Here at IT we like to talk about food, about places that are up and coming, long established, or are just hitting their stride. But what about restaurants that get knocked off their feet suddenly -- what does it take for them to rebuild and what is the impact on the community? We're thinking about New Orleans. Jazz and Mardi Gras aside, it's Nola's unique cuisine that always tickled our tastebuds. Is the city's legendary culinary culture making a comeback?
Thankfully, our questions were answered when we heard about a traveling exhibit by the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Originally commissioned for the 2006 James Beard Awards in New York, "Restaurant Restorative" documents the experiences of restaurant owners and as they try to rebuild and reopen after Katrina.
By last spring, only 40 percent of New Orleans' 3,414 restaurants were back in the kitchen, according to the museum. For more recent updates, New Orleans radio personality Tom Fitzmorris lovingly keeps tabs on local restaurants on his website. But it's clear from looking at the exhibit online, (as a PDF), that it's not just about po'boys, soul food, and turtle soup. (Or the gumbo -- did we mention the gumbo?!) These restaurants are places of community and sources of comfort. It's Southern history-by-recipe, passed down from generation to generation.
The exhibit chronicles places like Betsy's Pancake House, Walker's Southern Style BBQ, Bayona, and Slim Goodies. "We served what we had," Slim Goodies owner Kappa Horn says in the exhibit. "People asked 'Can I see a menu?' and we would snigger at them and say 'Sure, but you can only have this.'"
"Restaurant Restorative" will be at the French Culinary Institute in New York this month. Trips to San Francisco and Napa are in the works, and they're looking for a venue in Washington D.C. (any ideas?), says senior curator Elizabeth Pearce. The three-year-old museum has been working out of temporary spaces and will open at its permanent location in New Orleans next year. They've got a number of interesting projects cooking, among them: collecting the menus from every restaurant in the South and gathering oral histories and stories about food. There's also a culinary camp in conjunction with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. You can learn more about these initiatives on their blog.
Not every city has such a passionate organization dedicated to cuisine. So next time you travel, be sure to order the local specialty. You'll get a real sense of the place and digest a lot more than what's on your plate.