by Jolene Lamb, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
I recently returned from a honeymoon trip to New Orleans. Hence the name change from Adams to Lamb, which is a great last name to have when you work in the culinary field! Anyway, it was my first visit to the Crescent City, and I immediately fell in love with it. The city has a rich history filled with diverse cultures and traditions that come together to create an atmosphere that is not easy for me to put into words. One of my favorite ways to explore a new destination is through its cuisine. New Orleans was the perfect city to do just that. The sheer number of restaurants is almost overwhelming. Just about every type of cuisine is represented, which makes sense in a city that welcomes diversity. You won’t find many chain restaurants, if any at all. Most are neighborhood restaurants opened by bold, talented chefs. The people of New Orleans consider themselves foodies and their chefs rock stars.
On a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, our guide pointed out the large tomb of Paul Prudhomme. He was an entrepreneur best known for his introduction of Cajun and Creole cooking to America. He was a farmer’s son who wanted to bring the foods of his youth to the masses. He opened his first restaurant in 1957, and it failed within the year. He then worked at odd jobs and restaurants around the country until returning to New Orleans in 1970. His big break came in 1975, when he became the executive chef at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District. In 1979, he decided to open his own restaurant, K-Paul’s, where he soon hired Emeril Lagasse to work with him. Two of his signature dishes were blackened redfish and turducken, which he is credited with introducing to the general public. He was the author of a number of cookbooks, of which the best known is “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.” He created his own line of spices under the name Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends. After Hurricane Katrina, he cooked at a relief center and was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year award by “Bon Appetit” magazine in 2006 for his efforts during that crisis. He also appeared on a number of television shows for PBS. He was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame in 2013. It’s hard to imagine that Emeril Lagasse was once an employee in a restaurant, working his way up!
Another historic culinary spot is Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, which opened its doors for business in 1941. What was initially a sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet in 1939 blossomed into a thriving bar and later a respected family restaurant in Treme. Founded by Emily and Dooky Chase Sr., Dooky Chase’s Restaurant soon become the meeting place for music and entertainment, civil rights and culture in New Orleans. Before the United States Supreme Court reversed its 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant had become the hot spot for discussing issues of civil and economic rights in the African-American community in New Orleans and throughout the country. Thurgood Marshall along with local attorneys propelled civil rights and protests in the courts and on the streets of New Orleans. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. and others would join these local leaders for strategy sessions and dialogue over meals in the upstairs meeting room at Dooky Chase’s. In 1946, Edgar Dooky Chase Jr. married Leah Lange Chase. Through the vision of Leah Chase, the barroom and sandwich shop grew into a sit-down restaurant wrapped within a cultural environment of African-American art and Creole cooking. Later known as the queen of Creole cuisine, Leah Chase would introduce one of the first African-American fine dining restaurants to the country. In addition to her signature Creole cuisine, Leah would begin to showcase African-American art on the walls of Dooky Chase’s. The restaurant was the first art gallery for black artists in New Orleans. Today, Dooky Chase’s remains family owned and operated. Knowing the history and the important role the restaurant played in the civil rights movement definitely made dining there a humbling experience. The food was outstanding. Hands down it was the best fried chicken sweet potatoes, grits and greens I have ever had! The African-American art displayed on the walls is absolutely beautiful.
New Orleans’ famous Café Du Monde was also on my list of places to visit and eat. Café Du Monde is the world’s most famous coffee shop and a New Orleans institution. Found at the end of the French Market and the corner of Jackson Square in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Café Du Monde has been serving up crispy beignets and creamy cafés au lait since 1862. The menu at this iconic eatery has hardly changed since the days of the Civil War: coffee, beignets, hot chocolate, milk, fresh-squeezed orange juice and the more recent additions of iced coffee and sodas. The drink to order is, of course, the café au lait, a hot coffee with warm milk added (though café noir — black coffee — is also an option). The coffee here is cut with chicory (endive root), a local tradition started during the blockades of the Civil War when coffee was scarce. Chicory is more bitter than coffee but less acidic. The roast is rich and dark but without the intense acidity of a standard French roast. It also has less caffeine than a cup of straight coffee. The beignets are the main attraction though. Crispy on the outside, billowy-soft on the inside and heaped with powdered sugar, they are the best hunk of fried dough you are likely to ever have. They come in an order of three, hot from the fryer, with the powdered sugar melting softly into the sheen of oil on their surface. Eat them as soon as your tongue can take it. The hot melty gooeyness combined with the crunch of the surface is a delight of textures. I have to admit that I stopped at Café Du Monde three times during my visit!
Last but not least, I’d like to mention oysters. When I travel, I like to eat foods that are local or in season. It’s a great way to experience the amazing flavors of fresh foods. So of course on my first trip to New Orleans, I had to have oysters within five minutes of arriving. Fortunately, they are always on the menu at many restaurants. We happened to stay only a few blocks from the St. Roch Market. St. Roch Market is a southern food hall featuring a diverse lineup of food and beverage purveyors. It offers a unique dining experience for guests and for entrepreneurs. The market represents the ultimate platform to grow a food brand and build a business. Current restaurants include Elysian Seafood and Elysian Oyster Bar. We happened to pop in during happy hour, and I enjoyed my fill of raw oysters straight from the Gulf! They were delicious. It was dinner and a show since they were shucked right behind the counter. We enjoyed oysters at a few more places, but the fresh raw oysters served in the St. Roch Market were the best.
I hope to return to New Orleans at least once a year. I feel like it could definitely be my home away from home! I hope you get a chance to explore the culture through cuisine and enjoy the one-of-a-kind city that is New Orleans.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Education Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.