I’m here for the IACP conference (International association of culinary professionals) and it’s been truly inspiring. From the conference program itself to the people I’m meeting there—
but it’s really New Orleans I want to talk about. Inside that conference hall, one could be anywhere. Outside on the streets there’s a lot of spirit and some of the most amazing food I’ve eaten in a long time.
Yesterday we had transcendent fried chicken, corn bread, read beans and rice, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie at a place called Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The little corn muffins were savory, and a little sweet, with the perfect amount of fat, so they were moist inside and had a perfect quarter inch crust all around. I asked the young woman behind the counter how they got the corn bread so perfectly browned and crisp all the way around and she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “you just bake it.” I wanted to ask the same thing about the perfect chicken but I knew I’d get the same answer. Then I decided the real question should be, "how do so many people persist in making bad food?" I looked up over the doorway to the kitchen and read the plaque that said, “Love makes everything possible”. So that’s the secret.
That love is in the food and it’s in the people. Everyone from our kind cab driver, who gave us his inside perspective on the issues that face this city, to every server, to the people in the shops, and all the great cooks. That love touches everyone I’ve talked to at the conference. We’ve all fallen for this place and it feels amazing to be here and witness for myself the culture and spirit of the city and the people here.
When we left Willie Mae’s, we walked out into a neighborhood that has been completely reamed by the hurricane and then the authorities. Right across from the restaurant sits a boarded up school that looks as if it’s on stilts, But it’s not. The entire bottom floor was washed away by the flood. And a block away are housing projects, boarded up but intact, that will soon be torn down to build townhouses for much wealthier people than the ones left here now. Will there be children here to go to that school if it’s rebuilt? Will the people who move into those new homes appreciate the love in that fried chicken? I hope so.