A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a fellow asking my advice about what to cover while he was in town to produce a radio show. I’d never heard of the show, or the guy, but I had 10 minutes and I gave him some suggestions.
The outfit is called Monocle
and what Markus Hippi produced in New Orleans is pretty great (listen to the podcast here
). It’s that rare instance of someone coming here and understanding us on a basic level. That understanding is aided by the folks Hippi interviewed, including Liz Williams, Ryan Prewitt, Ann Tuennerman, Francisco Robert of Dinner Lab and Tim McNally, of world-wide fame.
You know what they say about McNally, right? “He’s IN-famous,” they say. That means he’s more than famous.
I was most interested in hearing Hippi and Liz Williams discuss the history and import of New Orleans cuisine. Williams is the author of New Orleans: A Food Biography
and the president and director of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum
. She’s pretty interesting to begin with, but I’d been thinking lately about how New Orleans has both a progressive and conservative streak where it comes to food, and that’s one topic she discussed with Hippi.
I was considering was why New Orleans has such a distinct food culture where other places in the U.S. don’t. As Williams eloquently put it in the podcast, other places have great restaurant scenes, but we have a native cuisine unlike any other in the country.
I’ve said more than once that there are three things I can talk about with anyone in New Orleans: the weather, the Saints, and food. Williams (and McNally) put it more eloquently: to paraphrase, they said that our cuisine stems from our ability to relax and enjoy the moment, and that we appreciate food on a different level from our neighbors.
Williams in particular said something that rang true to me, and doubtless will to many of you as well: we don’t really appreciate how different we are until we leave for a time. When I left New Orleans for college, I was shocked that, as Williams put it, people weren’t thinking about what they were having for dinner while they were eating lunch.
Then there was the first time I tried to buy beer on a Sunday morning in advance of a Saints game. Or the first time I asked for a “go cup” at a bar; “what do you mean I can’t take my drink with me when I leave?”
That was in Memphis, where people know and appreciate good food and good times. I can’t imagine what my experience would have been had I ventured further afield. I might still be in the stocks or something.
But enough about me. You should listen to the podcast. I think you’ll agree it’s the best podcast about New Orleans narrated by a Finnish person you’ve ever heard. Speaking just for myself, I think it’s the best thing I’ve heard on the radio about New Orleans this year, and I’m not just saying that because Hippi seems to have taken some of my advice on interview subjects.
I thought it was interesting, and well-done, and maybe you will too? I hope so, given my advocacy of the thing, but if not, feel free to tell me all about it in the comments or by email.