausages bathed in a spicy remoulade. The dish had merguez, chorizo and alligator sausages all of which were well done and almost crispy. The alligator was my least favorite but was probably due to my undying love of chorizo and merguez. We then ordered three personal pizzas covered with jambalaya, shrimp etouffee and (I am still not sure why) teriyaki chicken. The jambalaya pizza was by far the best of the bunch and got most of my attention as I only dabbled in the others. Well, I actually took just one bite of the teriyaki, quickly dismissed it as un-New Orleans and positioned my body between the jambalaya and the rest of the table. With my mouth full I mumbled….research.

The rest of the day was filled with the great anticipation of the river boat arrival of the King and Queen of the 100th Annual Zulu Parade, hopes of meeting Mr. Big Stuff ( the honorary captain of the Zulu’s) and Kermit Ruffins wailing on his trumpet at the main bandstand. The excitement was growing to a fevered pitch as Mardi Gras was about to crescendo and I was at its epicenter. I was now well fed, happy again and ready to absorb the vibrations of this pulsing, living, breathing city at its finest. And then, of course, I will eat some more.

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Crescent City Comestibles: Trois

The days leading into Mardi Gras are indeed as wild and chaotic as advertised. It is a test to one’s endurance and it’s only the food, in my opinion, that keeps you moving from bar to bar, parade-to-parade and festival-to-festival. Without the excitement of what you will eat next and the energy that provides, the exhaustion would overtake you long before the finale of Mardi Gras.
The whole of the city of New Orleans take their food really seriously, no matter where you eat. From the street vendors to small restaurants to the maniacs barbecuing amidst thousands at a parade there is no pedestrian food. Everyone takes pride in and puts their soul into their cooking. I was feeling the vibe, I was excited to eat but I was also excited to cook. So, Bill Schaap and I decided we would party all day, hit the parades, eat the town and then head back to his place to cook up our own storm and do New Orleans proud. More on this later.

The day began at a local cafe on Magazine St. called J’Anita’s. J’Anita’s got it’s start in the aftermath of Katrina with a van and some mobile cooking equipment. They were feeding people that needed help and the karmic payback for such noble deeds is a thriving business on one of New Orleans hippest streets in the Lower Garden District. I had a red fish sandwich with a spicy mayo that tapped into that pleasure center in the brain usually reserved for something of the triple chocolate variety. It was unreal. My companions were passing their bowls of gumbo and tomato basil soup around the table for their own consensus of deliciousness. The server was a funky girl with tats and piercings; the cook looked like he should be tailgating at a Saints game and the owner was a hipster girl with glasses and a stained apron. The scene was coffee house cool and the food gave comfort new meaning. The food gods were pleased with J’Anita’s and we benefited from their blessing.

Before the food from J’Anita’s was even partially digested we were off to our first parade and before long I was covered with beads (this is a family blog…no…I did not bear any body parts for my bling) dancing to the sounds of marching bands, jazz musician on floats and pounding hip hop out of speakers as big as file cabinets in the trunks of cars. The energy was so intoxicating that you could not help letting it envelop you. You talk to strangers like family because for the next hour or two, they are. You laugh and scream and take pictures and let go. It’s exactly the purpose of Mardi Gras, just exorcising all the bad energy of the year in sins, one last push, and send it off into the heavens to the blast of trumpets and the thump of a bass drum bigger than its pounder. Amazing.

After returning from the humming street scene I decided to make a version of a Sicilian recipe for a hot cherry pepper sauce on seared steak. I normally prepare this sauce with pork but Bill had some steaks ready to go. Like I said earlier, I was psyched to get my apron on and to make some hot food that would induce tears but I got more than I bargained for. The Oscar’s were on this night, we had put in a full day and a half since arriving so there was no guilt in cooking at home in the midst of the biggest party on the planet. I prepped the peppers and began my dish. Sizzling hot iron skillet popping with olive oil, garlic, red and green cherry peppers and I’m getting ready to add the meat. The spicy sweet smells have me lifted and wondering how anyone wouldn’t want to spend their life creating good food. I felt a kinship and connection to my New Orleans culinary brethren. I was in the zone. I pulled out my knife to cut a fat slab of butter to give my dish some added richness. I was floating above the stove, one with the food, when all of a sudden…F%#K…AHHHHH…the butter had slipped off my knife went splashing into the hot oil and all over my face and arms. The ethereal bliss of being one with the stove met with the harsh reality that human skin and scalding oil don’t mix very well.

I was injured but undeterred. I finished the meal, less blissful, in considerable pain, ate, drank copious amounts of Pinot Noir and watched the Oscar’s with an ice pack on my face. As an athlete, I played baseball injured and was named an All-Star. Today, I nearly scorched my face off and I finished the meal and fed my friends. I am equally proud of both accomplishments.

In New Orleans, you learn two things right away; food matters and resiliency is a way of life, and I lived both in a small way on only my second day in town. I would enter the fray again the next day feeling even more connected to my friends on the parade route with a few bright red reminders in the mirror. Metaphors of the things that matter here.

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Crescent City Comestibles: Deux

I must begin my commentary about New Orleans with enormous thanks to my great friends Bill Schaap and Ellen Ray. Bill and Ellen were my tireless tour guides, door openers, transporters and ambassadors throughout the week. I could not have had even a small portion of this rich southern experience without them.

Arriving at 11pm on the Saturday before Mardi Gras meant that retiring to the hotel and resting up for the week ahead was not even a verbalized option. I was starving after the exquisite airline meal of Coke Zero and Chex Snack Mix and exhausted from the frantic week of doubling my workload to open up a week away from the studio. I was on my third Abita when the agita kicked in. Two hours in New Orleans and the only thing I had digested were the electrifying clarinet licks of Evan Christopher at Dos Jefe’s on Tchoupitoulas Street.

When we mercifully sought some food we landed at the St. Charles Tavern where we sat next to a table of Smurfs sitting with members of New Orleans Finest. We have our fair share of costumed characters in the East Village but you would be hard pressed to see them with the cops unless they were in cuffs. I got my first taste of the local flavor with a shrimp po boy that due to the advanced stages of short term starvation tasted like manna from heaven. I was deliriously happy with my sandwich as well the crawfish po boy my friend was eating. As 3am dining goes, I would have to rate this meal several notches above the french fries with mozzarella and brown gravy available at the usual place I stumble into as the sun is rising. My judgement was indeed shaded though weariness and hunger but in all fairness the restaurant was packed and the boys in blue were eating there, even if it was with Smurfette and Vanity.

This was not the beginning to a culinary tour of Louisiana I had envisioned but it was certainly a unique New Orleans experience and a meal that did justice to late night dining in a America’s premiere party town.

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