Saving the food

I learned what little I know about cooking Louisiana food from reading stories by local writers, by watching the mothers of girlfriends, and by experimenting on my own, and without bragging, I can say that I make a mean potato soup and a pretty decent gumbo.

There is no way to overestimate the power food has on south Louisiana's culture. Sometimes I think that the reason grandmothers exist down there is to make sure everybody gets fed to stuffing, and the restaurants are a large part of that.

So I worry when I read articles like this one in today's New York Times about the gentrification of New Orleans food.

I appreciate what the big name chefs have done to spread the gospel of good cooking. It means that I can get a good meal in most parts of the country now, for starters. It means that when I go to a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and I see gumbo on the menu, I don't reject it out of hand (though I don't exactly get excited, either).

But the bottom line is that it's not the Emerils and the Prudhommes who exemplify Louisiana cooking. It's Leah Chase and Willie Mae Seaton, it's Vera's, it's Rocky and Carlo's, muffalettas from the convenience store on Highway 190 east of Thompson Road, and the shared cooking knowledge from all those families who have now been spread to the four corners of the country or lost to the silt and storm surge and the indifference of national government.

I appreciate what Mr. Edge and Mr. Elie are doing for Mrs. Seaton, helping her get her place back up and running, and reclamation projects like that are necessary, but I have to wonder if they'll be enough.

An optimist would say that the diaspora of Louisiana cooks will help spread the word, and it may, but even if that's the case, there's still a great loss, a price to be paid.

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