When Hurricane Katrina washed away the possessions of a large chunk of the population of New Orleans in 2005, treasured cookbooks were among the casualties. As refugees returned and started rebuilding and resuming routines, they naturally longed to cook the way they had pre-Katrina. But what to do about those drowned recipes?
Readers of the Times-Picayune started using the Food Section of the newspaper as a lifeline to their old ways of cooking. A few even requested that someone write a cookbook. And that idea sat just fine with food editor, Judy Walker, and Marcelle Bienvenu, one of the Picayune’s long-time food columnists.
To find the city’s cherished recipes, the two dug deep into the newspaper’s archives. They also put out a call to local chefs, restaurants, and the newspaper’s readers. The result was the accumulation of over 225 authentic recipes, along with stories of how they were created and what they meant to those who lost everything.
First released in paperback in October 2008, Cooking Up a Storm is chockfull of dishes that might seem foreign to anyone outside of New Orleans. Kolb’s Sauerbraten, for example, was popular at the iconic restaurant that operated on St. Charles Avenue from 1899 until 1994. Let-Um Have it Eggplant, a dish of fried eggplant topped with a seafood sauce, was the concoction of John Unger, a “tall, strapping, tattooed man from the Irish Channel neighborhood.” The beloved dish known as Lasserre’s Magic Crawfish was one of the most requested dishes for this book, and it was created by Beinvenu’s husband, Rock Lasserre.
There are, of course, many outstanding traditional recipes, including those for beignets, chicken salad, hummingbird cake, a few omelets, and a slew of casseroles. But this book’s strength is its documentation of unusual local creations. It’s not every day that you find a recipe called Halloween Cookies Like McKenzie’s.
The cookbook’s one minor weakness is the lack of photographs. But the wealth of heartwarming stories and those unique recipes more than make up for that flaw. Even if Hurricane Katrina had not zapped away so many of the city’s recipes, this book would have still been a good idea, just the way it is.