Where else could a world renowned chef get away with serving rat?Where else could a banana be the centerpiece of much sought after adult dessert?Where else do visitors from out of town rush to make a donut shop their first stop?
The answer to all of these is the same, New Orleans.
Paul Prudhomme, the intrepid inventor of turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken), put his blackening technique for steak and fish to its ultimate test when he applied it to nutria, the famous South American rat relative that had infested Louisiana in the 1990s.He did it as a service to the state which was looking for a way to reduce the burgeoning population of nutria.He even appeared on the Today Show to promote the idea.While Chef Paul did serve some nutria, in the long run the idea of having people eat them did not fly, but an original New Orleans restaurant creation that did fly way beyond the borders of the establishment where it was created is Bananas Foster.Nearly fifty years before the Paul Prudhomme nutria experiment, the well established Brennan family and their top chef Paul Blange discovered that by drowning a fried banana with rum and banana liqueur tossing in butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream (Whats not to like?) you could get adults to flock in to get their potassium.Ah, Bananas Foster, a health food!
But what about a donut institution?Nearly 150 years ago a modest coffee stand was set up in the French market.Their specialty in addition to great coffee was the beignet (bin-yay!).This square fritter is sold only in threes with a winterscape covering of beautiful white powdered sugar.Three is okay; you cant eat just one, anyway.Naturally, I would say that because of my lifelong love of Greek Kourabiedes.This is the French version of the famous choking snack offered in many cultures.Those of us who have breathed in and choked on powdered sugar understand our deep attraction to these perilous foods.Once you have sat in the French Market location of the Cafe Du Monde and eaten a plate of three a powerful imprint is inscribed in your brain calling you back each time you return to the Big Easy.This is why so many flock right on down to the French Market anytime, day or night to get their New Orleans starter food, the Du Monde beignet!
Food is as important in New Orleans as the Mardi Gras.I might say, it is as important as music.Well truth be told, it is more important than anything else.This food adulation includes the cooking that goes on in even the most modest households, where every family has their own version of gumbo, all the way to some of the oldest continually operating restaurants in the country and on to the most current celebrity chef venues.Its all good.So lets have a dinner party with our friends and celebrate the great food of this great city.Enjoy!