I write mini book reviews for New Orleans Magazine, so last night I was reading a preview of John Besh's new book Cooking from the Heart: My Favorite Lessons Learned Along the Way, which comes out Oct. 29. It got me thinking about Besh and all of New Orleans' famous chefs. To be honest, the only one I knew before moving here was Emeril Lagasse. But now I know the chefs here are hugely important. Besh, Lagasse and more are celebrities in NOLA, and they're examples of the many, many notable people associated with New Orleans. With the movie industry here, the city's rich musical history and all the famous restaurants, I knew there were famous people who lived here, but before moving to New Orleans I didn't realize just how many local celebrities there are. Even the chefs here are treated like movie stars.
Don't judge me, but I've always been a fan of following celebrity news. I know the E! channel and Us Weekly aren't known for having Pulitzer Prizes, and they're definitely toward the lower end of the low brow/high brow spectrum, but I'm not ashamed to say I'm a fan. I believe my fascination with celebrities started in third grade when the whole Titanic phenomenon was going on and I was OBSESSED with my first love, Leonardo DiCaprio. (Even though I'm engaged now, my fiance knows I will always have a special place in my heart for Leo.) I would see people like Leo in movies and magazines, and I always thought their lives were so much more interesting than mine. Ever since third grade I've filled my mind with pointless facts about people I don't know, such as all the names of the Kardashians or what shoe brand Kate Middleton wears.
But since moving to New Orleans, I have learned there are a lot of celebrities here that aren't tabloid or pop culture famous, but they're just as well-known and worthy of the public's attention. Every city has its own beautiful people, but New Orleans seems to have its own crop of impressive people in a wide range of fields.
First, you've got the chefs. Chefs seem to be more celebrated in New Orleans than they are in other cities I've been to. I remember going to New Orleans Magazine's Best of Dining party in December and John Besh showed up. A couple of my friends whispered to me, “John Besh is here! That's so cool he came!” Obviously New Orleans is a foodie city so that's why chefs are a big deal, but I've been impressed by how much influence the chefs in New Orleans have and how much they give back to the community.
Then there are the musicians. New Orleans is as much a music city as it is a food city, so it makes sense that the musicians here are just as celebrated as the chefs. Reading the bios of some of New Orleans' famous musicians makes me feel like a huge slacker. For example, Dr. John has a spot in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then there's NOLA native Harry Connick Jr. who is known for his work in music, movies and TV and is now the newest judge on “American Idol.” Then there are the up-and-comers, such as Frank Ocean; he grew up in New Orleans and recently won two Grammy Awards, plus more nominations including Best New Artist.
I know people these days like to criticize society's obsession with fame, such as all the talk about Miley's twerking "incident" taking more media coverage than the crisis in Syria. But some people, like many of New Orleans' talented folks, do deserve a little fame for their talents. I'm glad I've been able to learn about more celebrities since living here. They make New Orleans and its people proud, even those of us who haven't been here very long.