Well, I am back... 5 days, 4 nights and 7 Sazerac Cocktails later, JACKIEtober has officially ended for another year. We spent our days sightseeing and walking the streets. We spent our evenings dining in some of the finest restaurants in the world, and we spent our nights drinking and dancing at some terrific jazz clubs (and we even left the French Quarter to find those). Of course, we spent our afternoons taking naps. I have dozens and dozens of stories that will bore you to death. I have hundreds of photos that you will have no interest in (be honest, is there much more boring than hearing about someone Else's vacations). But I do think I can come up with four posts over the next four days that may interest you.
Eventually, New Orleans is one of those cities that everyone should make an attempt to visit. I have been lucky enough to have spent a lifetime travelling. I have seen plenty of tourist destination cities, and hands down, New Orleans does it best. There are plenty of cities that "fake it". They do fake it well, but it is an act for the tourists. "Ye Olde Days" has nothing to do with modern London, Eating out in Paris was the most insulting, over-rated experiences I have ever had (don't get me started on Parisians), New Yorkers do not attend the theatre any more and LA is as fake as the look-a-likes in front of MANN's Chinese theatre. These great cities put on a wonderful "show" for the tourists.
But with few exceptions, New Orleans in general and the French Quarter in specific is a world where tourists can feel that the guides, restaurant servers, bar keeps, etc. genuinely love their city, and want visitors to enjoy their stay. They work hard at showing you why their city is different. They show you a "real" New Orleans. Are happy to give you a glimpse into their lives and have a family history that is unique among the melting pot that is America.
Today, I want to tell you about my absolute best tip for any visitor to New Orleans... First morning in town, take the cooking class at the NEW ORLEANS SCHOOL OF COOKING. You can find their website by clicking HERE. The class is about 3 hours long. But in that three hours, you will get a wonderful history lesson about how food shaped the history of the city. Founded by lazy French aristocrats, engineered by creative Spaniards, Expanded by industrious Germans and worked by People of Color. Each of these groups learned to cook with the available ingredients, altering their "home cooking" to create the unique mixture that is the foods of New Orleans. The stories are told in a fun and entertaining manor that never hits you in the head with history. It is the perfect introduction to the city, as well as to the foods you can expect to be eating over the next few days. And, oh yeah... You eat what is cooked for lunch. Making this the best bargain in the city.
I have taken the class 5 different times (twice this week). In each class, you learn an appetizer (Crab bisque or Gumbo or AN AMAZING SHRIMP AND ARTICHOKE HEARTS SOUP or Cajun Corn Bread). You also learn a main course (Jambalaya or Shrimp Creole or CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE or Red Beans and Rice). There is a dessert, Pecan Pie or Bread Pudding... And as a bonus, a little candy making with FRESH HOT Pralines! Their website has the menu for the day printed in advance, so you can plan ahead. They provide a locally brewed microbrew beer or root beer or sweet tea. Everyone gets a plate of each item, and there was enough for seconds of everything for whoever wanted more (same with the beer - WHOO WHOO). No one left even a little bit hungry. The whole class costs $27 (but there are $3 off coupons almost everywhere around town, ask at your hotel, and I am sure they can advise you on getting the discount). So, a fresh hot tasty 3 course lunch, candy, booze AND history, education, entertainment makes this experience at the top of my things to do list.
The class starts daily at 10 AM. ALWAYS call for reservations in advance, as each day we attended, the class was sold out. They also seat people in the order they make reservations, so the earlier you call the better. The class starts in the front of the store, where all manors of Louisiana spices, rubs, marinades and snacks are available for sale. Arriving early is fun just to read the labels of the products.
Study this picture closely. This is Anne, our chef for the day. She starts with greetings, a little of her personal history and the basic history of the founding of the city. BUT, notice above her. They have hung mirrors over the counter top stoves to show what is happening while she cooks. The school is perfectly laid out to make the experience as positive and personal as possible.
Anne did a great job of explaining what she was doing as she cooked for her new crop of 56 "friends". No additional food was brought in, so each day, she starts with the raw ingredients and cooks for 56 people. Imagine! Also during the class, she explains the ingredients and makes suggestions about what to buy in the store. Many items are only available in the area. If you want to replicate these recipes, this is the place to shop for souvenirs.
This is not a good photo, but this is our cook on the second day we attended the class (different menu). Our cook is a wonderful older Creole grandmother that had the best stories of her youth, experiences and what it means to be Creole. We were so glad we attended a second class, just to meet her. She gave a story that only cooks could relate to. She was a resident of the infamous 9th Ward pre-Katrina. Her home was washed away. When she returned, all that was left was the concrete front steps. She was covered by insurance, and has settled into her new home. But, she lost her great grandmother's perfectly seasoned set of cast iron cookware in the disaster. Insurance replaced the goods, but she will always taste the difference in her post-Katrina cooking.
These are not hands on cooking classes. We just sat and watched, as the cooks made lunch for us. That is why I am including this in my "Day of rest" series, as I did none of the cooking. But, armed with the recipe booklet you receive free with your admission, I certainly am confident that I now have the skills and knowledge to duplicate any of these recipes. For foodies and non-foodies alike, this is a perfect introduction to the city and it's unique cuisine.
The class lets out into the convenient grocery store. The prices are competitive with other gift shops. They do make an effort to rotate their stock, so you do feel a bit more confident that the product you buy is fresher than in the average T-shirt shop that also sells a few spices. I dd find the combination of "Slap ya Mama" and "Punch ya Daddy" to be funny, but below is a picture of the only souvenirs I took home from New Orleans this trip...
I mean really, how many T-shirts do you need?
But, the Peuchaud's Bitters I need to make my own Sazarak Cocktail...
The Cajun Power Garlic Sauce is not available in Kansas (I have looked), and is the most amazing thing to put on Jambalaya.
The vanilla has something special about it, that the sweet little Creole cook gave us a secret about. I will be making a blog post about this stuff in about 6 weeks, and will keep you informed.
Finally, the Cajun Power Sweet Treat is something my wife wanted. It is Cinnamon sugar, but with a vanilla accent infused. The school uses this generously as a top coating to their bread pudding. It makes a wonderful crust on the pudding that really adds something special.
In the next couple of days, I will blog about my most unexpected dining event, my trip to the Central Grocery to eat my Muffuletta and an overview of what I did, thanks to my love of the sazerac cocktail... so if any of that interests you, come back tomorrow. And I am smoking a couple racks of spareribs as we speak, so soon I will be back to cookkin and grillin in my back yard...
And to the good folks at the NEW ORLEANS SCHOOL OF COOKING, which you can find their website by clicking HERE, thanks for the DAY OF REST!