New Orleans: Food Heaven – Cafe Du Monde

We usually avoid the touristy places no matter where we are. You know the ones…the places that are listed in every guidebook as a MUST SEE or MUST DO and when you get there you are all to often sorely disappointed and grumpy that you wasted your time.

Happily, Cafe Du Monde is NOT that type of tourist place -perhaps it is because the locals love it too, and their presence has kept it from becoming just another formerly-interesting-but-now-soul-less place. The cafe is open 24/7 and each time we were there ( it is addictive ) a small gathering of musicians had perched themselves on some rickety, folding chairs on the sidewalk in front of the cafe. From this coveted spot, they entertained the crowd and filled the room with wonderful New Orleans jazz.

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New Orleans:Food Heaven – Brigtsen’s Restaurant

It was serendipity that guided me to make a dinner reservation at Frank Brigtsen’s namesake restaurant Brigtsen’s, and I could not have been happier for the outcome. In fact, the turn of events that lead me to dine at Frank’s is one of those ‘so-much-the-better-for-it experiences’ that we stumble over every once in a while in spite of ourselves. Songwriter Garth Brooks put it simply and well when he sang: ” Sometimes, I thank God for unanswered prayers…”

Well, that may be a little grand for the point I am trying to make, but you get the idea. Initially I had tried to make a reservation at another upscale, much beloved New Orleans restaurant ( which shall here remain nameless ) for the evening in question, but their rudeness to me on the telephone immediately nixed my enthusiasm for dining there. As I continued plotting our dining course from home, and (after discounting several restaurants whose reputation I feared might be preceeding the goodness of their food) I discovered a mention of Brightsen’s.

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In Good Company – 2008 IACP Cookbook Awards

The 2008 IACP Cookbook Awards Gala on Friday night in New Orleans was colorful and festive. The evening began with a performance by a rockin’ gospel group that got the crowd singing and clapping in spirited New Orleans fashion.

For those of us who were Finalists with nominated books, the cocktail hour prior to the awards ceremony was filled with collegial best wishes and much anticipation. Despite the fact that the room burst into applause and hoots & hollers when the image of the jacket of our book was projected on the screen and our names were called out, the judges had decided differently and the award went to another author.

The book that won in our Single Subject category was the fish book – Fish Forever by Paul Johnson. Not only did that book win our category but it was also chosen as Cookbook of the Year.  Wow – what a sweep for that book. We were able to congratulate Paul in person and wish him endless revisions of his thoughtful book.

While we were disappointed to not win, we realized that many of America’s best and most beloved food writers also came up empty-handed that evening. So we made a tally of some of  ‘ Those Who Also Did Not Win’ and we think that we are in pretty good company !

Jean Anderson; Elizabeth Falkner; Alice Medrich; Jacques Pepin; James Peterson; Peter Reinhart; Susan Spicer; Jean-Georges Vongerichten; Anne Willan

We did learn that 70 books were entered into the Single Subject Category, so just to be nominated as a Finalist is an achievement that we will always be proud of.

And now, we are keeping our fingers crossed for the James Beard Foundation Book Awards in June, and our nomination in the Reference Book Category.

New Orleans: Food Heaven

We arrived today in New Orleans, our first and much anticipated visit. For Bob and me, this week will be filled with food, fun and discovering the history and most importantly, the food history of this dynamic and seductive city. We are here attending the 30th Annual Conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals ( IACP )  and have put together a full-slate of excursions outside of the city to visit a crawfish farm, rice growers, shrimper, crabbers and who ever else we stumble upon that is growing, catching or producing the essentials necessary to give the local cuisine its flavor and style. I will be working on a collaborative project with a group of photographers and writers to create a book on the topic of GUMBO, the dish that is the jewel in the crown of the local Cajun cuisine. My colleagues and I will be attempting to photograph and interview as many colorful local characters as we can in our week in New Orleans. On Wednesday, I will be headed to south Cajun country and I am as excited as if I was just given a free pass to Paris. Give me my camera, a local guide, a notebook, and some earnest, pride-filled local personalities and I am in heaven. And believe me, New Orleans is a character place – exhuberant, sometimes questionable, but so far, always delightful.

Recommended dining:

dinner: Cochon, in the warehouse district – as the name suggests, a shrine to pork and other Southern meats, oysters, local fish, crawfish, etc. Assisting the chefs are the wood burning ovens that turn out dishes that are as aromatic as they are sensual and delicious. Upscale, confident and very, very good. An ‘important’ USA news magazine called it one of the Five Best Restaurants in the USA. We call it sensational. More later.

breakfast: Mother’s who can pass up a place with a name like that ? Mother’s has been around since 1938, and other than some clean-up and re-organization after Hurricane Katrina, it probably looks much as it may have since the 1960’s. Funky, lost in time and the real deal – the waitresses call you Baby in that sweet, endearing, roll-of-the-tongue-southern-charm-kind-of way. Baked ham is the thing at Mother’s ( order it and you are presented with generous, rough-cut slabs of meat stacked on a plate – no fuss, no sauce, nothing to get in the way of the sweetness of the warm pork  ) as well as ferdi’s and debris po’boys.