No Cooks for Christmas

Imagine if all the cooks in every restaurant kitchen disappeared on Christmas Eve. What if Santa finally granted our truest wish? No alarms would ring. No flashing yellow lights. A puff of air.  A whispering wind. Walk a mile in our shoes on Christmas night and taste regret. A rough night for cooks and servers: two hundred confirmed reservations, all here to celebrate and share the holiday with family and friends. The dining room is filled with a mélange of well-dressed socialites with deep pockets and a thirst for fine champagne. The adrenaline level is high as the house band competes with the clatter of sauce pans and the rattle of plates rapidly filling the pass. The kitchen is humid and our jackets soak up the sweat. Try to keep up with the constant chirping of the ticket printer. It’s approaching midnight, and tempers flare as tired knees and elbows ready for the final push. Our chef, expediting all night, struggles to remain calm. Frantic servers try to squeeze by at the pass. “Ok, guys… fire the ten top, I want three amuse bouches for table 52, make that six all day.” “I need a mushroom risotto to sell this deuce on 60, gimme that risotto now!” What goes through the mind of a cook when the chef is screaming? Mangoes, apples, pears…. Are they pleasant thoughts?   The sauté cook seeks frantically for the pan with extra risotto from a previous ticket. He shoves another pan to the back, cranks the heat up, zaps […]

Diverse Impressions of a Passionate Cook’s State of Mind Eating New Orleans Soul Food – Part I

This has probably been the hardest post for me to write. I’ve sat with these beautiful  pictures for months, thinking on how best to put my experience in New Orleans into words. How do I describe the quiet majesty of the Mississippi River? It’s easy to imagine how commerce and trade and eventually towns and cities  sprouted along its banks. The streams I knew as a child were easy to ford and were only good for swimming with the help of a bamboo pole as a raft. I grew up with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  by Mark Twain. I’ve traveled this river a thousand times in my imagination, but never had the opportunity to see it for myself. I can only show you some of the things I’ve seen and hope that each picture is worth a thousand words. Sitting on the pier taking these pictures brought images of Forrest Gump and river boats and shrimping.  Finally, I was able to appreciate the love great authors had for this river. Crayfish… by the pound, boiled with a blend of spices and sold in the local corner store. I quickly learned that some of the best food that the city had to offer was to be found in the little neighborhood stores. In New Orleans, corner stores sell everything from crayfish to cigarettes, and that’s just aisle C. These critters were delicious, but only if you were willing to spend the time extracting the meat from the body. In true New Orleans style, take the head and drain the juices […]

Stewed Okra Sunny Side Up and Other Recipes from Below the Mason –Dixon Line

Shame on the inattentive cook who cooks okra to death.  But not today: Grandma Davis’ okra stew is delicious. Grandma has a few okra plants along the siding of her house, enough for a steady supply of this vibrant green Southern staple. A relative of hibiscus, okra is a hardy flowering plant in Grandma Davis’ New Orleans garden. Okra grows easily from seeds planted in good earth bathed in sunlight and water daily. When the plant has matured, take time to sit and watch as yellow blossoms unfurl, as delicate as butterfly wings greeting the rising sun. Scrumptious pods follow the flowers with a regularity that ensures Grandma’s cheerful disposition. I repeat, okra is scrumptious. Today, we are having stewed okra, fried chicken, potato salad and steamed brown rice for dinner. Outside the screen door and down two steps  from the porch, Grandma is filling a small Tupperware container with okra pods. Each long and tapered lady’s finger seems perfectly ripe, fat with sunshine and juicy with the flavor of green growing things. Okra Sunny Side Up Try Grandma Davis’  recipe for stewed okra sunny side up with good cheer and hearty appetite.  Select 20 young okra pods that are tender but not soft and without bruise or blemish. The juiciest pods are those less than four inches in length. You’ll also need 2 large globe tomatoes, the riper the better. The acid from tomatoes keeps the okra from becoming slimy when cooked. Gather your other ingredients: A single green sweet pepper ½ a Spanish onion A large […]