Recently I attended a media lunch at Red Fish Grill, Ralph Brennan's seafood restaurant on Bourbon Street. The restaurant anticipates that some time in March of next year it will sell its 3 millionth oyster. To celebrate, they're holding a contest called Build Your Own Next Best Oyster Dish. The contest will run from January through March, and the rules will be posted on the restaurant's website. The winning dish will appear on the restaurant's menu for a month, and the person who submits that recipe will receive free oysters for life. “Free oysters for life,” in this context, works out to a dozen oysters prepared any way the restaurant serves them, every day. “For life,” in this context means “until you die,” it appears, though one would also assume that should the restaurant go out of business, you'll have to pay for oysters like the rest of us.
At the lunch mentioned above a few new dishes were brought out, including an oyster shooter with a satsuma reduction and sparkling wine, and a fried oyster with a sweet chile glaze and parmesan cheese served in a leaf of butter lettuce. The former was outstanding, but the latter was even better. I did not think that the cheese was going to pair well with the sweetness of the glaze, but it added a little salt and a depth of flavor that reminded me of mushrooms. I was disappointed when I learned I could not steal the recipe directly from executive chef Austin Kirzner and enter it into the contest. I am now developing a version of the recipe which substitutes truffle oil for the parmesan and vanilla pudding for the sweet chile glaze. It's a guaranteed winner, but I suppose you can go ahead and enter anyway if you want. Red Fish Grill is located at 115 Bourbon St., and you can call them at 598-1200.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Boudin & Beer, the party preceding the Emeril Lagasse Foundation's Carnivale du Vin fundraiser. I got to attend the former event this year, which took place at the Foundry on Nov. 2. It was quite a show. They estimate that about 3,000 people attended, and although it was never all that crowded, that number can't be far off. Dozens of chefs from Louisiana and farther afield prepared boudin and boudin-inspired dishes, and there was a whole lot of Abita beer on tap. My wife and I attended with our 5-month-old daughter, so we didn't exactly tear it up, but we were in the minority. Combined with the money taken in at the gala the next evening, the Foundation raised over $2.2 million. According to their press release:
The Foundation supports children’s education and non-profit organizations that provide culinary, nutrition, garden, arts and life skills programs. Projects funded by the Foundation include an outdoor classroom, gardens, fresh foods cafeteria and teaching kitchen at Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, an accessible learning kitchen for special needs students at St. Michael Special School, a four- year culinary arts program for high school students at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, and a culinary learning center for hospitality training for at-risk youth at Café Reconcile.
That $2.2 million is a pretty hefty sum, and no doubt being put to good use. It's another example of how the restaurant industry positively impacts life in New Orleans.
I have no convenient segue from that topic to the next, which is about Guy Fieri. As you may know, Guy's American Restaurant & Bar was un-charitably reviewed by New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells this week.
I am no more a fan of Mr. Fieri than Mr. Wells. My opinion of him hasn't changed, and while I enjoyed Wells' hit-piece, I find I just can't get worked up over the jackanapes the way I once did. Maybe that's because there are even more ridiculous “cooking” shows on the Food Network these days?
While I find Fieri's schtick sickening, there were a few folks making reasoned arguments in his defense this week. Granted one of the defenses is more an attack on New Yorkers' perceived hipster-arrogance where anything deemed “inauthentic” is concerned, but the other is more interesting. At least one blogger suggested that Fieri's television show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives serves the admirable purpose of bringing attention to small, deserving restaurants, and is a celebration of down to earth food. I haven't watched Fieri's show in years, so I don't know whether the places he visits are deserving of attention or not. I hope it's true, and that some restaurants benefit from their association with him.
But I do know that in New Orleans we don't need a man Liberace would have criticized for being “over the top,” to tell us that some of the best food is the most humble and worthy of being celebrated.