Alan Richman and Aaron Sanchez
I was very busy the last couple of weeks. When I got a break on Wednesday around noon, I took the opportunity to check out Johnny Sanchez, about which I’ve written in more detail elsewhere. (Gist: very good to great – more data required).
I took work with me, and I actually got a good bit done, but that’s not uncommon. Sometimes I rationalize having a nice meal by balancing the cost against my ability to get work done without answering phone calls. The truth is I like to eat well, rationale or not, and if you’re reading this I suspect you do too.
We’re not unique, though there probably are more of us here in New Orleans than most other parts of the country. By “us,” I mean people for whom eating well is very important. People in New Orleans love to eat, and that’s likely a part of what explains the continued growth of restaurants despite our decline in population relative to 2005.
In 2006 Alan Richman came to New Orleans and wrote an extremely unflattering piece about New Orleans in GQ. He lambasted our restaurants, our food, our culture and our people. His piece was designed to attract attention, and it achieved that goal. I was told that at the time it was the most commented-upon article the magazine had ever published.
Two things brought this to mind. First, Mr. Richman emailed me last week with a very nice request for my advice as to new restaurants. I have not responded. I intended to, but I was too busy and the more I thought about it the less inclined I was to provide him with targets.
Richman is a very good writer; he’s funny and erudite; when I read his stuff out loud it sounds like advice coming from a funny uncle who thinks a little too much of himself and chases the occasional skirt and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about all the time.
He demonstrably doesn’t like New Orleans, and while he’s entitled to his opinion that doesn’t mean I have to agree or remain silent about it.
Aaron Sanchez, on the other hand, does like New Orleans. Within a week or so, according to the chef, he should be a resident of New Orleans. I had a chance to talk with Sanchez and Besh shortly after their joint restaurant, Johnny Sanchez, opened recently, and he told me he was moving here in part to raise his kid in a place where weekend cookouts are a reality.
You can’t blame someone for simply not meshing with the New Orleans approach to life. Sure, we’re a fantastic place to live if you’re young, single and looking for a career, but we have problems and our pace of life is not for everyone.
When Richman criticized New Orleans it was disheartening because he had the imprimatur of authority on food and restaurants. It was a façade, and a lot of us realized it at that time (how can you be associated with the French Culinary Institute and not understand a roux?) but if nothing else his drivel reinforced the idea that it’s New Orleans against the world. Except that in that contest the “New Orleans” side is claimed by a lot more folks than live here.
When Sanchez told me he was moving here – and he’s not the first chef to tell me that in the last year or two – it feels a lot like validation that we do have good food and a vibrant food culture. That’s the difference between a chef and a food writer. As between the two, I know whose opinion I value more; and if success is the best revenge, then New Orleans’ restaurants are eating the hell out of that cold dish, because there are more successful restaurants in New Orleans than ever.
Maybe we’re at the crest of that wave; maybe we’re about to see a bunch of closings, but it doesn’t yet feel like we’ve turned that corner. I hope not, anyway.