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Should New Orleans secede from the South?


davidberiss
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A friend of mine recently wrote a letter to the editor in the New Orleans Times Picayune suggesting that it was time for the city to secede from the South and rejoin the Union. He was writing about something other than food (decadence, relatively speaking), but I wonder if the question might not be raised about cuisine as well.

I noticed in the rather long discussion thread about what is good about the southeast a particular concern with what I take to be authenticity. In one of the last postings, in fact, Holly Moore pointed out that she is suspicious of non-Southern food (she cites Italian, Asian, French) in the South. She adds that the cuisine of the South is as dominant there as the cuisine of Italy in Italy.

I think this is an interesting point, especially when seen from New Orleans. There can be no doubt that we have a dominant cuisine here, in the manner of Italy or France. But we also have variety within some very specific parameters. Creole Italian, for instance. And I think that one important defining characteristic of New Orleans cuisine is that can be sophisticated haute cuisine. It aspires to be more than a regional cuisine; following the French model, New Orleans cuisine aspires to be a world cuisine. It is both unique to New Orleans and universal in its effort to define certain tastes.

So does that mean New Orleans is not really of the South? Do we leap right up to the level of the universal?

I am being deliberately provocative, so feel free to let fly with corrections.

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..... In one of the last postings, in fact, Holly Moore pointed out that she is suspicious of non-Southern food (she cites Italian, Asian, French) in the South.  She adds that the cuisine of the South is as dominant there as the cuisine of Italy in Italy.

......

I am being deliberately provocative, so feel free to let fly with corrections.

Deliberately provacative, indeed, agrees Holly Moore, himself.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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It is my personal opinion that New orleans cuisine only started to be universal recently--Last 5 to 10 years. Before that, every menu seemed to have the same things on it: Turtle soup, Remoulade, Gumbo, ect... New Orleans cuisine is definitly a world cuisine but an old world cuisine. And like the French a bit resistant to change. 10 years ago you couldnt really find a restaurant in New Orleans that could could compete with the refinement of the Daniel Bolouds and Charlie Trotters of the world. We had our own places that where and still are great to us, but not on that level.

New Orleans is a fun and relaxed place and the cuisine reflects that. You will find some of the best ethnic restaurants any where there. These restaurants reflect the value of family and good company being more important to us than having 10 Gary Danko's in our city.

Gorganzola, Provolone, Don't even get me started on this microphone.---MCA Beastie Boys

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The Cajun-Creole influence can be felt all over the South, not just in New Orleans. If you go to restaurants in Charleston, Savannah, Biloxi, the Florida panhandle, or East Texas, you'll find plenty of the same flavors you'd expect to find at New Orleans restaurants. That's true at both the upscale and downscale places. Likewise, there is plenty of Southern cuisine influence to be found in New Orleans. So I think it's hard to escape the reality that the region is at least somewhat integrated from a cuisine standpoint.

At the same time, I think it's easy to overstate the case for the global reach of Cajun-Creole cuisine as such. Yes there was once a short-lived Cajun-Creole fad that swept the nation and then mostly died out. But what about long-term? Take any Northern city -- New York, Chicago, Boston -- and you'll find about a hundred times as many Southern restaurants (barbecue, soul food, Southern fried chicken . . .) as you'll find Cajun-Creole restaurants, and you might not find a single serious haute cuisine Cajun-Creole restaurant in any of those places. Most likely if you experience Cajun-Creole flavors outside of the South it will be either at a restaurant that is more generally Southern (which suggests that Cajun-Creole cuisine is a subset of Southern cuisine) or in a normal restaurant where a few Cajun-Creole techniques (like blackened fish) have been picked up and incorporated into a menu that has many influences.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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First of all welcome to eGullet, davidberis. I hope to see more of you. You clearly have some strong opinions about New Orleans cuisine and I look forward to hearing more of them.

Now to the matter at hand.

I think this is an interesting point, especially when seen from New Orleans. There can be no doubt that we have a dominant cuisine here, in the manner of Italy or France. But we also have variety within some very specific parameters. Creole Italian, for instance. And I think that one important defining characteristic of New Orleans cuisine is that can be sophisticated haute cuisine. It aspires to be more than a regional cuisine; following the French model, New Orleans cuisine aspires to be a world cuisine. It is both unique to New Orleans and universal in its effort to define certain tastes.

I'm not sure that I would agree that New Orleans cuisine aspires to anything other than what it is. Certainly, with the notable exception the Fat Guy mentioned involving the Creole/Cajun craze that swept the country 15 or twenty years ago, there have not been a large number of restaurants seling New Orleans cuisine that have had long and happy lives in other cities. This one fact, to me, means that whether these placed were opened out of noble aspiration or whether they were opened to cash in on a craze, that the food of New Orleans does not even approach the acceptance of other "cuisines" such as French and Italian.

I think that davebr was closer to the mark. New Orleans food, even our finest traditional dining, has always been about value and perhaps, even more importantly, familiarity. When guys like Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Shannon, Emeril Legasse, Susan Spicer, Ann Kearney, etc, set out to change and improve the native food here-they set out with the notion that what we are eating everyday is already damned good, and only try to improve or put a new spin on the old dishes. While many of these dishes are highly creative, it is still pretty easy to see the roots of the dish shining through.

Even our Super Fine Dining catagory here ends up in that boat. For example, John Besh's fabulous (imo) place, Restaurant August, while doing a few other worldly dishes in the vein of Trotter, Boloud, Keller, etc, is still working from a tool box that runs to redfish, crabmeat, shrimp, and all of the other common items that are seen up and down the line in New Orleans and there are, and have been in the past, many other examples like this. Diners here are, generally, looking for familiarity, I think, rather than off the wall experimentation. It's not that the average diner in New Orleans suffers from arrested development, it's just that most of them believe, and I think rightly so, that when your native ingredients have been turned into a native cuisine as developed and tasty as the one that exists in New Orleans, there only need to be small changes occasionally to keep it interesting. Nothing huge, nothing sweeping, just a little at a time.

As for New Orleans seceding for the US, there is the issue of where to go? Not to mention the other issue of who would have us (after all, we would be bringing the Saints with us-a bad bargain mo matter the price)? I have always agreed with those that thought that New Orleans would exist happily as a small archipeligo type republic, something like Gibraltar. We are, after all, probably as Caribbean as we are Southern-more or less an island (you have to cross a bridge or in the case of 90, a raised rd., no matter what, to get into Orleans Parish). Our architecture is much more akin to something that you might see in Central America (Spanish Colonial for many of our older governmental buildings, some French Colonial, and tons of high ceilinged, well ventilated houses designed for the weather in the tropics). So I would say that if you are going to lead us on a new path, I would think that we should be looking South, rather than North.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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It's simple. New Orleans is in the south. Therefore it influences the "cuisine" of the south in some way. Whether it is the increased use of Worchestershire sauce, or raising the demand for oysters, it is an influence.

Good or bad is a different story.

New orleans has become (thanks to Paul Prudhomme and Emeril) a food destination. Whether that same food can be made in Dallas or Montgomery does not matter. It's the atmosphere. You can make the same recipes with the same flavors at home. You just have to talk your neighbors into flashing you for plastic beads, hire a brass band, and build a balcony.

Regarding seceding, New Orleans has and should stand on it's own as a little destination inside a larger one. Like Austin, TX, Washington DC, or The Vatican.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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New orleans has become (thanks to Paul Prudhomme and Emeril) a food destination.

New Orleans was a dining destination long before those guys ever showed up (in fact, not that it makes them any less relevant, because they are, neither of them are from New Orleans). We have at least 1/2 dozen places that are over or close to a hundred years old, including two-Tujaques and Antoines-that have basically not even admitted that the 19th century is over yet. Their menus remain essentially unchanged from 1900 or so. Food and travel writers have been writing about them for a very long time. Some of the most interesting food writing about New Orleans ever done is from the 19th century- Lafcadio Hearne wrote thousands and thousands of words about Creole Cookery and the Restaurants of New Orleans. Twain wrote a fair amount about dining in New Orleans and there were many, many others. The Madame Begue's Cookbook was printed at the end of the 19th Century and is still in print. The Original Picayune cookbook was printed over a 100 years ago, as well. The relationship between a recognized cuisine and New Orleans is much older than PP and EL, although there is no denying that they have heightened the level of fine dining here by leaps and bounds. Prudhomme opened his place on Chartres 25 years ago and it is still going strong, serving honest and interesting food every night. I highly reccomend it to those that are looking for the roots of the "real deal".

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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New Orleans was a dining destination long before those guys ever showed up (in fact, not that it makes them any less relevant, because they are, neither of them are from New Orleans). We have at least 1/2 dozen places that are over or close to a hundred years old, including two-Tujaques and Antoines-that have basically not even admitted that the 19th century is over yet. Their menus remain essentially unchanged from 1900 or so. Food  and travel writers have been writing about them for a very long time. Some of the most interesting food writing about New Orleans ever done is from the 19th century- Lafcadio Hearne wrote thousands and thousands of words about Creole Cookery and the Restaurants of New Orleans. Twain wrote a fair amount about dining in New Orleans and there were many, many others. The Madame Begue's Cookbook was printed at the end of the 19th Century and is still in print. The Original Picayune cookbook was printed over a 100 years ago, as well. The relationship between a recognized cuisine and New Orleans is much older than PP and EL, although there is no denying that they have heightened the level of fine dining here by leaps and bounds. Prudhomme opened his place on Chartres 25 years ago and it is still going strong, serving honest and interesting food every night. I highly reccomend it to those that are looking for the roots of the "real deal".

Maybe I said that wrong. Obviously, the food has been an attraction for years. But only since they showed up have there been specific trips to New Orleans just for food.

Before, it was "Let's go to New Orleans, get a bite to eat, then hit the Quarter". Now, to a certain extent, the Quarter is secondary. For a long time, the Lucky Dog guys made as much money as the restaurants did. It was always known that you would eat well in New Orleans. I just don't think that it was the primary reason for the trip. Not that the frat boys in town for Mardi Gras drop a couple of bills at Commander's Palace anyway...

I'd be curious to see a breakout of restaturant vs bar revenue over the last 15 years or so, and compare it with the early 70's.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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I did a good bit of my growing up in Houston, and there was never any sort of confusion when we'd have blackened shrimp, red beans, and cornbread. I know I asked about a fancy French restaurant we would drive by on the way to school, and my mom told me it was like Cajun food, only not as spicy and not nearly as good (I think part of that answer might have been so I'd be happy with Popeye's chicken and not ask to go to a fancy restaurant).

An odd note. . .while printing up the unemployment form here in Tampa, the first page states that the Spanish version starts on page 16 and the CREOLE version starts on page 32. English, Spanish, and Creole. I'm really curious about that.

Diana

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East FL Man, Creole is the language of Haitians, many of whom reside now in Florida. You must know that though.

I definitely agree with Mayhaw that NOLA is much more akin to the South than (egads) "The Union". I grew up in Memphis and the black neighborhoods/communities there--though architecturally different in some cases--are so very similar to each other. But it should be its own country--secede then be sovereign!

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East FL Man, Creole is the language of Haitians, many of whom reside now in Florida. You must know that though.

I did not know that, but now I do, thanks! (I can stop googling now) I moved here from Texas, and have only lived here for 5 years, all of those in the Tampa/St Pete area.

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Fifty years ago, I think different cuisines existed in more isolated "islands" than they do today. I remember eating out in New Orleans at least 45 years ago and that was explained to me as Creole, identifiable and distinct. Then we spent some time in the Morgan City and Lafayette areas and that was described to me as Cajun, identifiable and distinct. There were a lot of differences but, even then, a lot of overlap. More or less, you would find gumbo's and etouffe in both places, but you wouldn't necessarily find the more haute cuisine dishes out in the country.

The creole/cajun cuisine started invading the Houston area about 20-25 years ago as a lot of our cajun oil patch friends started showing up here because here is where the oil patch jobs moved to. (Does anyone know how much impact the "cajun invasion" had on Scotland?)

We still had our east Texas peas and cornbread here and fried chicken could be found everywhere. Grits cover the land. And there is an ubiquitous glaze of BBQ.

That is why I think of some of these things as specialized islands in a sea of Southern, if you will. Good grief... Just look at the "regional" variations in gumbo.

I think I am getting a headache. :blink:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I remember eating out in New Orleans at least 45

What were you eating? Babyfood? You couldn't have been more than 1 or 2. It's great that you can remember that, though.

I have never seen Strained Okra Gerbet. I should suggest that. Maybe part of the problem is that we don't get people started early enough.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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(Does anyone know how much impact the "cajun invasion" had on Scotland?)

Wow, I lived in Scotland (edinburgh) for a year back in the mid-90's and didn't even realize there WAS a "cajun invasion"! This was my junior-year-abroad for Tulane University too, so I hope I would've noticed if there were a lot of Louisiana folks running around opening cajun restaurants :wink:

I do have one memory though, of going to see Steve Riley play a gig in Glasgow; the place was packed! A lot of folks dancing but I have a feeling that the ones who knew what they were doing were part of the Mamou Playboys entourage.

"What, after all, is more seductive than the prospect of sinning in libraries?"

Michael Dirda, An Open Book

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This discussion of the influence of New Orleans cuisine inspired me to visit the relatively new (opened Mardi Gras '04) Jacques-Imo's New York last night. There's a discussion of Jacques-Imo's New York in the New York forum, and my comments are at the end. Throughout the meal, davebr's comments echoed in my head: "New Orleans is a fun and relaxed place and the cuisine reflects that."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The whole thing is a bit touchy to me. My dad is an orphan from souhern Texas, while my mom was the typical uptown snob looking for trouble. So, growing up some days we ate BBQ, then jambalaya, then chicken fried steak, ect...... You NEVER saw fried green tomatoes on any restaurant menu ever until recently, now they are evrywhere. I would guess Uglich's was the first, but when???

If you are a southern chef ouside of New Orleans it is acceptible to include creole or cajun into your repitoire. But for a New Orleans chef to do the opposite--blasphamy. How many places in the city ever brag about their Chicken fried steak? But, if you go to Birmingham, there are plenty of people that brag about there Creole/Cajun food.

New Orleans is it's own itendity whether we like it or not. It runs by its own rules seperate from all the other micro and macro-southern cuisines. It is Sovereign and imune to any rules(moral or not).

Like the Mississippi, it will do what it wants. Either you go with the flow or you will find yourself with a bunch of sandbags just waiting for God's will to wash you and haute cuisine away.

Gorganzola, Provolone, Don't even get me started on this microphone.---MCA Beastie Boys

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What were you eating? Babyfood? You couldn't have been more than 1 or 2. It's great that you can remember that, though.

I have never seen Strained Okra Gerbet. I should suggest that. Maybe part of the problem is that we don't get people started early enough.

Aw... Brooks... You dear. I was actually about 11. I remember dressing up and eating at the Roosevelt Hotel. That is where my grandfather and grandmother lived while he was building a big warehouse complex. I also remember going to Antoines and Galatoires (sp?). Which one has the little porcelain black and white tile floors? For some reason, I associate shrimp remoulade with those tile floors.

(Sorry, I can't let the concept of okra baby food enter my brain.)

Wow, I lived in Scotland (edinburgh) for a year back in the mid-90's and didn't even realize there WAS a "cajun invasion"! This was my junior-year-abroad for Tulane University too, so I hope I would've noticed if there were a lot of Louisiana folks running around opening cajun restaurants 

I think you missed it. When the North Sea oil boom started, drillers, crew boat operators and all sorts of folks with offshore oil experience went to Scotland for the work. I suspect that after a few years, the locals got trained up and the Louisianans went home. I remember reading about it sometime in the 70s maybe. Maybe that is when they got into frying all kinds of stuff? :biggrin:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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  • 4 weeks later...
The whole thing is a bit touchy to me.  My dad is an orphan from souhern Texas, while my mom was the typical uptown snob looking for trouble.  So, growing up some days we ate BBQ, then jambalaya, then chicken fried steak, ect......    You NEVER saw fried green tomatoes on any restaurant menu ever until recently, now they are evrywhere.  I would guess Uglich's was the first, but when??? 

If you are a southern chef ouside of New Orleans it is acceptible to include creole or cajun into your repitoire.  But for a New Orleans chef to do the opposite--blasphamy.  How many places in the city ever brag about their Chicken fried steak?  But, if you go to Birmingham, there are plenty of people that brag about there Creole/Cajun food. 

New Orleans is it's own itendity whether we like it or not.  It runs by its own rules seperate from all the other micro and macro-southern cuisines.  It is Sovereign and imune to any rules(moral or not).

Like the Mississippi, it will do what it wants.  Either you go with the flow or you will find yourself with a bunch of sandbags just waiting for God's will to wash you and haute cuisine away.

I don't know who did fried green tomatoes first - but this is the place that made them famous. I've been there. It's not worth a detour. Robyn

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