DISHING IT OUT: Where to eat in New Orleans

DISHING IT OUT: Where to eat in New Orleans
February 24, 2010
Suzie Owsley
The Times-Standard

I recently had a nice chat with New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh. Never too busy to talk food, he was quick to invite us to visit during the upcoming crawfish season.

Besh extended an invitation to Humboldt County residents to visit New Orleans for an experience that is rich in a culture unlike any other city in the United States.

”Our city is driven by a soul that is fueled by its culinary roots,” Besh said. “The Cajuns and Creoles (American-born descendants of French, Spanish and Africans) who settled in Louisiana bring a unique culinary offering to the table.”

When I asked Besh for culinary recommendations for the first time visitor, he remarked that it is difficult to get a bad meal in New Orleans.

”From one house (restaurant) to the other, a gumbo is made differently. Not saying one gumbo is better than the other, but they have their unique approach which could come from their grandmother's mother or just creating it on their own.”

Besh's favorites are right on target. Musts are the beignets from Café Du Monde (one of the best deals in the French Quarter), and muffulettas from Central Grocery. These sandwiches made with soft Italian bread stuffed with salami, ham and provolone cheese and topped with chopped green and black olives, anchovies and garlic are a New Orleans staple.

The list continues with po-boy sandwiches from the nondescript Domilise's, the soufflé bread
pudding at Commander's Palace and Arnaud's shrimp remoulade.

For a stick-to-your-ribs authentic Southern breakfast, I am looking forward to trying breakfast at Luke on my next visit. Besh recommends the waffles and fried chicken with bacon gravy or the blue crabs and eggs. I will need to check my calorie counting at the door.

Advice from Besh on cooking at home was abundant and easy to follow.

”Just enjoy yourself and don't think you can rush through it to make a dish you are satisfied with,” he said. “If you go in with the attitude that you are going to have fun, you will love it every step of the way. It is far more important that you understand the spirit of the dish and the flavor bases.”

Besh's favorite kitchen companion is the black iron skillet, an essential piece of dishware for true Southern cooking.

”A roux is best made in a skillet,” he said. There is something about it that builds that smoky flavor a roux takes on which is perfect to season your gumbo.”

I could not pin him down on naming some of his favorite ingredients, though he does like to stick with the local basics.

”To be able to take from your own backyard is the best,” he said. “Much better than trying to get something that may have been shipped and picked three days ago.” He did add that he loves Jacob's andouille sausage.

Besh recommends visiting New Orleans at the height of crawfish season in late April and early May.

”My favorite birthday adventure is to go crawfishing,” said John. “You can smell the aroma of the spices and mixture boiling in pots in your neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon. The Jazz Festival is a clear indication we are in the heart of the season as you have crawfish pies, crawfish bread, along with spicy peel-and-eat crawfish.”

For those of you still concerned about visiting the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina, Besh puts those fears to rest.

”Downtown, uptown, the Garden District, along with the French Quarter were not severely damaged, he said. “Those neighborhoods are the highest points of the city so they did not have the extreme water damage. Our city is a true national treasure that is thriving strong today. We have been here for over 300 years through multiple storms and we will be here for another 300 years! There is no place like New Orleans and it is ready for the people of Humboldt County to visit.”

Below, Besh shares his grandmother's recipe for biscuits.

Grandmother Walters' Biscuits

-- 2 cups all-purpose flour

-- 2 tablespoons baking powder

-- 2 teaspoons sugar

-- 1 teaspoon salt

-- 5 tablespoons cold butter, diced (preferably European style -- see note)

-- 1 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 425 F. Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles cornmeal.

Add the milk, stirring until the dough just comes together to form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Gently pat the dough down with your hands and fold it over once or twice more.
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