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Stirring the pot again


FistFullaRoux
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Brett Anderson on Richman's GQ New Orleans piece

Richman climbs on a high horse to imply that a glitch in the wine service -- they brought him the right wine, but the wrong vintage -- at Restaurant August ("I tried not to be too distressed") is somehow relevant to the "tough decision" to spend "Iraq-magnitude money" rebuilding New Orleans. I'm not making this up. Has Richman's self-involvement morphed into brain damage? Did it spread to his editors? That is like saying Americans need to consider the soured sautéed skate I was served at Balthazar before supporting the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

Well, now. That's original. Though Anderson does admit (and I agree to a small degree) that New Orleans dining is all about the tourist, I think Richman crossed the line.

Full disclosure: I have not read the GQ article in question. I haven't found it on the web, so I'll have to go buy the magazine. These statements are based only on Anderson's critique.

So, your thoughts?

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Actually, I disagree with Todd. While the podcast shows Richman to be the asshat that he is, on the other hand, the written version is something to be savored and loathed.

The guy had an axe to grind and for some reason he chose New Orleans as his stone. It's a ridiculously irresponsible, poorly executed piece of writing. Happily, as I refused to buy that rag (I, thank you very much, am already more than happy with my hair gel, my stylish clothing, and my man makeup and need no help from the advisors at GQ), I found a copy on a chair at the airport- no doubt left there by some other already well dressed man in no immediate need of fashion or dining advice.

The geek actually had the audacity to question the actual existence of the creole folk, while in the same breath discussing Leah Chase (who is, by any definition that you care to employ, as creole as they come). Trust me, I love Mrs. Chase, and I believe that she is many things (all good) but, at least I'm pretty sure, that she's no faerie.

I honestly can't believe that they printed the thing. It's that bad.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

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

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That was my reaction as well. I have read the article; I bought the magazine for the first and last time in my life for the purpose. What has a lot of people up in arms is not that he didn't like the food, but that the piece is full of errors of a kind that nobody who gets paid to write should have made. It was a disgraceful showing, and the kind of thing that ought to doom Richman's credibility as a food writer from here on.

I mean for Pete's sake, the guy actually said that he couldn't distinguish between a dark roux and cornstarch. I still can't get over that.

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He responded to an email that I sent him in which I asked about the roux issue. He said words to the effect, "I know the difference between a roux and cornstarch, I believe my point was that they should taste different."

In other words, he can't distinguish between the taste of cornstarch and a dark roux.

He's incompetent.

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Here's the article online:

Richman

I often like Richman's writing, but it seemed like he was going out of his way to be an ass. He even says at one point "I’m trying to be unstintingly hard-bitten here, but that kind of broke my heart."

A shame really, because putting aside his questioning the existance of Creoles, and insulting New Orleanians ("I believe their morning exercise regimen consists of stumbling out of bars"), he actually has some points to make about where is interesting to eat now.

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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I enjoyed this particular sentence that Brett offered.

Characterizing New Orleans, as Richman does, as a city of "crooks and cooks" is akin to describing Richman as a neurotic East Coast narcissist whose idea of hardship is flying coach. Both are caricatures based on some known facts but no formal research.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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Since I am a Cajun from southwest Louisiana, my ears perked up when I read his remarks about gumbo in Lafayette parish. It's not the same.

Not to get too far off the subject, but it's not even so clear what Cajun is. Is it just the people who descended from Acadians in Nova Scotia, or is it a new mix of those people and other French immigrants, other cultures, etc.?

For an interesting book, see Carl A. Brasseaux (1992). Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a people, 1803-1877, Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

For an interesting book on the Americanization of the Cajuns, see Shane Bernard (2003). The Cajuns: Americanization of a people. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Scorpio

You'll be surprised to find out that Congress is empowered to forcibly sublet your apartment for the summer.

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oh, gosh, I'm going to be another NY'er commenting on this (although I grew up elsewhere).

"In other words, he can't distinguish between the taste of cornstarch and a dark roux."

I believe his point was that one should be able to discern the difference -- and if one can't, then the roux is poorly done. For the record, most I've tasted in N.O. were indiscernable from cornstarch.

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Ahem, pardon me for being pedantic, but we're treading on my home turf here:

A roux gives a completely different mouthfeel to a dish than cornstarch....roux-thickened dishes don't have the gelatinous, slightly gluey texture imparted by cornstarch (think of cheap lunch specials floating in sauce at cut-rate faux-chinese restaurants).

Roux has a nutty flavor and provides a significant "brown" bottom flavor note that is unmistakeable for anything else...some would call it bitter, or dark, or smoky. I can't think of anyone in southeast Louisiana, professional or home cook, who uses cornstarch in traditional savory cooking. (N.B, a few aberrant crawfish etouffee recipes from SW LA do use cornstarch, but these are distinct exceptions).

RE: "poorly done"--there one traditional way to do a roux--brown flour in fat until it reaches the color you like. The starches in the flour caramelize/denature after just two or three minutes (long before it colors at all)...it will have thickening power and a nice, light flavor as soon as the flour is cooked. The longer it is cooked, the deeper & toastier/nuttier the flavor becomes, but the thickening power decreases as the roux darkens. If the flour is insufficiently cooked, you'll certainly taste it in the finished dish, but it will taste like raw flour and will not provide any thickening power...taste/finish of an undercooked roux won't be anything like cornstarch.

(You can also carefully brown the flour without fat, very carefully on the stovetop in a heavy skillet or in the oven in a baking pan. Two weeks ago, while doing a presentation on gumbo at a folklife event, I heard from an old cajun lady about her no-fat rice flour dry-heat roux, concocted after health issues forced her to give up most fats & gluten, too. So innovation lives alongside tradition, as always.)

I reaffirm my earlier assertion: anyone who confuses a roux-thickened dish with one thickened by cornstarch needs to lay off the martinis and do some serious cooking and eating.

Edited by HungryC (log)
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For the record, most I've tasted in N.O. were indiscernable from cornstarch.

That suggests -- I think -- that neither you nor Mr. Richman have palates that have been sufficiently trained to understand gumbo. That is nothing to be ashamed of; one can always learn. After all, I moved here from the East Coast and I learned.

A broader point is that Mr. Richman failed to understand how deeply emeshed food is in the local culture of New Orleans. He seems to bring a kind of cosmopolitan set of expectations to eating out. I can also understand that -- when I eat in London or New York, I am looking for cutting edge ideas, ingredients, etc. But mostly that is detached from anything local. New Olreans -- and Paris, for that matter -- are different. The food is part of something larger called culture. If Richman does not get that, he is really not qualified to write about New Orleans.

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[...  The food is part of something larger called culture.  If Richman does not get that, he is really not qualified to write about New Orleans.

In my opinion after reading the piece, he is not forgetting that food is part of the culture, he is actually sneering and voicing open contempt at the entire culture "he sees" down there.

He sneers at 'so-called Creoles', he sneers at a volunteer from a local Catholic chuch who is cleaning a street and described her motivation as 'simply because the church she belonged to thought it was a good idea for 'God-fearing' people to do it', he sneers at a city composed of "crooks and cooks", likens food portions to something a fat man would help himself to at a buffet line and describes the city as a 'festival of narcissism, indolence and corruption.' There is so much cultural sneering and contempt in the article that it goes way past describing instances of what he considers mediocre or touristy food if that was his intent I don't understand why the article hammered constantly about the whole 'worthlessness' of the culture down there if as he states in the end he hopes to see the quality of restaurants improve in the city. I don't see that he has any respect, understanding or fondness for the cultural and food traditions of the area. I can only imagine that it was a promotional stunt designed to have his name and article spoken about along the lines of "all publicity is good publicity."

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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It's hard to believe Richman couldn't find roux-based gumbo (with or without okra) in NOLA! I wonder if he was referring to that gumbo that looked like chicken soup with some bits of okra thrown in? Perlow posted some great pics about it. From one of NOLA's top restaurants, but dang if I can remember it or find it.

Richman sounded as if he liked the Lafayette gumbo better. Never mind, though. Lafayette and Cajun country are off the radar for most people. You won't see your average GQ reader at the Sunday quarter horse races in Opelousas any time soon. I don't know what they'd think "a cockfight in Kaplan" means! Still it reminds me of how far rural LA has to go before being on the radar. There was that question I read on either Chowfood or Roadhound, "Can you find any Cajun food in the Lafayette area?" :wacko:

The Cajun/Creole thing is complicated, but Anderson points out that Richman could have done much better with it. Cajun food from Canada indeed!

Anyway, with Firefox tonight I can't reach the Richman article anymore. Maybe I should count myself lucky.

Edited by My Confusing Horoscope (log)

Scorpio

You'll be surprised to find out that Congress is empowered to forcibly sublet your apartment for the summer.

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It's hard to believe Richman couldn't find roux-based gumbo (with or without okra) in NOLA! I wonder if he was referring to that gumbo that looked like chicken soup with some bits of okra thrown in? Perlow posted some great pics about it.  From one of NOLA's top restaurants, but dang if I can remember it or find it.

Richman sounded as if he liked the Lafayette gumbo better. Never mind, though. Lafayette and Cajun country are off the radar for most people. You won't see your average GQ reader at the Sunday quarter horse races in Opelousas any time soon. I don't know what they'd think "a cockfight in Kaplan" means! Still it reminds me of how far rural LA has to go before being on the radar. There was that question I read on either Chowfood or Roadhound, "Can you find any Cajun food in the Lafayette area?" :wacko:

The Cajun/Creole thing is complicated, but Anderson points out that Richman could have done much better with it. Cajun food from Canada indeed!

Anyway, with Firefox tonight I can't reach the Richman article anymore. Maybe I should count myself lucky.

I have to admit I agreed 100 per cent with Richman's take.

I have been to NO several times (as a tourist) and aside from a few wonderful places

(I recall Cafe Sbiza?) I must admit (as does Richman) I just don't get the hoopla!

Much of the food is overkill--the folks who enjoy the Las Vegas all you can eat buffets would love NO) --say aren't those the folks NO is trying to draw? Isn't Vegas prime convention competition?

Creole and Cajun are IMOP confusing and difficult to grasp. I also believe that locals use these terms to hype up the attractions for the tourists.

NO is a serious party town and one can certainly have a lot of fun. I also found the people to be friendly and interesting and good hosts (that's one reason why it is a great place for a party)

It is a city where excess is welcome!

Fair enough.

Richman is an iconoclast and does say outrageous things--these pieces are really about him and his take. He is controversial and entertaining that's why he makes the big bucks. Is't NO somewhat controversial and entertaining too?

I would take what he writes with a grain of salt (ok maybe a tablespoon--we're talkin excess here)

Delving into the finer points of a roux to discredit him and all his opinion is to miss the point.

Anyway--I found myself agreeing with most of what he was saying--and even if I disagreed I would have enjoyed the humor and sarcasm.

Remember this is the guy who couldn't find a decent slice of pizza in Naples! :wink:

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oh, gosh, I'm going to be another NY'er commenting on this (although I grew up elsewhere).

"In other words, he can't distinguish between the taste of cornstarch and a dark roux."

I believe his point was that one should be able to discern the difference -- and if one can't, then the roux is poorly done.  For the record, most I've tasted in N.O. were indiscernable from cornstarch.

That was indeed his point, and one he's mentioned out to me directly in an email conversation we've had. I stand by my point however, in that if one is tasting a roux that has the requisite color (and there's no evidence that he didn't, particularly given the locations at which he ate gumbo) he should have been able to tell the difference.

Let me put it a different way, and to reiterate what Celeste said. A roux, and specifically a dark roux used in gumbo, has a taste, mouthfeel, and aroma that are entirely distinct from cornstarch. The flavor and aroma come from the "toasting" of the flour in the fat, and for a number of reasons, if you have the color right, you're necessarily going to get that aroma/flavor combination, though the intensity and specifics will vary.

Also, the idea that some restaurant made a roux that was "poorly prepared" doesn't hold water. First, roux is not something that calls for a great deal of interpretation where measurements are concerned. It's not as if some folks use a 3/1 ratio and others use 10/1 oil to flour. The basic ratio is 1/1, and very few people venture from it.

Second, while the taste and thickening variations between a light brown roux and a dark brown roux are significant, even a light brown roux will (not may, not might, not perhaps could) give you an unmistakeable flavor and aroma. You can screw up a roux by burning it, or by undercooking it, but in either case, you'll clearly be able to distinguish the result from something thickened with cornstarch.

So for the record, if you can't distinguish between a roux and cornstarch then one of two things is going on. Either you were mistaken in thinking you've tasted something that included a roux, or you don't have a very good sense of taste. There are no other options.

My guess is that the folks defending Richman are reacting to criticisim of him that the same way folks from New Orleans reacted to his piece: with a lot of emotion and not necessarily a lot of thought. If you're a fan of Richman's, you ought to recognize that he's imperfect, and that this piece is a prime example of it. On the same note, folks from New Orleans should realize that we have a lot of problems, and some of those problems involve our food.

For what it's worth, I've exchanged a few emails with Mr. Richman now, and have listened to his podcast. I still think he's completely off-base where his article was concerned, but I have a better context for what he said, and why, and more respect for him overall.

Edited by Robert Peyton (log)
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It's simple. Roux and cornstarch are both cooked in liquid. Light roux is probably hard to discern from cornstarch. Dark roux is caramelized. Cornstarch is not. Caramelization adds a burnt/toasted/smoky/nutty flavor.

The man clearly has no clue. He is does not understand that most dishes in New Orleans are French inspired or have roots in France, they are not classical French dishes. There's a major difference there. New Orleans also has African, Italian, and Spanish - among many others - influences.

It's not Paris, dumbass, it's a city that's just as famous for Lucky Dogs as it is for Commander's Palace.

Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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It's simple. Roux and cornstarch are both cooked in liquid. Light roux is probably hard to discern from cornstarch. Dark roux is caramelized. Cornstarch is not. Caramelization adds a burnt/toasted/smoky/nutty flavor.

The man clearly has no clue. He is does not understand that most dishes in New Orleans are French inspired or have roots in France, they are not classical French dishes. There's a major difference there. New Orleans also has African, Italian, and Spanish - among many others - influences.

It's not Paris, dumbass, it's a city that's just as famous for Lucky Dogs as it is for Commander's Palace.

From the piece:

"Of course, there's the food. I am not certain the cuisine was ever as good as its reputation, in part, because the people who have consumed, evaluated and admired it likely weren't sober enough to know what they were eating. The food can be praised for distinctiveness and historical significance, both noteworthy, but the the restaurants were going in the wrong direction before the hurricane--think, if you are old enough, of French hotel food of the fifties. Too many luxurious restaurants were desperately trying to attract business by serving meals that fulfilled some illusory idea of what traditional cuisine should be. A local joke says it all: New Orleans has a thousand restaurants but only one menu."

I wish folks would read these pieces before forming opinions on them. Richman is provocative and opinionated--he's a critic for gosh sakes.

One may certainly agree or disagree but one should at least read the entire piece and think before declaring the author to be some sort of uninformed dolt. (he may be but the case needs to be made with at least an understanding of what Richman is saying.

The roux silliness is just that -IMOP-silliness. he knows what a roux is and he also understands the historical context and the culture. He knows exactly what he is talking about. Again one can disagree and debate but attempting to discredit Richman won't work. he did not get to where he is by being uninformed.

Also, he is not dissing the natives here. He is dealing with how NO presents itself. The hint here is that maybe it is NO that is selling their heritage (cajun and creole) short in their attempt to draw tourists.

Again, Richman can be thought provoking if one just takes the time to read what he says and actually think about it. (then a well informed rebuttal can be offered).

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I wish folks would read these pieces before forming opinions on them. Richman is provocative and opinionated--he's a critic for gosh sakes.

With all due respect, what are you talking about? If you're suggesting that people on this thread are criticizing Richman without reading his work, then you're just wrong. Brooks, Nina, and My Confusing Horoscope and ludja all say that they've read the piece. I know Robert has. David doesn't explicitly say that he has, but I get the impression that he has. Anyway, it seems the majority of people commenting clearly read it.

I'm no fan of the too frequent debates on the internet about articles and books that no one has read. I just don't think that's happening here. Now, if you talking people outside of eGullet, then you may be right.

Also, he is not dissing the natives here. He is dealing with how NO presents itself. The hint here is that maybe it is NO that is selling their heritage (cajun and creole) short in their attempt to draw tourists.

On the podcast he clearly says that New Orleans has no reason to exist. As a resident, I feel dissed. He also says the city exists because it's pleasant to live by the river. No, it's not. In fact, that's just stupid in the case of New Orleans. It's rare that you ever see the river in this city.

Know why? Because one of the largest ports in the world blocks the view. It's always been precarious to live by the river, but it's also been incredibly valuable and lucrative to this country.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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As a former New Orleanian( and Quarterite,and chef) I can agree wit the fact that there are a slew of mediocre(at best) and bad restaurants in N.O., and that Bourbon Street is a abomination( the only locals there are the ones taking your money). But whose fault is that? I say its the ill informed, uninspired, and dimwitted tourist(and stupid college kids on spring break) who want nothing more than this charactericature of what they think New Orleans is about. I feel the street keeps those idiots contained in a secure area for everyone else who actually can appreciate what the city has to offer.

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From the piece:

"Of course, there's the food. I am not certain the cuisine was ever as good as its reputation, in part, because the people who have consumed, evaluated and admired it likely weren't sober enough to know what they were eating.

(snip)

Also, he is not dissing the natives here.

I have read the piece in question since I posted the opening comment here. My opinion, if anything, is now more against Richman. Nothing in the article gives any indication that he knows anything more of Cajun and Creole food and history than the average eggplant. He knows what has been shown in pop culture, maybe, but has no grasp of how or why things are done the way they are.

Please also note the two items quoted above. What about that first quoted line from the article does not sound like a insult? Yes, it also inferred that the tourists who ate the food there were drunk, but this also implies that the people making and selling this food were either drunk as well, or trying to feed the visitors something they would not eat themselves. I assure you that is not true.

You can't have it both ways. You cannot be a critic and not expect criticism. Especially when you are dead wrong on multiple levels.

edited for typos and random tag issues.

Edited by FistFullaRoux (log)
Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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Penned:"but what exactly is it that we're trying to cherish and preserve? I hope it's not the French Quarter, which has evolved into a illogical mix of characterless housing"

Yes, 100+ year old French/Spanish architeture is definitly second rate to Time's Square.

Penned:" I'm not certain the cuisine was ever as good as its reputation, in part because the people who have consumed, evaluated, and admired it likely weren't sober enough at the time of ingestion to know what they were eating."

"New Orleans, to me, is a city of crooks and cooks".

Hello Pot? This is the Kettle.

Penned: "A local joke says it well: New Orleans has a thousand restaurants but only one menu."

That joke was from the 80's. It died with the opening of Emeril's, Mike's on the Ave and Mr Richmans sense of decency in the early 90's.

Penned: " Food should not taste as though it belongs in a museum."

" brought down from Canada—good Lord, are we trying to save food from Canada?"

Cajun/Creole food as we know it today is barely 50 years old. We'll put it in line right behind him.

Penned: "New Orleans has always been about food and music, with parades added to the mix. (In the North, where I come from, we like to think we're about jobs and education, with sports thrown in.)"

No one ever gets paid to cook and we are born knowing how to play the saxaphone--no education needed. The best artisans of their craft never let it look like work.

Penned: "New Orleans fell in love with itself and acted accordingly, becoming a festival of narcissism, indolence, and corruption."

Where is the mafia from?

Penned: "While walking back through the rapidly filling room, I shook my wet hands over the heads of people sitting at tables nicer than mine."

N.C. Fat Albert, No class!

It sure sounds like its been a while since someone "relieved" himself. Somebody needs to do the world a favor and send him the issue of Maxim with O'Riely on the cover so that he can take care of that problem.

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

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The geek actually had the audacity to question the actual existence of the creole folk, while in the same breath discussing Leah Chase (who is, by any definition that you care to employ, as creole as they come). Trust me, I love Mrs. Chase, and I believe that she is many things (all good) but, at least I'm pretty sure, that she's no faerie.

This gross error is enough to call the whole piece into question.

While reading the article I imagined him as some loud boor on a plane droning on about his superficial "analysis". Which is not to say that he's completely without valid points, but it's little more than the punditry he eschews at a particularly sensitive time in the life of the city.

Off-the-cuff comments like

Folks out there call themselves Cajuns, and I promise you they do not behave like the rest of us.

illustrate clueless snobbery.

Boo to Mr. Richman and boo to GQ.

Bridget Avila

My Blog

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As a former New Orleanian( and Quarterite,and chef) I can agree wit the fact that there are a slew of mediocre(at best) and bad restaurants in N.O., and that Bourbon Street is a abomination( the only locals there are the ones taking your money). But whose fault is that? I say its the ill informed, uninspired, and dimwitted tourist(and stupid college kids on spring break) who want nothing more than this charactericature of what they think New Orleans is about. I feel the street keeps those idiots contained in a secure area for everyone else who actually can appreciate what the city has to offer.

Tim, IMOP you at least attempt to address the opinion expressed in the GQ piece. The problem I have is most people here seem to want to simply attack Richman and discredit him without having to deal with anything he says.

After all these are just opinions.

There is more than a little truth in what Richman writes about NO (IMOP of course). I would also note that most any city anywhere would not be immune from criticism (I'd love for someone to list the perfect places!).

NO has been long overdue.

Anyplace worth its salt should be able to take criticism.

Interestingly, no one has really offered a rebuttal to Mr Richman--everyone seems to just want to attack him.

Just what is cajun and creole cooking and how is NO presenting these so called native cuisines to the world?

NO has long promoted itself as a party town--mardi gras, superbowls, strip joints, carousing around with mixed drinks in open containers, conventions etc etc etc. where's the culture?

The food is amazingly overdone--with all the great fresh ingredients available why the heavy cream sauces and over kill in so many places?

I definitely recall a lot of fifties style French food.

Is there a side of NO we are missing? (that Richman missed?)

By the way, if this is what the tourists want there is nothing wrong with promoting it!

It would be nice if we stopped attacking the messenger and deal with the message! :wink:

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Is there a side of NO we are missing? (that Richman missed?)

It would be nice if we stopped attacking the messenger and deal with the message! :wink:

Yes, there is a side of the city that he missed. Pretty much most of it.

New Orleans has a lot of problems, but that was not what the article was about. If he was writing an article about the poor state of government or the decades of corruption in New Orleans government, I could accept the criticism. However, his article was about food, and he failed miserably.

Based on your posts, I am pretty sure your knowledge of New Orleans food is limited. Yes, we do have a lot of fresh seafood, but I honestly can't figure out where you get the idea that everything is covered in cream sauces. Fried? Yea, we're guilty of a lot of fried food. But there is a plethora of good food, not fried or covered in cream sauce.

Unfortuately the intelligence is lacking in our government, elected officials, tourism office, and pretty much anyone promoting the city. They've spent years creating a picture of a party town, and haven't really promoted the city for what it really is. You are 100% correct in your assesment of the way the city is marketed. The stuff that tourists do and what they eat is fairly distant from that of the above average citizen. If you think that I spent time drinking on Bourbon street, you're kidding yourself. New Orleans as a tourist town has become a caricature of itself, and Ray Nagin hasn't figured it out yet.

So my point? Alan Richman's piece about New Orleans was a piece of shit. He might be a respectable guy, but he's not very smart. When you declare that New Orleans "shouldn't even exist" or that people moved there "because they wanted to live by the river" really shows his ignorance of one of the United States most important ports. And don't blame the locals because a bunch of tourists like to drink on Bourbon street.

-Kevin

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