New Orleans: you've got to eat it to save it
After a quick lunch at Bacco’s and the can’t-miss
crawfish ravioli, lobster ravioli and the locally favoured 10¢ martinis
(available at lunch only), we hopped on the bus for the Katrina
Tour. Ginny, our tour de force of a guide from Tours by Isabelle,
starts talking at Canal Street and literally does not stop for three-and-a-half
hours and 70 miles of devastation. She does an amazing job, presenting,
with a dense, non-partisan, yet highly politicized presentation
of the many neighbourhoods that were affected. Katrina, and her
follow-up Rita, were not discerning in their devastation as they
wreaked havoc in the tony neighbourhoods of Lakeview and the low-income
projects alike. It was like a ghost-town tour pulling up to the
projects of St Bernard, empty! Or Chalmette where you see the water
lines, where it landed (at 15 ft) on a wall and where it receded
(at 10 ft) and stayed for a week and had the good company of an
oil spill in their flood.
It is so surreal and hard to wrap your head around
what you are seeing and what you have seen on TV
in the 9th ward and elsewhere. There was no governmental presence:
the locals themselves and Baptist, Catholic, Christian and Jewish
communities are the ones on deck, as are Habitat for Humanity and
individuals like Jimmy Carter and Harry Connick Jr, who provided
hope at the end of the tour with his newly built Musicians’ Village.
There was a lot of local controversy when this
tour first got underway as locals felt it was advantageous and a
way to make money off of the devastation. Then people realized it
was a way to get their story, the real story, told. If you
go to New Orleans, do not even think about leaving without taking
this tour. With the seemingly unblemished tourist neighbourhoods
and historic districts, the French Quarter, Garden District and
Marigny you would leave wondering what all the fuss was about.
Ginny weaves her personal story and struggle with
wit and levity, about her insurance claims and FEMA,
alongside several others’ heart-wrenching stories, what needs to
be done, the works.
That night, we were at Ralph’s on the Park, a
stunning southern restaurant that I would frequent if I lived in
town. The front room has its classic bar, a piano player and ambience
that is sophisticated yet southern. Right across the park is Lakeview,
a hard-hit upper-crust neighbourhood, and in the park is NOMA.
We enjoyed several Femme Femme Femme-inspired cocktails from
the Degas Dirty Martini, Picasso’s Peer-tini to the Taste of Toulouse.
I had chef Gus Martin’s five courses, Cuisine
à la Clicquot, which was available in May only. We had
the garlic-baked P&J oysters with
the Veuve Yellow Label, jumbo Gulf shrimp scampi with Veuve’s Brut,
crawfish ravioli with the 2000 Vintage Reserve and flame-grilled
redfish and poached lobster tail again with the 2000 Vintage Reserve.
Officially I had the ponchatoula strawberry panna cotta with my
demi-sec, but Martin brought out other desserts that found their
way to my fork. Aside from the obvious decadence, the night was
a bit of bliss with my new local friends, Karen and Charlee, and
lovely Chef Martin, who has toured with the likes of the Rolling
Stones and Dan Aykroyd.
I realized that that water was still rising and
falling, not in the city, but in the people. You could feel the
emotional wave within everyone. It was truly admirable—the passion,
the purpose and the strength—yet you could still see the pain, understandably.
It gave every person and every moment a real sense of presence,
paired with their inherent joie de vivre.
I was sorry to leave the ever-lovely Rob and Kevin
and their charming B&B. The B&W
gets more than fresh pastries and a strong coffee. With Rob’s quick
wit, local insight and his series of stories, you will feel like
a long-lost friend before your second cup. And if you’re lucky,
he just might share some shazam with you and show you his
line of jewellery, Bayona jewels.
The stunning Orleans Maison on Canal Street, a
part of the Ritz–Carlton, made the transition easier than expected.
With a tub made for love and descriptive historical letters left
on my pillow in place of mints, love letters from and about the
city, it was true love at first sight.
Their club floors served a continental breakfast,
midday snack, afternoon tea, hors d’œuvres and cordial and
sweets. With 24-hour availability we were served a shrimp ramaloude
(which I am still craving) and turkey foccacia sandwiches after
a missed tea. The staff was stunning, especially our warm and lovely
concierge Russell who met us with a glass of champagne at check
in. He was a gem!
One of the most amazing nights of the week started
with a classic Pimm’s cup cocktail in the Library Lounge of the
Ritz followed by dinner at Mélange, prepared by the impressive
24-year-old chef Eric Aldis and the stunning host Char Schroeder
of the Ritz. In true celebration of the local culinary culture,
Mélange offers a mix of the most renowned dishes from New
Orleans’ most famous restaurants, amidst the backdrop of live local
jazz, with the sexy crooner Jeremy Davenport, who’s toured with
local Harry Connick and sung duets with Diana Krall. It is a true
old-school supper club.
Eric studied with each famed chef before bringing
in the signature dishes from K Paul’s, Cuvée, Broussard’s,
Jacqu-Imo’s, Bayona and many others. So, if you’re in town for a
night and you can’t decide where to go, the lovely Eric will serve
up several dishes that will feel like a week’s worth of local dining.
The next few days were filled with NOWFE
activity. NOWFE, celebrating its 15th
year, is a smaller-scale mardi gras for the sophisticated set, grown-ups
who worship the local culinary and international grape gods.
The festivities began with an intimate dinner
at Muriel’s on Jackson Square, pairing wines from Swanson Napa Valley
with winemaker Chris Phelps who knew his way around the reds and
was truly impassioned about merlot. Don’t let Sideways keep
you away from the many great merlots or the rich red blends.
The next day, back at Muriel’s we attended VinoLA,
an intimate tasting with pairings largely from California as well
as Germany, Italy and France. After VinoLA, VIPs
moved on to NOLA, Emeril’s spirited
bistro, complete with a colourful crew that was as spicy and delicious
as the food. We loved their duck quesadilla and their pan-roasted
With wine glass in hand, we hit the famed Royal
Street Stroll in the heart of the French Quarter, which sated every
cultural or social craving one could have. We popped in and out
of the city’s top antique stores, galleries and shops along Royal.
Each post poured wines and served small plates of local dishes from
nearby restaurants while street performers, musicians, characters
and foodies filled the streets. We made friends at the Omni Hotel
bar, a great spot to stop mid-stroll. We joined them and their friends
at Dickie Brennan’s for dinner, another old school steakhouse, and
one that my Dad and his friends hit when they were in town way back
in the day. Stepping down in to the restaurant you can see why it
was closed for so long, as it was literally underwater after Katrina.
You would never know it now. The steak, topped with crab, is a must!
Before we hit the Hilton for the bulk of NOWFE
activity and seminars, Elyse and I went to the Edible Schoolyard
at a charter school uptown. It was a truly inspired place where
the kids literally learn in an experiential manner about botany,
science and food. They plant on the outside and make food on the
inside. The keep food journals, do oral presentations, go to the
farmers’ market and visit with top local chefs. New Orleans feels
its indigenous food culture is in danger and must be preserved,
starting with the kids. They are keeping the culinary tradition
alive, one child and seed at a time.
Poppy Tooker, a teacher at the
Savvy Gourmet, the founder of the Slow Food New Orleans Convivium
and on the task force for the Edible School Yard and the charter
school says, ‘Eat it to save it.’ She encourages the preservation
of endangered foods and she’s been instrumental in reviving local
foods such as creole cream cheese and rice calas. She says, ‘I love
New Orleans they way people love their mother. In New Orleans, every
tradition has something good to eat tied in to it.’
What I loved is that she cleared up the difference
between creole and cajun: creole comes from a Spanish word for native,
crioillo. The first Creoles from Europe brought a European
style of cooking, adapting it to native ingredients influenced by
slaves’ techniques and recipes. The Cajuns were different. They,
too, came from Europe, via Nova Scotia, as they heard there was
a sympathetic French climate in southern Louisiana in the swampland
and the bayoux, where cajun food is all about chicken and pigs.
The rest of the weekend was a flurry of activities
filled with a prolific series of seminars that covered every conceivable
genre and trend, including the Argentinean Malbec, Spanish Wine
and Blind Tasting seminars. After a few seminars, we were rewarded
with the three-hour Grand Tasting extravaganza that enabled us to
experience every single New Orleans restaurant of note, ones that
would have to be booked weeks in advance to even get in the door.
We had Arnaud’s turtle soup, Drago’s shrimp and
pasta salad, Begue’s oxtail and duck confit gumbo, the Palace Café’s
citrus marinated yellowtail tuna with wasabi, Galatoire’s escargot
with garlic herbsaint, Zoë’s braised Kobe beef short rib, Table
One’s salmon gravalax and Mr B’s jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon on
top of cheese grits. This was all paired with a bevy of wines (Zaca
Mesa, Summerland, Clos du Val, Sebastiani, Wines of France, Coppola,
Estancia, Lætitia, Chalk Hill and several others) and champagne
(Perrier–Jouet, Mumm and others). Cheers!
We finished the weekend hitting hot spots like
Gallatoires, an old-school New Orleans spot on Bourbon Street known
for their Friday lunches where well heeled locals show up late in
the morning for liquor and lunch and never return for work. On Saturday
the table nearby was being poured some hot liquor like beverage.
When I asked what it was, it was handed to me. As I was offered
a sip, he said, ‘We’re all family here.’ I’ll drink to that.
I had my first ever sazerac at Napoleon’s, an
amazing worn and weathered bar in the French Quarter, rich in history.
Sazerac was the first ever-cocktail created locally in New Orleans
by a pharmacist. We had dinner at chef John Besh’s new spot Luke’s
where we especially loved the rilette of Berkshire pork, the terrine
of slow-cooked foie gras, the beet salad and the fried oyster bacon,
romaine and avocado salad.
Before boarding, we bid farewell to the city with
an early morning walk along the water and a café au lait
and beignets at Café du Monde by the French Market, across
from Jackson Square. It was kitschy and touristy with local musicians
setting the mood with their jazzy background music. With barely
enough time to pack, we met friends for our final bite of the city.
We had bubbles and brunch at Brennan’s, the breakfast spot
in town filled with locals. We had mimosas before the creole onion
soup and the egg parade. I had the traditional eggs benedict and
the Eggs Ellen with salmon. Of course I couldn’t leave Brennan’s
without their famed Bananas Fosters dessert, sautéed bananas
in brown sugar and banana liqueur, inflamed (literally) with rum
and served over ice cream. It was the perfect ending to the perfect
Without the Katrina Tour you wouldn’t know it
ever rained. People have asked what they can do to help. Become
a voluntourist. Just show up. Your being there and spending
your money is the best thing you can do for the economy. Eat, drink
and be merry as a little of your joy goes a along way. With each
and every bite you just might be saving a city. •
complementary article on New Orleans by Elyse Glickman is expected
in issue 25 of Lucire.
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Hurricane Katrina destruction: not all is well in NOLA yet
A sign of recovery: a butterfly at the Edible Schoolyard
Poppy Tooker from the Savvy Gourmet, the woman who coined our title
It is so surreal and hard to wrap your head around what you are seeing and what you have seen on TV in the 9th ward and elsewhere. There was no governmental presence: the locals themselves and Baptist, Catholic, Christian and Jewish communities are the ones on deck, as are Habitat for Humanity and individuals like Jimmy Carter and Harry Connick Jr