Reflecting On New Orleans - Swampy's Kitchen Blog at - 239889

Swampy's Kitchen

Reflecting on New Orleans 
Jun. 15, 2011 11:18 am 
Updated: Jun. 23, 2011 6:18 am
Once again I find myself at 35,000 feet wending my way across the not so friendly skies of but this time I don’t mind as much as I normally do. That is probably because this time I am headed for a city that I have had a not so secret love affair with for over 20 years. A city that captures my imagination with it’s history, it’s culture, it’s music and most of all it’s food. It’s a city that has been known for it’s excesses since it’s early days as a pirate port and celebrates those excesses even now as though they were an everyday occurrence. I am of course talking about the itself. I am talking about .

I didn’t first set foot in until the mid 1990’s and to be honest, I can’t think of a good reason why I had never been there. It seemed that throughout college and my early adulthood I made it to a lot of places and partied in a lot of cities but somehow I never made it to the fabled . Maybe it was my east coast upbringing that made me look down on certain parts of the country. Maybe it was the fact that the only exposure I ever had to the was the whenever I flew down to visit my grandparents in east . to me was the PX at Barksdale Air Force Base, the wrestling shows at the where Haystacks Calhoun would sit on a handful of wrestlers at one time while the crowd roared their approval and ate food that came from a swamp. I couldn’t understand wanting to eat creepy crawly things and I certainly couldn’t understand the fascination with spice and all things hot. I liked my food plain & beige. I suppose I was lucky that I never went to Mardi Gras during my college days or during my early adulthood when I was making every mistake a young man could make. I am not sure that I ever would have left.

In the late 80’s I finally made a decision to replace the highball glass in my hand with something less damaging and a bit more constructive. I found that if I had a book in my hand, I didn’t need that drink. I could use the words written by the writer to transport myself somewhere else which was all I had really been trying to do all those years that I used drinking as a crutch. One author caught my attention like no other. He painted pictures with his words that bled off the page and colored my senses & surroundings. His name was James Lee Burke and he wrote about Dave Robicheaux, a homicide detective that was also a recovering alcoholic. Dave had demons inside him that scared me but he had a pure streak in him that I could relate to as if I had known him all of my life. What fascinated me most about Dave was that he lived in southwest . This was a that was completely foreign to me. It was a that intrigued me. It was a that I had to experience for myself and right in the middle of it all was a city that was building to an almost mythic stature in my mind, . The more of Burke’s books I read, the more I wanted to be a part of and Acadiana. Work finally cooperated in the mid 1990’s and became part of my sales territory and Cajun food soon became a staple in my style of cuisine.

The first thing I did was start to use on my food. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in a family where the most exotic spice we used was pepper and that was used very sparingly. Even though the burned my tongue and turned my insides out, I was hooked. I also opened my mind to the dishes and creations that I had heard about & read about but had never tried. Alligator, blackened redfish, crawfish, gumbo, dirty rice & beans – you name it, I tried it. The first Cajun restaurant I went to was actually Prejean’s in Lafayette and the old Cajun who took me there had me try the Etouffee and I thought that I had found Nirvana. I went to Mother’s on the far end of Poydras for their Etouffee and that special blend of hospitality that the servers dish out in portions that equal those on your plate. I went to the Café Desire in the Royal Sonesta Hotel for Turtle Soup (hold the sherry) and crispy golden brown Hush Puppies. I ate at Emeril’s for the first time (without my wife) and mistakenly brought home a menu. (I took my wife 3 months later for her birthday) I ate at The Commander’s Palace, Chef Paul’s, Brennan’s, Antoine’s and at the chef’s table at NOLA. I made my way down backstreets and discovered little gumbo shops that rivaled all the big names in flavor. I always made a stop at the Café du Monde for Café au Lait & Beignets and I will tonight, diet be damned. To top it all off, my job finally took me to where I got a tour of the Tabasco Plantation from none other than Paul McIlhenny himself.

In August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina tried to wash away . I felt the pain as I watched the devastation that was wrought. As soon as I could, I went back to to show that the people of the still had a friend and a believer in this “yankee”. When the oil started flowing into the Gulf courtesy of BP, I flew right down again to show my support. It killed me to see my adopted home away from home under attack again but like the legendary , has risen again. The city is once again bouncing back and still riding the crest of the Saints winning the Super Bowl even though it is more than a year removed. I may be just a small cog in the wheels of the paddle boats that cruise the Mississippi River by the old Jax Brewery but I believe in . I believe in it’s beauty. I believe in it’s history. I believe in it’s music. I believe in it’s culture. I believe in it’s people. Most of all, I believe in it’s food.

Come back next time when we reflect on the damage that less than 24 hours in New Orleans can do a diet (Diet ? What Diet ?) and discuss the influence that my time living in (next week’s trip) had on my cooking too.
Jun. 15, 2011 3:46 pm
I really enjoyed reading your blog today Doug. Maybe it hit home with me because I have been on my own sentimental journey of late.....thanks for sharing your personal thoughts and in the process making me crave some crabcakes and gumbo. By the did know that today is National Lobster Day...right? You are in the right's meant to be.
Jun. 15, 2011 6:51 pm
Ahhhh the Big Easy. I managed my first and only trip to NO in the spring of 2004. I took a cruise that began at the beginning of Mardis Gras and got back the day before Fat Tuesday. I came in 2 days early and had dinner Brennans, lo they of the 30,000 bottle wine cellar. I had Steak Foster. In planning my trip, upon my return I had dinner at Commanders and it was easily one of the best of my life. The food was great, the service, astounding. A visit to Cafe Du Monde and my trip was over. An unforgettable experience and I was lucky enough to be there during the last Mardis Gras before Katrina. Thanks for the memories Doug!
Jun. 15, 2011 8:22 pm
I am embarrassed to admit that I have never been to the Big Easy. Your blog sent me to my bucket list to add N.O. to my travel plans. The closest I ever got was Commanders Palace In Las Vegas several years ago. (it is now closed) If the N.O. Commanders Palace is half as good as their LV branch, it is truly worth the trip. Thanks so much for taking us along for the ride Doug.
Jun. 15, 2011 9:31 pm
you should be a tour guide, it sounds lovely. My neighbour spent some time there during Mardi Gras, her stories made me wish I had gone with her. Thanks for sharing
Jun. 16, 2011 6:00 am
Hi ellie & thanks - I actually wound up trying some grilled amberjack last night. I could write a whole blog about that alone.
Jun. 16, 2011 6:00 am
Doug, you can't hide it anymore. You are in love with N'awlins, aren't you?
Jun. 16, 2011 6:01 am
Great blog Doug! (as usual) I too have never been to New Orleans....on the to-do list though so hopefully I will get there soon! ;)
Jun. 16, 2011 6:01 am
Morning Raedwulf - didn't expect to see Luongo meltdown at home last night - got the waitress to change the channel for me. I did make my way over for beignets last night. They were great.
Jun. 16, 2011 6:05 am
Morning MauiGirl - everything about New Orleans is better than any Vegas imitation. You have to make sure you get that checked off your Bucket List soon !
Jun. 16, 2011 6:07 am
Thanks redneck gramma - looking back, I didn't even talk about the mansions on St. Charles or anything on that side of Canal. I may have to write another blog.
Jun. 16, 2011 6:08 am
Just a little Bibi....just a little
Jun. 16, 2011 6:09 am
Morning Gitano - I am sure that you can find a motivational quote that you can use to get yourself down here. I'm already here and I can't wait to come back.
Jun. 16, 2011 6:14 am
Shoot I went to a conference down there and only saw the inside walls of the hotel. Grueling schedule. Hope to try again and see the real deal! Another great blog Doug!
Jun. 16, 2011 6:42 am
Sounds like you had a blast. Thanks for sharing! I get emotional when I read about Katrina. We've had 3 tornados here in the US already this year. It's so sad.
Jun. 16, 2011 7:34 am
I had frog legs the size of champagne flutes at Prejean's in Lafayette. When DH was only my fiance' we took my gramma to visit my aunt and uncle in Lafayette (they still live there), and they took us to Prejean's for dinner. WOW! Along with the amphibian appetizer we had alligator, gumbo, etouffe, and OMG...we gotta get back there someday! Thanks for bringing back some incredible food memories. DH doesn't do "exotic" spices--like ginger and paprika, LOL, so I'm on my own with the cajun experience:p
Jun. 16, 2011 7:34 am
New Orleans is my favorite city on earth! Ahhh, your tour of restaurants on your blog brought back SO many memories! I actually only went for the first time in 2006, but we go every year for a Saints game, and oddly enough our trips began as a long weekend, and have turned into week long events. We literally plan how many days we will be there based on what all we want to eat! :) We will not be going this year, due to finances, and it is KILLING US! I will have to whip up some cajun cuisine to hold us over until next year! Throughly enjoyed your blog Doug, as usual!
Jun. 16, 2011 7:50 am
Sounds like a diet friendly choice with the grilled amberjack. You don't see amberjack on the menu where I live...but I has a mild flavour if I'm not mistaken. Never been to New Orleans myself but enjoyed and inspired dinner of fried green tomatoes and boiled shrimp at home after my husband returned from a business trip. Enjoy!
Jun. 16, 2011 12:24 pm
Loved the blog as usual! Hope you have safe travels and enjoy the Southern Hospitality, and the cuisine too!
Jun. 16, 2011 12:35 pm
I live in Houston and guess what? I've never been to NO. Weird. But I will get there, and I too will have beignets and chickory coffee at Cafe DuMond....We do have some fabulous Cajun food here because we are so close, and Brennan's of Houston is my absolute favorite restaurant. The bananas foster is divine. Thanks for the post Doug and no worries about the true food lover would diet while in NOLA! :)
Jun. 16, 2011 5:21 pm
NOLA is the most absolutely my favorite city and I'm long past due for a trip down. Reading your blog really revives the itch!! I don't go to many of the higher profile (pricier) restaurants much, but Cafe` Du Monde will always have my heart. I just love walking through the Quarter in the early morning when the restaurants and bars are getting their daily deliveries and the shopkeepers are hosing down the sidewalks to wash away the evidence of the past nights parties. There is a blend of smells, not necessarily that great, that gets in your blood and makes you long to smell it again! One MUST DO for me is to do some shopping at Central Grocery and grab a half a muffaletta and a coke from the machine in back. If the weather isn't great, I'll grab a stool and eat inside, but on a pretty day, you just have to walk across to the levy and have your lunch there. I'm also glad to see others with my love for Prejean's!!! One great thing about living in SW Arkansas, is that you can't go to NOLA without passing (and eating at) Preajean's...TWICE!
Jun. 17, 2011 6:41 am
Good morning Dog Fish Head aka Fabius - that happened to me too - spent all day in the Hyatt Superdome Conference rooms. It was so unfair.
Jun. 17, 2011 6:43 am
Good morning luv2cook - I could write another blog on the things I forgot to write about the first time. The tornadoes this year have been devastating & brutal. I pay attention when I see the Tornado Shelter signs in buildings now.
Jun. 17, 2011 6:45 am
Good morning Mangel - my wife fell for prejean's too when we were in Lafayette last year. I was trying to take her to the Blue Dog Cafe but they weren't open on a Saturday afternoon and I suddenly remembered Prejean's. Suffice to say, I was a hero.
Jun. 17, 2011 7:45 am
Hi & Thanks Brooke129 - my wife became a Saints fan when she all all the people in their jerseys on the day before a game when we were in line at Cafe du Monde. We are hoping to get back there again for her birthday this fall but the kids are threatening a coup if we try to go without them.
Jun. 17, 2011 7:47 am
hi ellie - the Amberjack was great - I had never had it before - more of a wild fish - good & firm, not flaky - it really loved the creole meuniere that came with it.
Jun. 17, 2011 7:47 am
Hi & Thanks Terry - other than the flights there and back, New Orleans was once again everything I wanted it to be.
Jun. 17, 2011 7:50 am
Hi TEXASTRACE - the first place I ever had Turtle Soup was at my brother's rehearsal dinner at Brennan's in Houston. I also went to my first Pappadeaux in Houston but have since discovered many cajun inspired places that are better. You need to jump on I-10 and head east.
Jun. 17, 2011 7:59 am
Hi Mimosa - I am loving all the Prejean's love too. My boss was recently in Lafayette and he called me to tell me about this GREAT place I had to go to that he had just "discovered". I guessed the name before he could say it. This trip I stayed away from the name restaurants too and found a great place on Bourbon that had some nice fresh fish. I'll have to make it to Central market when I go back with my wife.
Jun. 19, 2011 6:58 am
Good morning Doug! It's a good thing I didn't have a mouthful of coffee when I got to the "I liked my food plain and beige". That really tickled me. I am another that has never been. I cannot believe that I am admitting this but I've never really had the desire. I think maybe I just formed an ill opinion of the place from watching the news and all of the partying? I am not sure. Reading your blog just now gave me a different perspective though and now I have the desire to go for the food alone. I've been dying to try turtle (rattlesnake too) for the longest time. What does the soup taste like? Does it taste like "chicken"?
Jun. 19, 2011 9:16 am
Say hello to my sister when you get to New Orleans! You can find her playing good ol' traditional jazz music at any number of places there, including The Spotted Cat, One-Eyed Jacks, & Mimi's in the Marigny. All of those places have great food too! Just look for Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns. She just won the Big Easy award this year for Best Female Performer.
Jun. 19, 2011 12:08 pm
Love, love ,love NOLA! Have you ever done the New Orleans School of Cooking classes or demos? Awesome fun thing to do (especially if you must drag the children along) Our "must eat" is blackened red fish sandwich and bbq shrimp po-boys at The Red Fish Grill.
Jun. 19, 2011 2:01 pm
Doug, your blog is terrific! It has been two years since we have been to New Orleans, and that is waaay too long. My husband had never been there, and I wanted to introduce my daughter to the city. She was entranced by the riverboats. We could hear their calliopes playing from our hotel room. We ate at Commanders Palace and Emerils. I have been to Chef Paul’s, Brennan’s, and Antoines during earlier trips. I have wandered the French Quarter, following the desires of my nose, my stomach and my heart into restaurants that I don't remember the names, but I certainly remember what they smelled like, and the glorius food they served. We went outside the city and took a airboat tour. It felt like another world. There is nothing like it! We feel so lucky to have experienced New Orleans and enjoyed it as much as we did.
Jun. 20, 2011 6:23 am
Such a fun, thoughtful blog, Doug, as usual. My hubs is addicted to all those Swamp People shows -cajuns in Louisiana hunting and capturing alligators. Then they often show them having a big ol' gator fry, or some other bayou epicurean adventure. I think of you when I hear them talking about that mess o' goooood 'gator!!
Jun. 20, 2011 11:24 am
Good afternoon SLN - New Orleans does suffer from some bad but well earned stereotyping at times. The food and a trolley car ride down St. Charles can make you forget you ever heard bad things. As for turtle, it's no chicken. Stringy but very tasty.
Jun. 20, 2011 11:24 am
Hi Maya - I am going to find your sister next trip.
Jun. 20, 2011 11:27 am
hi hazelnut - no but it sounds like I need to. I have always thought about stopping at the Redfish but it is so close to the beginning of Bourbon that I never stop.
Jun. 20, 2011 11:43 am
Hi & thanks Cookie Momster - it sounds like you had as much fun remembering as I did. I like to find the out of the way places too. Had a great grilled amberjack this trip and I would have to look at the receipt totell you the name. Hope you get back soon. New Orleans needs you.
Jun. 20, 2011 11:44 am
Hi & thanks SweetBasil - I love watching those shows too - downloaded a few to my iPad for the kids to watch too. I wonder if they know how to make Gator Chili ?
Jun. 20, 2011 7:50 pm
Hi Doug, I have never been to New Orleans but have always wanted to go. If you don't know, Gderr is arranging a southern get together in Panama City, FL. (I have never been there either) I am so excited to be going to the roundup, to meet two of my favorite people, Cindy Lepp and Gderr. (I live in Oregon so it is quite a trip for me). Anyway, in looking at the map I found that New Orleans is only 303 miles from Panama city so, I am making a stop there on my way home. I think I will drive it and see another part of the country. I think it will take me maybe 6 hours. Can't wait. I have always wanted to try Commanders Palace and Brennans. Did all of Emerils places in Las Vegas, but I would really love to try some little out of the way places if I could. If you have any recommendations I would love to hear them. BTW. Why don't you think about coming to the roundup too. It would be great to meet you.
Jun. 21, 2011 8:03 am
Good morning pelicangal - New Orleans is definitely worth the detour. I guarantee that you won't be disappointed. As for round-ups, they are tough to make unless they are local. Too many kids with too many things to do on the weekends. Have a great time.
Jun. 21, 2011 2:54 pm
I myself live 30 mins. from lafayette and yes unfortuntaly there is always going to be some people who are making us look bad as a state. Thankfully there are just as many good people, you just dont hear about them as much lol. I would never leave my home since I would refuse to eat anywhere else. Our food is out of this world and yes I enjoy the partying too, though we dont get to do that much. I was not taught to cook unfortuntaly so will never be able to have my grandmothers awesome food but i'm learning and will just have to be satisfied with my at least edible food lol.
Jun. 21, 2011 4:02 pm
Hi TigersGirl - I work in NYC and they have Anthony Wiener so I think everyone has someone or something where they are. I love the Lafayette area. I have even been to the St. Martinsville Pepper Festival. I didn't enter the pepper eating contest back them but I would now. Thanks for stopping by.
Jun. 22, 2011 5:47 am
You just forced me to pour my morning cuppa joe down the drain and go to my freezer to dig out my frozen Cafe du Monde supply. I am sitting here salivating while I wait for it to brew!!!Love the Big Easy and all the culinary delights. I made my first trip when I was in college...need I say more...and have been fascinated by the city ever since. Love your postings!
Jun. 22, 2011 5:13 pm
Hi & Thanks silvergal - hope that cup of coffee was worth the extra work & wait. Glad I could help bring back some good memories.
Jun. 23, 2011 5:12 am
Always look forward to a new blog! I'll have to check out this James Lee Burke. When I was a teenager, A Confederacy of Dunces sparked my love affair with New Orleans.
Jun. 23, 2011 6:18 am
Good morning SkwurlyGurl - glad you stopped by. I think you are going to like Burke - he deals with a lot of inner demons in a very thought provoking way.
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Doug Matthews

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Princeton, New Jersey, USA
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Mendham, New Jersey, USA

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Mar. 2000

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About Me
My mother decided early on that her sons would never have to rely on someone to feed them so we all learned to cook at an early age. I really started to branch out when I moved out west to Denver, SF & Dallas. Combine that with extended business travel to Louisiana & my growing love of spices and you get a real mix of flavors.
My favorite things to cook
Love to make cajun food with my favorites being crawfish pie, alligator stew & alligator chili - I go nuts on Super Bowl Sunday
My favorite family cooking traditions
We didn't have a lot of traditions per se but you could count on pancakes or waffles on sundays - dad making scrambled eggs twice a year on christmas morning & mother's day - veal parmagiana on christmas eve, Thanksgiving with Grandma Matthews and any menu of your choice on your birthday. We weren't a spicy family so I learned a lot of good strong basics in the kitchen from Mom that I have carried over into my cooking today.
My cooking triumphs
I love to experiment with variations of dishes I try around the country. My biggest success is here on allrecipes where I had 2 recipes published in the same cookbook - Southwestern Turkey Soup & Curried Carrot Soup. I think my corn muffins are a great starting point and my alligator chili has become a much requested Super Bowl favorite.
My cooking tragedies
There have been a few times in the past where I tossed everything and took everyone to a restaurant instead. I'm not too proud to say my cooking is awful when it really is.
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