Posts Tagged ‘food integrity’

Pappy’s Smokehouse, St. Louis, MO

Posted 05 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Quick Service

St. Louis Missouri is a special city. It’s a city with a fresh and interesting restaurant scene and deep hospitality streak running right through it. I had no idea how vibrant the culinary scene was in St. Louis until I recently took the time to get out and see for myself. After a quick flight down from Chicago, hunger pangs were registering in my belly as I checked into my hotel. Room key in hand and bags in the room, I pulled out my handheld and launched Zagat’s NRU Android app, searching for a good place to eat lunch. Within a minute I found Pappy’s Smokehouse, cross checked it on Yelp to see what people were saying about it and headed down to the lobby and out the door.

With the St. Louis arch in view, I stepped out onto Chestnut Street and grabbed a cab. Riding through downtown St. Louis it became clear that the city had seen better days, been through some tough times, and is pushing to turn itself around. There were multiple buildings, small and large, that were empty or just partially occupied. At street level, I passed two stores within a half of a mile or each other dedicated to providing local consumers with pay-day loans and bail bonds; not a good sign. Yet, through the center of the city there’s a fantastic string of parks with extensive and diverse public art on display. We drove past Gateway Mall and its green space, Serra Sculpture Park, named for Richard Serra’s controversial series of steel sculptures (walls really), past Memorial Plaza and Aloe Plaza and the fantastic, water-spouting “Meeting of the Waters” sculpture by Carl Milles. St. Louis’ investment over the past century in this urban corridor of green space and diverse art exceeds that of many cities twice its size and the aesthetic the parks create is a positive yet sharp contrast to some of the areas immediately surrounding the city center. One block west of Aloe Plaza the last green patch of park serves as a home for hard-knocks daytime drinkers taking sips of booze from brown paper bags. Although threadbare in spots, the city is vibrant in others and, like many American cities on the mend; there are pockets of development that suggest a brighter future.

About a half mile past the city center Pappy’s appears on the left adjacent to Harris-Stowe State University. My cab pulls into the side street where the restaurant is located and I jump out and immediately smell hickory smoke and roasting meat. Crossing the street to the entrance, I encounter a red colored flat-bed trailer parked right in front of the restaurant with two “Ole Hickory” smokers chugging away. A chef is standing to the right of the front entrance talking with a guy with a graying goatee wearing a baseball hat, collared shirt, and jeans. Both look up as I approach, each appears in his mid 50’s. The guy in the chef coat heads over to the smoker parked in front while the guy in the baseball hat grabs the front door and pulls it open for me. I thank him and he smiles and asks how I am doing. We start a conversation and I explain that I am visiting town, just landed a couple hours earlier and came to fill my belly. He smiles again, introduces himself and we head inside. By pure coincidence, the first person I meet at Pappy’s Smokehouse is Mike “Smokey” Emerson, founder and owner extraordinaire. By the time I explain who I am; Mike has been joined by “Skip” Steele his executive chef. Skips shakes my hand, comments how lucky I am to arrive when there are only 10 people in line and he suggests I get in line fast and place my order. I take his advice and join the cue.

Before a minute passes, Smokey Emerson is back with a hot smoked pork rib for me to sample. I take a bite and the meat gently falls from the bone into my mouth. The full flavored, moist, savory and mildly spicy rib is fantastic. My mouth is full as I grin with approval at Smokey.  Arriving at the counter to order I notice how simple the set up is. There are two cash registers sitting on a counter next to each other just inside a large window into the kitchen. Two menu boards hang on the wall above the cash registers.

I order a half-rack of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans and sweet potato fries. The cashier directs me to a seat and informs me that my order will be delivered shortly. By the time I get to a barstool along the bay window adjacent to the cashiers station my order arrives in a plastic basket lined with parchment paper. A nice seven-rib rack sits on one side, the fries and beans in a three ounce Styrofoam cup on the other, and a four ounce portion of pulled pork in the middle. I dig into the pulled pork first, having already tasted the ribs. Steele’s pulled pork is perfectly cooked, tangy with just enough spice and salt and moist – just the way I like it. Pappy’s offers customers three homemade barbecue sauces; original, sweet, and spicy. I pump a few drops of Steele’s spicy barbecue sauce on the pork to see how it tastes and it’s fantastic. The beans are tasty and the fries are good but neither is the main attraction. Pappie’s is known for ribs and the ribs are the highlight of the meal. Moist and perfect, I consume half a rack in the blink of an eye. As I am wiping my face with a paper towel, Skip comes over and hands me a Styrofoam cup full of sliced beef brisket, another one of his specialties. The brisket melts in my mouth, is full of beef, smoke and spicy flavor.

While I eat, Skip tells me his story, how he was a chef working in Las Vegas, made his way east to get the “smoke out of his veins” found himself in St. Louis and connected with Emerson to put Pappy’s on the map. Steele has thirty years of culinary experience and the battle scars to prove it. After a few minutes we discover several common friends in the culinary profession and share stories about the good, the bad and the ugly of the foodservice world. As I finish eating he offers to take me to see the kitchen, a certain degree of mutual respect settling in as always when talking food with another industry veteran.

Entering the back kitchen I am stunned by how small the space is. One half of the room is filled by another Ole Hickory smoker. This one is named “Walter” and has a wooden sign above it with this name burned into it. To the right, there’s a large walk-in refrigerator with dozens of bins full of prep. Peering up along the aluminum flashing along the top of the exterior of the walk-in I notice a series of dates and times someone has recorded in sharpie pen. The dates and times start on the right and, for some odd reason, work their way to the left. Each date to the left posts an earlier time than before and I ask Skip what the dates and times represent. “That’s the record for how quickly we run out of food and close” he says.

Pappy’s makes a certain amount of food each day following a strict set of quality standards. Once the food runs out at Pappy’s Skip and Mike shut the restaurant down and head home. Reading the dates and times, it appears that every few weeks Pappy’s sets a new record for closing early. Rather than increase production and risk a decrease in quality, Mike and Skip take the high road and focus on the integrity of their food. I have tremendous respect for these guys.

We wrap up the tour and head to the front door so I can catch a cab back to the hotel. Thanking Skip and Mike for the experience, we exchange business cards and step out onto the sunny sidewalk together. I look to Mike and tell him that the level of hospitality, from the moment I entered until stepping back outside to leave, far exceeded my expectations. By now the line to order is pushing out the door. Mike smiles again and states that the level of hospitality I experienced is part of Pappy’s culture and something he and Skip work hard to protect. They have done a great job. Looking back, it was the hospitality that really made the difference at Pappy’s. Their food was excellent and the service was smooth, seamless, and perfectly natural not forced; a real example of elegant simplicity paired with authenticity. I like restaurants that are real!

Pappy’s Smokehouse

3106 Olive St.

Saint Louis, MO 63103-1213

314-535-4340

Butcher: Smart Casual in New Orleans

Posted 30 Nov 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Full Service, Uncategorized

Sometimes I stumble upon a great restaurant without intending to do so. This was the case recently when I wound up on a bar stool in Butcher, Chef Donald Link’s sibling restaurant to Cochon in the warehouse district of New Orleans. Butcher was not my destination, I had originally set out to find the National World War II museum on Magazine Street. After a couple of wrong turns I ended up in the vicinity of the museum but three blocks further west than intended.  Looping back around the block I wound up in a maze of one-way streets woven through warehouses, condos, and restaurants that make up this side of the city. Within minutes I was back at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Andrew Higgins Drive where I originally started feeling frustrated.  Andrew Higgins was the founder of Higgins Industries in New Orleans during the 1920’s. His Higgins Boats, light military landing craft designed to deliver troops directly from ship to shore, are widely acclaimed as one of the crucial innovations that helped the allies win World War II. That I  am on Andrew Higgins Drive indicated that I was in the right vicinity and that it would make more sense to park the car and walk over to the museum than continue wandering.  Thats when I found Butcher.

Fate would have it that I parked the car diagonally across the street from Chef Donald Link’s famous Cochon restaurant. Approaching on foot curious and hungry for lunch it was disappointingly clear due to inactivity that the main restaurant was closed. However, there was activity further down the block at small shop called Butcher.  Although reasonably well informed when it comes to restaurants, I hadn’t heard of Butcher prior to spotting it up the street. The customers seated at each of the two small tables on the sidewalk and group of people standing just outside the entrance are what caught my eye, the entrance being otherwise pretty ordinary.  

Once inside my perspective completely changed.  Although small in size, the seating area in the café was packed and there was a line five deep at the counter. Butcher was humming and the food being served looked excellent.  Customers at Butcher cue up just inside the entry and place their orders at a counter with two cash registers at the back end of the shop. The lines form up against two massive refrigerated deli cases filled with homemade charcuterie and fresh meats on the left side of the room.  A small hot kitchen is just on the other side of the cases.

I am in line now staring into the first deli case on the left which is packed with a selection of sausages, bacon,  long brown links of house made Andouille sausage, packages of Boudin Sausage (four links per pack), fresh pork loin, skirt steak, and ribeye, even a Jambalaya stuffed fresh chicken.  The line moves and I shift forward several feet where there’s another case with gorgeous house-made Pork Rillettes, Duck Rillettes, Duck Terrine, head cheese, Mortadella, Salami Cotto, and Duck Pastrami. I am in hog (and duck) heaven. The quality and craftsmanship on display in these cases is outstanding bordering on inspirational. A fan of all things Garde Manger, my mouth is beginning to water.

The line moves forward again and now I am next to the small butcher block countertop that serves as the pass for plates coming off the hot line. Studying the kitchen for a moment I am quickly distracted by a plate of braised duck on cornbread with poached eggs and mushroom gravy that comes up off the line. It is absolutely gorgeous and a perfect brunch item. A server passes by grabbing the poached eggs and another couple of dishes, forces his way through the line and runs them to a table. Starving, my attention shifts to the three large menu boards hanging above the cash registers and I start to narrow down my order. There are too many interesting items on the menu for me to choose just one so I order a Cubano sandwich, a duck pastrami slider, and a pancetta mac and cheese. The cashier hands me a number and I turn back toward the seating area to the right of the cue to find a place to sit. Seats vacate just as I start to move away from the cashier and I grab a bar stool up against the wall and to wait for my order.

It’s just around noon time on a Sunday morning and Butcher is packed with a mixed bag of late morning revelers, brunch seekers, and folks that strolled over from local residences. Based on the steady stream of food coming off the hot-line it’s clear that these people know how to eat; smoked country sausage with two eggs, house-made biscuit and Steens syrup,  fried chicken and biscuit with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, BLT of house made bacon, arugula, tomato, and onion. It feels good to be in this restaurant.

The sun is shining brightly through the south-facing storefront and a handsome couple enters and takes a small table up front next to the window.  Glancing over at the couple as they settle in, I consider how warm, pleasant, and comfortable this place is compared to what it must have been like just after hurricane Katrina. Donald Link opened Cochon in 2006 after six months of delays due to the hurricane. In early 2009 Link added Bucher to his growing list of restaurants and the New York Times promptly dubbed it a “smart-casual” restaurant. I like the idea of a place being smart and casual.

Duck Pastrami Slider $6.00

My food arrives and I dig in. The mac and cheese is rich, creamy and full of savory richness from the pancetta. My Cubano is made with slow roasted pork loin (cochon du lait), smoked ham and cheese and grilled golden brown.  I splash a bit of Link’s sweet potato habanero sauce on one half of the sandwich and the sweet spicy flavor of the sauce adds a nice contrast. My favorite item however, is the Duck pastrami slider. A generous portion of sliced duck breast pastrami is grilled with cheese between two slices of bread until crispy and golden brown. By the time the plate gets to me, the cheese is just barely oozing out of the sandwich. It tastes delicious.

Pancetta Mac & Cheese $6.00

 I can only imagine the vision and perseverance required to withstand the challenges of Katrina and the BP oil spill in New Orleans. And yet the city lives on in places like Butcher due to people like Donald Link. Smart, casual, and sated…

 

Cochon Butcher

930 Tchoupitoulas St.

New Orleans, LA 70130

504-588-7675

Future Foodservice Innovation: Look to Where Food Sucks and Establish Integrity

Posted 18 Aug 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

I have a theory about culinary innovation that’s pretty simple but worth talking about. If you want to find the next area of innovation in foodservice, look to where food sucks. It’s not hard to do; there are lots of places where food is sold without regard to quality or integrity. When entrepreneurial chefs find these pockets of low food quality they transform them for the better and find success along the way. The food truck revolution of the past three years is an example. Food trucks used to suck. So are the phenomenal success stories of Chipotle Mexican Grill in the fast casual segment, Stonyfield farm in the yogurt category, and Amy’s organics in retail. Each of these companies established integrity within a category where it was lacking. The list of places where you can find food with integrity is long and getting longer. However, there are still some dark spots out there that present an opportunity for innovation and need fixing.

Recently, I had two food experiences while traveling that confirm my point. While riding the Amtrak Acela to Penn Station in New York I visited the dining car to check it out and get a snack. The set up was nice with approximately one third of the car dedicated to a small pantry, service counter and cashiers station and the rest of the car set with a small counter with seating and places to stand with food. It was nice enough except that there wasn’t a single item on the menu worth eating. Like an airliner, the dining car was outfitted to transport cold food cold and hot food hot but was ill equipped for fresh food preparation. Out of desperation I ordered a turkey sandwich and went back to my seat and unwrapped the sandwich. The turkey slices were compressed into a solid clump centered in a soft roll with a slice of tomato and a limp and bruised lettuce leaf. Needless to say, I didn’t eat it. It seems to me that the Amtrak folks and their designers and consultants place convenience over quality when it comes to food. Amtrak should be able to deliver a high quality turkey sandwich on board with very little fuss and a reasonable price. What a shame they haven’t taken the time to do things right. My prediction: someone’s going to figure out how to bring some credibility to Amtrak’s dining car or the dining car will die a slow death. Integrity with proper control yields financial success, convenience over quality yields failure.

My second example comes from a recent Southwest Airlines flight. That both these bad-food examples occurred while I was trapped on a moving vehicle is noteworthy. Travelers like me become captives with no other food options while on a train or plane. Is this what allows the people in charge of foodservice at these entities to set the bar so low? It pains me to bash Southwest, I actually like the airline on many levels and think they provide tremendous value to travelers. However, the food options on board their flights are weak. I avoid eating the crap they serve in most cases but couldn’t avoid it on a recent trip. By the time I deplaned at the connecting airport on this trip I was starving. The airport was small and regional with no quality food options (captive again!). Sullen, I walked to my gate, boarded my flight and was sitting in my seat before hunger surpassed my idealism. I pulled a Southwest menu out of the seat-back pocket and read it to see if there were any real options. Aside from peanuts, pretzels and Nabisco snacks, there were none. The flight attendant allowed me to select one of each and I sampled.

Studying each of the small packages, I notice that none make any kind of statement about food integrity. I wonder where the peanuts are from, whether they are conventionally sourced, whether my crackers are free of transfats, and whether my pretzels are organic (no) and lye-free (no). For more than five years researchers have been working to genetically engineer the allergens out of peanuts. Are these peanuts modified? I would love to know. No need to open the peanuts, my stomach is turning.

Studying the Nabisco Cheese Nips I notice the product has nineteen ingredients. All of them are generally regarded as safe (GRAS) but if given an option I will pass when it comes to eating the partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, monosodium glutamate (flavor enhancer), sodium caseinate (casein neutralized by lye), and acetic acid (flavor enhancer) in these nips.

My view is aligned with Professor Kelly Brownell at Yale and Professor (and rock star author) Michael Pollan at Berkeley when it comes to foods with more that a few ingredients. Pollan recommends only eating processed foods with five ingredients or less and Brownell questions whether foods with as many ingredients as my Cheese Nips are actually drugs or controlled substances in disguise. Again, I am left searching for food integrity. At this stage I toss all three packets into the trash when the flight attendant passes by. Southwest has made famous their meager food options as part of their cost containment and low price strategy. This is fine. However, if you serve a snack of any kind, make sure it has integrity. Find a sustainable, scalable source for these types of snacks with high food integrity or ditch them all together.

So that’s my strategy; I look for where food sucks and consider the discovery a revelation. If you are an entrepreneur, seek out where food sucks and you will find your next great opportunity. If you are a major manufacturer, develop products with true integrity and ditch the engineering. It is only a matter of time before the wave of integrity that is washing over American foodservice cleans out these last remaining pockets of bad food. Serve us food with integrity and we will come!

Chef Jacques Pepin Reflects on Culinary Soul

Posted 06 Jun 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home, Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

Chef Jacques Pepin & Chef Jean Jacques Dietrich

It’s the end of May and I am on an airplane over the Atlantic Ocean at 33,000 feet sitting next to Chef Jacques Pepin. Through a series of interesting events, we are together in the third row of a three hour long Southwest airlines fligh. He’s on the aisle and I am at the window with an empty seat between us. Although I am trying to remain cool, my thoughts are percolating. To me, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations that come along from time to time and I want to maximize the opportunity and ask him two or three good questions.

Along with memories of watching Julia Child’s WGBH Boston cooking show broadcast on my grandfather’s old black and white Philco television back in the early 1970’s, I remember Jacques as the first real French chef I ever saw. I have most of his cookbooks and have been a fan for decades. He’s 74 years old now and still going strong while aging gracefully. He is quite stylish in a dark blue blazer with light blue and lavender colored stripes, kaki pants, and trendy lavender colored shirt. His brown eyes are piercing with energy if not fading to grey a bit around the iris and he is sporting a neatly cropped grey beard and mustache. He still has long eyelashes and those same arched eyebrows that cause him to look like he is going to say something at any minute. His mind is sharper than ever and I am hoping he is willing to talk.

How often does a chef like me get three hours with a person like Jacques Pepin? What a privilege. I am nervous and sweaty. What will I ask him? I hope I don’t sound stupid. I can’t boil water compared to this guy. However, I do have some questions. What does all this recent “food-as-entertainment” mean to our profession? Where is the profession headed? “What makes a good chef good?” “What is the essence of a good chef?” “Is there a common set of competencies that all great chefs share?” In no way am I a student of Taylorism and scientific management, but I am drawn to breaking things down into their component parts as a way of making them easier to understand. Developing knowledge is easier when done in increments. There has to be a secret. What is the secret Jacques? Can such expertise be broken down into its component parts? I start by asking what makes a good chef good. It was a good question to ask!

Jacques weaves an answer to my questions into the 90 minute conversation we have in increments while flying north. “A good chef is true to himself. He knows his culinary soul and stays true to it. He doesn’t resist it; he builds on it and develops it.” He doesn’t over complicate it but instead climbs the mountain of culinary competency, becomes an expert, only to proceed back down the mountain to the place he started having made a full circle. The difference is, upon retuning to the base he is educated and competent, capable of many things but drawn to the basic and elegant cookery of his beginnings. His mastery has given way to elegant simplicity, elegant simplicity that only the highest degree of mastery would allow.

“A chef is as much a product of his upbringing and surroundings as the food he creates. Although he changes and evolves there is always a foundation within him laid in place during his youth.” Layers of food memories, food preferences, and food emotions are part of this foundation. To reject this foundation could be perilous. It could potentially cause a chef to become something he is not, although it is natural for a chef to expand beyond his origins, but only to a certain extent. The greatest chefs are the ones who climb the mountain to the summit, head back down and embrace the place where they started. They master culinary method and technique and understand their food foundation. Often, the combination of these two things is what defines the greatest chefs. Mastery paired with simplicity and a good dose of humility. Rather than try to cook what the people want for the simple sake of impressing them, it is better to cook what you love, what you keep in your culinary soul, to cook it perfectly, and to serve it because it represents who you are rather than to impress the eater. By default, the eater will be impressed because of the integrity and quality of your work. Chefs that make it full circle have established and embraced their culinary soul, developed their own identity, and found their own style and voice in the profession. After nearly 60 years in the profession, Pepin has the wisdom and experience from which to draw such an image. His message is profound.

Julia Child's Kitchen

When asked about his most profound food memory he explained that he’s had so many that it is impossible to select just one. However, he does go on to tell me a story. When he was younger he spent hundreds of hours working with Julia Child in her kitchen at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the years, the two filmed television shows, tested recipes for cookbooks, and cooked for pleasure there. Of the many chefs who worked with Julia, Jacques was second only to Julia and a few of her closest assistants in the amount of time spent in her kitchen. These facts are common knowledge in the food community, but what many people don’t know is that Jacques had one of the most profound moments in his life when he visited Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The experience was overwhelming for Jacques and he described is as “weird” and “unsettling” to see a place where he spent so much time preserved as a historic landmark. His description of the experience made clear that the contributions he and Julia made to the evolution of eating and cooking in American culture occurred by coincidence rather than by design. Seeing her kitchen encased in glass made clear to him in a flood of emotion the incredible extent of their contributions. His description of the experience caused him to well up with emotion and we fell silent in the moment.

While the emotions dissipate, we both enjoy some quiet time. Our plane is starting its descent now and I am frantically typing my scribbled notes into my laptop before the details of our conversation fade. He asks for my business card and offers to set up a visit to the French Culinary Institute sometime. I thank him for sharing his thoughts and wisdom and wish him well. I hope our next conversation will occur in a kitchen.

Achatz “Next Restaurant” A New Meal Ticket Model?

Posted 04 May 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

Alinea

Last night while tracking the James Beard Awards I picked up a twitter from Grant Achatz (2010 winner for Outstanding Service) about his two newest ventures: Next Restaurant and Aviary. Achatz, in my opinion, is a culinary genius and a real survivor. His story is so compelling; one of great triumph in the face of potential tragedy. Any new venture he is involved with is destined for success. It appears, based solely on my experience viewing the website for Next that he isn’t going to disappoint us with these new ventures.

The concept behind Next is fascinating. Diners will buy tickets to “attend” a meal as if the experience is equivalent to going to the theater, a concert, or other event. Meal tickets? Yes, meal tickets. Achatz will offer four heavily researched and tested prix fixe menus per year featuring food from great moments in culinary history and the future (yes, the future).  This is going to be interesting. Prices for tickets will vary according to the date and time you attend. I wonder if Next Restaurant will usher in a global meal ticket based, food concert model. If anyone can pull this off, it’s Achatz and his creative team. Watch for Next sometime in the near future, it will open this year (2010).

I also want to mention Aviary, Achatz’s new bar concept. Aviary is a bar without bartenders. Chefs will prepare drinks from a kitchen. Like Alinea, it is likely that Aviary will feature a high degree of thought and refinement, from the food and beverage, to service ware, interior design and other details. A bar without bartenders featuring chefs who prepare both food and beverage from the kitchen, count me in.

One of the reasons I love tracking events like the James Beard Awards is the peripheral news that surfaces as a byproduct of the event itself. Achatz’s announcement of his two new concepts is an example. If you haven’t visited the Next Restaurant web site, go there. The website itself is an experience. Once both places are up and running, I will visit and follow with another post. Until then, keep an eye on Grant and his crew, once again they are on the verge of shaking up convention.

Oil Spill Could be Disaster for Chefs

Posted 03 May 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends

French Quarter

Watching the news about the oil spill inching its way closer to the delicate New Orleans coast leaves me worried about the various food and tourism related industries that are life support to Louisiana. The impact this spill could have on the marine and terrestrial life so woven into the culture of the state is unprecedented. That Louisiana faces another potential environmental blow after hurricane Katrina is a tragedy.

I was in New Orleans last September for a wedding held at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Paul Prudhomme doesn’t often close his restaurant for a wedding but he was excited to do so for a mutual friend who has a deep love for the city. Ironically, Jean Michel Cousteau was one of the guests and I spent some time speaking with him and Chef Paul about the recovery of the city of New Orleans and the Louisiana coast after hurricane Katrina. Both Prudhomme and Cousteau were hopeful about the future of the coastline and Paul stated that things were slowly returning to a level of reasonable stability I the city. However, Prudhomme was pensive about the toll Katrina took on members of the working culinary community in New Orleans.

Prudhomme & Cousteau

Chef Paul made clear that in addition to the physical and environmental damage, an unexpected consequence of the Katrina disaster was the loss of a large number of foodservice employees who had been with him for years if not decades. When the hurricane hit, many of Paul’s employees were evacuated to other parts of the country (Houston, Atlanta, Denver etc) and they never returned. The loss of institutional history and overall culinary capacity at K-Paul’s (as well as other restaurants) was nearly crippling. These weren’t the celebrity chefs or owners that we often read about. These were the working class cooks, utility personnel and servers that make up the backbone of the culinary community both here and throughout the U.S. Paul had retained a reasonable percentage of his crew, enough to start over with, but it took him months to get food and service back to where it was prior to Katrina due to the lost personnel and shortage of supply. Paul’s business was directly connected to the whims of both human and Mother Nature in a way that I had never thought about. And now this oil spill!

Various news agencies are projecting that the impact the oil will have on the seafood industry will be devastating. It is estimated that twenty percent of U.S. seafood originates from the Gulf of Mexico. Further, there are reports of potential risks associated with the consumption of seafood contaminated by the oil that will surely have an impact on consumer purchasing patterns. Restaurant sales throughout the gulf coast could be as threatened as the shoreline ecosystems themselves. What a disaster. I wonder what Jean Michel Cousteau must be thinking, or Paul for that matter.

Cousteau’s mission in life, as shared with me during our conversation (and on his website) is to educate people throughout the world to act responsibly for the protection of our global ocean while also documenting the connection between humanity and nature. Prudhomme echoed Cousteau’s view while exhibiting a deep sense of personal history and connectivity with all of Louisiana. It’s a shame that Cousteau has to have this sort of life mission but the current crisis proves his point. My thoughts and prayers are once again with the Gulf Coast communities that are threatened. Hopefully this time they will be spared.