Dispatch from New Orleans: Ingredients of a Local Cuisine

Loebs who attended the 2014 New Orleans Fall Study Tour have been thinking about the sights, sounds, tastes and insights they experienced, and their reflections have been trickling in. Clair Enlow (LF ’02) took a field trip entitled “Not Just Red Beans and Rice: How Food Creates Place,” led by 
Ann Yoachim (LF ’13), and filed this report.

Food has played a big part in New Orleans’ history, and a huge role in the city’s recovery after Katrina. Led by Ann Yoachim, a small crowd of her fellow Loeb Fellows got a survey during the 2014 New Orleans Fall Study Tour of just some of the ways life translates to “food” and vice versa. In this city, you really know where you are by what you are eating.

First, you have to understand that the cuisine of Louisiana and New Orleans is basically French. “It’s not French food in that it’s French. It’s French food in that it is here,” said Liz Williams, founder and president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

That means it’s an attitude more than a way of cooking. According to Williams, the English who colonized other areas would rather starve than eat something that they didn’t recognize as proper food back in the old country. “The French were not that stupid,” she said. No, they weren’t snobs. They were locavores.

And thus was born the rich and famous cuisine that is the cooking of Louisiana and New Orleans. It includes everything from goose liver to alligator meat, and of course the “holy trinity:” green peppers, celery and onions, the Southern answer to the French mirepoix, the classic aromatic vegetable triad that includes carrots instead of peppers.

The Southern food traditions pass Williams’s criterion for authentic food culture, which is the following: It’s eaten by people of all classes within a given location. In this age of foodie obsessions and hyper-competition among chefs, this is a little disconcerting. How many American cities, even ones with lots and lots of self designated locavores, could pass that test?

Brett Anderson made his reputation as a food critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune after the Hurricane Katrina-related flooding disaster of 2005. Local chefs became heroes, he said, when they fired up the stoves and began serving traditional foods and some high cuisine—even before refrigeration was back—to first and second responders. At a time when New Orleanians didn’t know if they had a city any more, these intrepid cooks reminded them where they were and what they had.

As the city continues to come back, the Edible Schoolyard at Samuel Green Charter Schools is combining education and urban agriculture. Ask an 8-year-old there what’s good right now, and he’ll let you know if it’s the eggplant or the squash or the tomatoes. The vegetables are available to neighbors around the school. A new wave of locavores is growing in New Orleans.

Learn about the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

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