IACP AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
With its uniquely multicultural, multigenerational, and unapologetically obsessive food culture, New Orleans has always ranked among the world's favorite cities for people who love to eat and cook. But classic New Orleans cooking is neither easily learned nor mastered. More than thirty years ago, beloved Paul Prudhomme taught the ways of Crescent City cooking but, even in tradition-steeped New Orleans, classic recipes have evolved and fans of what is arguably the most popular regional cuisine in America are ready for an updated approach. With step-by-step photos and straightforward instructions, James Beard Award-winner Justin Devillier details the fundamentals of the New Orleans cooking canon—from proper roux-making to time-honored recipes, such as Duck and Andouille Gumbo and the more casual Abita Root Beer-Braised Short Ribs. Locals, Southerners, and food tourists alike will relish Devillier's modern-day approach to classic New Orleans cooking.
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|Publisher:||Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed|
|Product dimensions:||7.40(w) x 9.80(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Jamie Feldmar is the coauthor of Naomi Pomeroy's Taste & Technique and a contributing writer to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications.
Read an Excerpt
New Orleans is in my blood, but my story starts two thousand miles away from here, in Dana Point, California. That’s where I grew up, the son of a fourth-generation Louisiana father and a Philadelphia-bred Irish Polish mother. My mom was a healthcare professional, but she also had a catering company on the side, and she was a total kitchen workhorse, plowing through prep for five hundred stuffed mushrooms like it was no big deal. She let me play around in the kitchen from the time I was very young, teaching me how to fry eggs and make grilled cheese before I even went to elementary school.
My dad was an electrical engineer for the Department of Defense and, to be honest, he wasn’t much of a cook. My parents split up when I was young, and I spent weekends at his house, where he had a few old Paul Prudhomme cookbooks—not because he wanted to master the art of Cajun cooking, but because he missed the food of his childhood and wanted to re-create some of those dishes in Southern California. I spent a lot of time flipping through those books, which were filled with crazy-long ingredient lists and super-specific instructions on how to do things like darken roux and brown meat.
I loved how detailed Prudhomme’s recipes were, and as I got a little older, I started applying some of his techniques to my own culinary experiments. My mom’s house was two minutes from the ocean, and I was the quintessential beach rat as a kid, surfing and fishing nonstop with a motley crew of other teens. We’d haul our fishing bounty back to shore to cook over a bonfire on the beach. At first it was really basic, but soon I started paying closer attention to recipes, following instructions to a T and learning more about how flavors and techniques interacted. As I cooked more and grew more confident, I started playing around a little, improvising with sauces and cooking techniques to prepare our catch.
All through high school I worked in restaurants, washing dishes and making pizzas, and loving every second of it. When I graduated, I moved a few hours north and enrolled in culinary school. I also got a job cooking at Disneyland—not in the park itself, but on the tourist-heavy promenade, which had themed restaurants as far as the eye could see. I landed at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, a New Orleans–style restaurant, which I specifically sought out because of my dad’s influence. We’d gone to New Orleans to visit his side of the family when I was kid, and I’d always loved the Creole and Cajun food, rich in French and Spanish traditions, but mixed with West African and Southern influences. I was intrigued by this fluid cuisine, which seemed rooted in classic techniques but also open to—if not reliant on—improvisation.
The Jazz Kitchen was a great education because it did fifteen hundred covers a day. I ripped through the line every night, cranked to eleven at all times, loving every second of the intensity. Once, one of my coworkers asked me, “Why are you going to culinary school? You’ll learn more here than you’ll ever learn there,” and I knew he was right—my cooking school classmates were largely amateurs pursuing cooking as a hobby. So I dropped out of culinary school and got a kitchen job working the overnight shift at a hotel near my mom’s house.
At this point, all I thought about and read about was food—I tore through cookbooks and food magazines, and watched a lot of Great Chefs on PBS; loving the lo-fi production—just a cook preparing three dishes with clear instructions and no showmanship. I was obsessed with learning classic techniques, and I’d practice making the same dishes dozens of times until I mastered them. I had a copy of The Food Lover’s Companion and knew it cover to cover—I wanted to be able to look through cookbooks and know what everything was.
It was important for me to learn this stuff because I wanted to make a career out of cooking, and I had big professional ambitions. But I learned a lot about home cooking during this period, too. By following all these recipes word for word, I started to understand how and why flavors and techniques work, and how they come together to create a great dish. Once that groundwork was laid, I was able to start improvising a bit, while still adhering to the essential methods I’d mastered. In a way, it was like New Orleans cuisine itself, which relies on just a few fundamental techniques and ingredients but thrives on the creativity of its chefs.
That’s when it all started to click for me, and that’s what I want to do for you now. Instead of showing you how to re-create dishes like the ones you’ve had in my restaurants, I want to teach you the fundamentals behind these classic recipes. I want you to begin to understand how an ingredient might affect flavor, or why one technique in New Orleans cooking is called for over another. Once you start to understand cooking as something beyond the rote following of instructions, you will become more confident in your ability, and that’s when things really start to get fun.
Cooking is about a combination of thoughtfulness and intuition. Once you have the techniques in place, you can start to go off script. It’s okay to play around a little—and in fact, it’s encouraged—once you start to understand how things work. In some ways, the purpose of this book is twofold: first, to get you to understand more, and then, to let go and simply enjoy applying what you know.
It took me a long time to learn these lessons. First, I had to spread my wings and get out of California. I chose New Orleans for many reasons—the family connection, the cost of living, and because I’d read an article about a local chef named Anne Kearney, whose restaurant, Peristyle, served exactly the kind of food I wanted to make—very Creole but very French, with lots of demi-glace and butter sauces and seasonal produce. Her food felt so perfectly New Orleans to me—rooted in tradition, but constantly evolving, depending on what was fresh and available. I wanted in.
I arrived in New Orleans in 2003, at the tender age of twenty-two. I emailed my old friends at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, and they set me up with a line cook job at their fine-dining Italian restaurant in town. But one day, I went to Peristyle to meet Anne and tell her I wanted to work for her. I remember her opening the door, me introducing myself, and her immediately giving me a written test, right then and there, with questions about how to cook a piece of fish and the names of three mother sauces. Finally! Payoff for all my obsessive reading and practicing.
It took a few months, but eventually, a line cook position opened at Peristyle and I started working there full-time.
I was in heaven—I had read about the kinds of techniques and flavors Anne used, but it wasn’t until I worked with her that I finally got to dive deep into that style of cooking. I’d found my place. Working there exposed me to tons of ingredients for the first time—foie gras, sweetbreads, wild mushrooms, and baby fennel—and techniques I use to this day, like how to make mayonnaise and clean an artichoke.
I would have stayed at Peristyle forever, but Anne eventually decided to sell to a new owner, and it was time for me to move on. I was on the market when one of my Peristyle colleagues called and offered me a job at his new restaurant, La Petite Grocery. I took him up on it, and the gig was great. At the time, it was the hottest new restaurant in town, with a kind of French bistro–meets–Louisiana kitchen vibe. I worked there for about a year before leaving in early 2005 with the goal of becoming a sous-chef at one of the high-end new restaurants in the city. Things were going according to plan for a few months, until Hurricane Katrina hit, and everything changed.
It’s painful for me to dwell on that period—it was a dark chapter, with a lot of heartbreak and loss. My house was flooded and my personal possessions destroyed, and the restaurant I was working at was totally out of commission. When the storm happened, I’d been dating my now-wife and business partner, Mia, for a few months. We evacuated and spent two weeks driving across the South, eventually winding up in Charleston, South Carolina, where Mia is from. The one upside from the storm was that it gave me a chance to get out of the kitchen and experience dining from the other side, as a customer, at some of the best restaurants in the South. That was eye-opening for me, to eat out and really start to understand what chefs were trying to say with their food. It all comes back to that idea of mastering fundamental techniques and flavors and then getting creative with them. I could finally see it in action, from outside the kitchen.