***A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Cafe Reconcile, a New Orleans-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing at-risk youth an opportunity to learn life and interpersonal skills, and operational training for successful entry into the hospitality and restaurant industries.
My New Orleans is a cookbook, a memoir, and a luscious coffee table book. Above all, it is a love letter from Chef John Besh to New Orleans. The book is a work of such richness that one wonders which elements deserve the first praise. Should praise be heaped be on the recipes, authentic and true; should it be on the explosion of cultural information so joyfully revealed; should it be on the stories that native son Chef John Besh tells of growing up in New Orleans? Any one of those aspects of the work deserve credit, but so, too, does the luscious photography that brings New Orleans, its food, and culture to vivid life. Wherever one begins, the elements mingle into a soulful and personal book, blending New Orleans food and life in as rich and layered a mixture as the Creole and Cajun foods that distinguish the great city's cooking. Chef Besh states, "The greatest thing about being raised the way I was is that it established for me, at a remarkably early age, the relationship of the land to the table." Food and life are inseparable.
Besh organizes by season and by celebration. His chapters are thematic (see list below) illuminating the joy of growing up in New Orleans where seasonal changes are nuanced by the availability of foodstuffs. At one moment the seasons dictates that it's time to wade waist-deep in water to catch one's own crawfish, at another moment it's time to lower a net from a bridge because the crabs are running. Later in the season it might be time to head for the woods, "braving mosquitoes, snakes, wasps, and all the creatures of the wild," to find wild mushrooms or pick wild blackberries. Holidays are an excuse for celebration in New Orleans. Besh states that his own Thanksgiving dinner has swollen to 40 gathered friends and family who "vary in age, race, political affiliation, and occupations with food as the common thread." Reveillon, once a Creole Feast celebrated on Christmas Eve, is now a celebration that the New Orleanians have stretched to a full month. This is the stuff of boyhood, of adult life, the moments forged in memory, and Besh carries the celebratory spirit forward into his restaurants and into his recipes.
"Sure I'm a restaurant chef," says Besh, "but I'm also a dad, and cooking for my big family is every bit as important to me. In choosing, adapting, and testing the recipes for this book, I've made sure that they work really well in the home kitchen. There are no restaurant recipes here. To help you succeed, I've divided the recipes into easy-to-follow steps."
Besh starts with the ABC's of New Orleans cooking. The all-important roux is given an in-depth analysis, and there are recipes for such building blocks as Basic Creole Spices, Basic Shellfish Pan Sauce, Basic Louisiana White Rice, as well as several basic sauces, such as ravigote and remoulade. At first glance, New Orleans recipes look intimidating. The list of ingredients seems daunting until you realize that the herbs and spices are all there in your larder, and it is the combination of many flavors and tastes layered into a gumbo, jambalaya or étouffée that gives the ultimate richness to New Orleans cooking. The actual steps in preparing each meal are not complicated and never forbidding. Besh includes short sidebars to illuminate New Orleans ingredients, and make cooking even easier.
The book includes master recipes for étouffée, jambalaya, bisque, gumbo, and daube glacée. "I honor these classics," states Besh, "but that's not to say that I can't be inventive and explore new recipes and ingredients." The resulting recipes are authentic, but filled with the élan and inventiveness of a seasoned chef. Besh wants for the home cook to use these recipes according to personal taste: "it is far more important that you understand the spirit of a dish ... than that you follow the letter of our recipes." The recipes range from a Crawfish Boil or Shrimp Boil, to Red Beans and Rice, Beignets, King Cake, Louisiana Blackened Fish, Trout Pontchartrain, Oyster Stew, Crispy Fried Oyster Salad with Louisiana Caviar, Seafood Gumbo, Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo or Mama Rochelle's Stuffed Quail Gumbo.
My New Orleans is a cookbook, a memoir, and a luscious coffee table book. Above all, it is a love letter to New Orleans. Make New Orleans your home, too, by sinking into this exceptional book.
The uniqueness or organization bears special mention.
Crawfish & rice
Strawberries & Citrus
Feast Days - St. Joseph's Day, Easter Lunch, Passover Seder
Speckled Trout & Redfish
The Urban Farm
Chanterelles & Blackberries
Boucherie From Homemade to Hog's Head Cheese and Boudin Noir