Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Étouffé you glad I didn't say banana: GQ's Alan Richman managed to piss off the better part of my native state, Louisiana, with some choice critical remarks about Creole food. The Times, though, had this magnificent description of the evolution of classic New Orleanian cuisine:

One way to understand Creole food is to compare it with Cajun food. Creole is fancy and urban; Cajun is simple and country. Creole gumbo has tomatoes; Cajun does not. Creole dishes rely on butter; Cajun on pork fat.

The most important measure, though, is to remember that what ends up on the Creole plate is determined by who one’s grandmother was. The Creole kitchen has been touched by countries including Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, Haiti, Spain, Cuba, Germany and Italy. The common denominators are the raw ingredients that grow in southern Louisiana and a cultural dip in French haute cuisine.

"It's a better cuisine than any of them individually," said Marcelle Bienvenu, one of Louisiana's longtime culinary authorities.

Of course, like any culture's menu, Creole cooking has expanded and contracted with every change that has rolled through town. Sometimes it has been for the better, as when the Italians brought artichokes and red gravy or when Cajun and Creole food met in Paul Prudhomme's kitchen. Sometimes it has been for the worse, as when the lure of the tourist dollar turned some classic restaurants into Creole Disney.

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