Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our First Words in Food Symposium

For those of you who could not attend our first Food in Words Symposium, here is a rundown of the day, chronicled by Tulane University student Faine Greenwood.

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum's first ever Food Symposium and Literary Feast proved to be a huge success, bringing together the area's best and brightest food professionals and experts. Topics discussed included New Orleans cuisine past and present, the state of food writing, the city's diverse history, and the early writers and cookbook authors that brought New Orleans cooking to the world. The Intercontinental Hotel provided a delicious lunch.

The inaugural event's theme was "The World's Fairs in New Orleans and Inventing Creole and Cajun Cuisine," and the day began with a delightful introduction to the topic by Professor Paul Freedman of Yale University.

Freedman discussed how Creole food first defined itself via the influence of the world fair, moving from a regional cuisine into a cooking style embraced by an entire nation. According to Freedman, Creole cuisine's distinction comes from its remarkable "blended" quality - unlike that of New York City, a region that possess incredible diversity but little in the way of a characteristic cuisine, as New Orleans does.

Many reasons have been put forth for New Orleans's unique cuisine, ranging from a French food-loving culture, a similarity of tastes across class-lines, an unusual willingness to "make do" with even the basest ingredients, and the cities (still existent) love of distinguishing itself from the rest of the USA.

Tulane University archivist and food history scholar Susan Tucker followed Mr. Anderson, discussing the cookbook writer, globetrotter, and unforgettable character Lafcadio Hearn. Mr. Hearn, renowned for his writing on Japan and Asia in his later years, produced the legendary "Creole Cookbook" for New Orleans’s blowout 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition during his stay in the city in the late 1800’s. The book did not appear until 1885, coming out rather late for the Exposition, but became a classic, gaining notoriety as one of the very first publications to attempt to define what Creole cuisine is.

The next speaker was Rien Fertel, a PHD History student at Tulane, who has done research on Creole culture in society from the early 19th century to today. Fertel is interested in the word "Creole", and how the word's use has changed and evolved over time. Fertel discussed how others, or outsiders, define Creole food and New Orleans food habits. He argues that Creole cuisine, as we know it was not defined by the Creoles themselves but rather by outsiders with no Creole heritage. These outsiders took the Creole food they found and turned it into a commodity, as evidenced by the two 1884 cookbooks, in conjunction with the 1884-1885 World's Fair. These now-famous cookbooks were Lafcadio Hearn's “Cuisine Creole” and the “Christian Women's Association Cookbook,” works that still influence aspirant Creole chefs and home-cooks.

The second discussion concerned the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and Creole Food, with Lawrence Powell, Chris Smith, and other lecturers.

Lawrence N. Powell, a Tulane University history professor and Louisiana historian, began with a discussion of the “WPA'S Guide to New Orleans,” published as part of a national series under the storied Federal Writer Project. Under the auspices of Louisiana Federal Writer's project director, Lyle Saxon, the New Orleans guide became the best of the bunch, providing a definitive and beautifully written look at New Orleans, its history, and its distinctive cuisine. Saxon, passionate about New Orleans, wrote about the gestation and genealogy of classic Creole dishes, and was among the few of his contemporaries who gave due credit to the potent African influence on the city's culture, cuisine, and music.

Chris Smith, manager of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum's collection and Big Read coordinator, discussed “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Huston, one of the 20th centuries best Southern novels. Hurston herself was part of the WPA project, and spent time in New Orleans researching voodoo, securing unique information from the voodoo priestesses she interviewed during her short stay in the city. Smith stressed how Hurston's book uses food to move the plot along. Certain dishes, such as fried chicken, Mac and cheese, meatloaf, and other comfort foods - are used to define how people live and what their values are. Smith noted that Harper Lee also used food to define character in her "To Kill a Mockingbird,” among other famous Southern works that use edibles to paint a portrait of people and places. Smith then contextualized food and Hurston's political era alongside her literature, referencing such creations as her "Diddy Wah Diddy,” – a sort of food heaven only reachable on the back of a mule. As Smith’s lecture established, Hurston's status as a literary legend, oral historian, and flamboyant personality has secured her a place in the South's literary pantheon, well after her penniless death in 1960.

Rien Fertel ended the discussion with a look at Lyle Saxon's influences, especially in regard to his 1928 "Fabulous New Orleans," a work combining memoir, history and myth into one robust and rapturous account of Saxon's experiences in the city. Saxon emphasized the French Market, the different ethnic groups who sold produce and food there around the turn of the century, and his impressions of the area as a young child, emphasizing especially the cuisine of his beloved city. Saxon, unusually for his time, listed ethnic restaurants alongside Creole standards, and gave credit to both slaves and Choctaw Indians for their influence on Creole cooking. What was Lyle Saxon's motto for New Orleans and New Orleans culture? "Have a good time while you can!"

The Symposium broke for lunch, which was catered by the Intercontinental Hotel. Chefs demonstrated how to cook shrimp Étouffée, as participants sipped Sazeracs. A multi course lunch was then served, featuring a trio of soups, an entree of chicken bonne femme, and a dessert of baked pears in a bourbon sauce.

SoFAB director Liz Williams was joined by Errol Laborde to discuss the 1984 World's Fair and its impact on Creole and Cajun Food--specifically that was the first time that the two styles were lumped together. This proved to be a lasting partnership, and even today the boundaries between Creole and Cajun food remain unclear.

A panel discussion regarding "Food Writers and the Future of the Cuisine" was held next, featuring local experts Sara Roahen, Judy Walker, Ian McNulty, Pableaux Johnson, and Stephanie J. Carter. The writers hosted a lively talk about the current realities of food journalism, New Orleans cuisine, and the process and day-to-day realities of writing about food for a living. Judy Walker discussed her experience as the Times Picayune Food Editor, providing insight into the nuts-and-bolts process of constructing a cookbook - most notably last years "Cooking Up A Storm," a brilliant compilation of the Picayune’s archival recipes. Ian McNulty of the Gambit discussed his role as a freelance writer and restaurant reviewer, and discussed his protocol and parameters for assessing and writing about new restaurants and culinary culture, answering questions about the review process.

Sarah Roahen then discussed her recent book, "Gumbo Tales," a work stemming from her time as a Gambit restaurant reviewer, recent New Orleans transplant, and passionate Louisiana foodie. Stephanie J. Carter, SoFAB's Communication Director, discussed the Museum's publications and her own food research. During the panel, particular attention was paid to the future of food writing in an era of disappearing newspapers: will the future of food-related literature of necessity be online? Will New Orleans cuisine survive into the future in an era of convenience food and online-culture, and if so, what forms will it take?

The first annual Food Symposium and Literary Feast proved to be an engaging and interest event for local food writers, food professionals, and food lovers alike. The inaugural event will hopefully lead to a series of Food Symposium’s in the years to come, providing an annual venue for the discussion of - and appreciation of - New Orleans deliciously unique culinary culture.

Thank you, Faine, for recording the entire event! We are looking forward to next year's symposium, which is already in progress. Check back for more information in the coming months.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Words in Food

We are rolling down the slope at ever increasing speed. There is so much planned for our fall and early winter that we can hardly catch our breaths. We are planning the opening of the Big Read project, this year we are reading Their Eyes Were Watching God; several very important private receptions, resuming our full week-end programming schedule, an overhaul of our web site, the beginning of the school year kid's program, our first Words in Food Symposium and Literary Festival, several new exhibits and opening parties. There is so much to do we are all going crazy. Crazy in a good way.

So keep reading your emails from SoFAB just to keep up. There will be lots to do.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Southern Table

The idea was to create an exhibit that showcased each southern state together in one place - literally at a table. The journey to begin to set the table has been arduous. I have been so surprised at how difficult it has been to gather the place settings. Although not all of the place settings have arrived, we are beginning to lay out this exhibit. Then we will see what holes we have to fill.

A curious fact is that Washington, DC, a mere city, has no official residence and no official china. So we have been able to decide for ourselves what should represent Washington, DC on the table. Louisiana and Arkansas have provided handmade place settings. Some states have provided official place settings.

But starting to see the exhibit take shape has made me see how the metaphor of all of the states gathered at a table is really touching and powerful. Next week we will begin posting photos of the table. I would love to see a huge exhibit with a place setting from every state in the US.

Your ideas for the table, menus and books, other table props would be appreciated.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lessons Learned in Graduate School

Oftentimes graduate students can become so passionate about their field that we don’t do what journalists or even Phd students always do, go to the source. In an academic paper I published for the University of Toronto, Food Conjures Memory: Making Memory in the Museum, I made some assumptions about British culinary historian Ivan Day. Day contacted me through SoFAB and said:

Dear Zella,

I have read with interest your paper entitled "Food Conjures Memory". I enjoyed your argument and agree with most of your conclusions. However, I feel rather surprised that you should conclude from a brief online resume of a course I offer on sugar and. confectionery, that I am guilty of the following. "By blatantly omitting or silencing any mention of the historical contributions of others, historians and museologists perpetuate the same imperialist ideology that have affected the world for centuries".
My confectionery course lasts two days and though it is a practical session, the imperial aspects of the sugar trade are actually explored in considerable depth. In fact, I am offering a free place on this particular course so that you can see for yourself what it is really about. On the contrary, I curated an exhibition here in the UK at Harewood House 7 years ago that explored the whole issue of the sugar trade in the eighteenth century. I contrasted the excesses of luxury enjoyed by the British patrician classes at the dessert table with the horror and privatization of the lives of the plantation slaves who produced the sugar that graced their exuberant desserts. In one room, an elaborate table setting shared a space with an original copy of a slave purchase ledger that belonged to the Lascelles family who built Harewood House. The Lascelles family owned extensive plantations in Barbados and the luxurious house they built was funded by money made from human misery. We made this very clear in this particular exhibit. I am sorry I do not have your direct email address and have sent this to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in the hope that it gets passed on to you. Good luck with your internship there and I look forward to your reply.

With every best wish,

Ivan Day

Needless to say I learned my lesson and I want to share this lesson with all students out there. GO TO THE SOURCE! Never assume that everyone is part of some evil conspiracy. Lol. When I wrote this paper I was reading some pretty heavy books about food globalization and exploitation. Although, I stand by my argument in my paper I did make the mistake of not contacting Ivan Day directly to ask him what he felt about the sugar trade. But this is the point of Graduate School to learn from your rights and wrongs. So, I would like to make a formal apology to Mr. Day and to thank him for his well wishes even after I made some negative accusations about his work. We sure would love to do something with you in the future at Southern Food & Beverage Museum and I can sit down with you and sweeten you up with pralines, Red Velvet Cake and Bananas Foster! Please find out more about Ivan Day @

*Ivan has an international reputation for his research on British and European culinary history. As well as a scholar, broadcaster and writer, he is also a gifted professional cook and confectioner. He is noted particularly for his re-creations of meals and table settings. His work has been exhibited in many museums, including the Paul Getty Research Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of London, Fairfax House, the Bowes Museum and the Rothschild Collection.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

St. Joseph's Altar

It has been a long time since I have posted on this blog. I have spent my time writing on Facebook and Twitter and I have not had something organized and longer to say. But now I do.

At SoFAB, we were the beneficiaries of the helping hands of students and faculty from Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC. These wonderful people gave us an entire day. They removed a wall that was standing behind the St. Joseph's Altar, and which opened up a new gallery where we plan to expand our exhibits. The Altar was placed in a niche created by a false wall in an archway. It looked nice there, but was often unseen. It was out-of-the-way. The students moved the altar carefully and reassembled it in an area that has better light and that can be seen on all sides. The altar is now garnering comments from visitors and resulting in lots of questions about the St. Joseph's celebration.

It is amazing how placement makes a difference. We thought that we had placed the altar in a place of prominence. But we hadn't. We had tucked it away. It is being appreciated and explored now. A welcome, but unintended by-product of the volunteers' work.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Leah Chase Louisiana Gallery

I think the world of Leah Chase. She is one of those people who, without being sickly sweet (I think she is peppery), is wonderfully loving and generous. She is a supporter of the arts and music, someone who was creative and innovative, someone who raised a terrific family, worked hard, and never forgot to embrace the world through food. She is a tireless supporter of the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.

There will be a dedication ceremony - including Chef John Folse - to celebrate the naming on July 1. But the excuse for fun, for the celebration of Leah Chase, will happen at SoFAB on July 2. Tickets are still available on line and at the door. This will be a wonderful event with great food and drink.

Join us in celebrating this remarkable woman.

Here is the new drink, the Creole Queen, developed just for her.

1 to 2 mint leaves
1 to 2 strawberries
Mint Turbonado
Simple Syrup to taste
dash of Peach bitters
Splash of Obsello Absinthe
1 1/2 ounces Port of Barcelona Gin
on the rocks

Monday, June 22, 2009

Irrevent Cookbook Pokes Fun at Battle of Sexes

The other day we received a great donation to our cookbook collection titled “The Chauvinist Guide to Gourmet Entertaining” by Stan Fedyszyn. It’s a paperback; has a copyright from 1980; and is 190 pages. It sold for $5.95.

The book focuses on eight complete, seven-course dinners in American, French, Russian, Poynesian, Chinese, Polish, Mexican and Italian cuisines.

As you might guess, this book has an interesting viewpoint. It is designed, as it says in the introduction, to be used “against the enemies of the Male Chauvinist Pig.” The goal of the book is to show men how to cook to impress a woman. In fact, the woman is referred to as “the Fox” throughout the book.

Here’s another passage that you might find interesting:

“What we have tried to do is create a system where a good cook can be made to look like a super one by playing on her sympathies and her naïve prejudices. For instance, no Chinaman in his right mind would eat the Chinese meal the way we suggest that you serve it. The Chinese prefer a style akin to the buffet, as opposed to courses. But she, the Fox, won’t know that. In all the movies she’s watched on the Late Show, Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn eat seven course meals. That’s what she wants and that’s what she’ll get, regardless of what the Chinese Embassy says.”

Classy stuff, eh? So far, I’m just quoting from the introduction, which comes with a serrated edge with instructions from the author to cut it out and burn it once it has been read.

Are we happy to have this book? Of course. It’s not just another gimmicky cookbook that is trying to find its niche. It’s an artifact that is of tremendous value to us and to researchers and scholars down the road. They’ll be might amused by this bit of culinary history.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Memories of Leah Chase, Creole Queen

At 16 years old, my high school best friend Cyrene invited me to New Orleans to visit her older sister in college, I was thrilled. When I came to New Orleans in 1992, I immediately fell in love. Eating beignets, jambalaya, drinking on virgin daiquiris and hearing New Orleans music wherever we went was a treat for two Midwestern girls from Chicago. Yet when Cyrene’s older sister took us to Dooky Chase’s restaurant, I literally lost it. We walked into her restaurant which was surrounded by an art collection that was good enough to exhibit in any major art museum. We toured the restaurant like we were in an art gallery. When it was time for us to be seated, the intoxicating smell of Creole spices from the kitchen floated us to our table where we devoured Leah Chase’s food made with love. Chase, walked over to us with a glowing grin and asked us if we were from New Orleans where we responded that we were from Chicago but Cyrene’s sister was in college in NOLA. We politely remembered our manners and answered with, “Yes Mam, No Mam,” until she gave us some quick advice and walked off to attend the kitchen. I always admired women like Leah Chase. She reminded me a lot of many women I know or read about but particularly one of my idols, the Cuban singer Celia Cruz(now deceased)who likewise created a community filled with love based on her artistic talent and jovial spirit. Leah Chase, a woman of poise who would freely praise or scold to no matter who it is. Chase is truly a New Orleans legend and anyone who ever met her and had the chance to eat her amazing food is forever touched by her beautiful human spirit. So now that I am older, meeting Leah Chase again was like that really good wedding cake frozen in the freezer for 1 year and brought out only to relive the sweet memories again. Likewise, planning for an exhibit in her honor, making sure that the gala event is a huge success, researching and speaking with her is a pleasure for all of us at SoFAB and we all look forward to honoring her on July 2, 2009 at our gala event. So come out New Orleans to celebrate the life and achievements of the Creole Queen, Leah Chase!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why I Love this Job!

I could be accused of being obsessed with my work. I am not a detail person, but I cannot find a detail too small that is related to SoFAB. I worry about smudges on the the glass doors and new ideas for partnerships and projects. But the most fun is our programming. This Monday night we have a fabulous program that I am looking forward to sharing with everyone. It is free to members and free with admission to everyone else. Three terrific chefs will be in the museum doing great things for us and serving their food, Chris DeBarr of The Green Goddess Restaurant, Michael Farrell of Le Meritage, and Adolfo Garcia of Rio Mar. That food will be paired with great spirits from Esmeralda Distillery, Obsello Absinthe Verte and Port of Barcelona gin. Join us for our spirited tasting!

This is not a blog full of questions. This is a blog of happiness. I look forward to sharing with everyone, drinking with everyone, eating with everyone, on Monday night. What could be better than that?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Treme Culinary Online Exhibit, Coming Soon!

On cold Chicago winter nights, where I am originally from, former New Orleanians in my Southside neighborhood would cook up a pot of gumbo and talk about days gone by in their native land and complain about the quality of seafood in Chicago. To make gumbo, with all its ingredients was hard in itself, coming from a red meat packing industrialized city as Chicago. New Orleanians could only find a fishery way out in the boondocks where they had to buy overpriced, unsatisfying seafood and frozen andouille sausage. But what were their options?, not much. For us Chicagoans, especially those of us who grew up around New Orleanians who fled Storyville and then later Katrina, frozen gumbo in a bag was a treat but to them it was a saddening reality that they were far away from home. We would watch them with envy, wishing that they would take us into their kitchens to teach us their Creole & Cajun food majic while we smelled their warm spicy food as it traveled from door to door.

Some time later, I was accepted as a 3 month intern at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum where I am currently interning while I pursue my Master's degree in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto. I jumped at the offer. So when the director, Liz Williams, gave me one of my first assignments; to help collect and plan an online exhibit of the culinary memories and traditions of the Treme neighborhood, I was thrilled to be able to work with a community that embodies so much history and culinary feats and probably have family in my Southside Chicago neighborhood.

So far, I have reached out to various members of the Treme community but I am hoping that as many as possible communicate with me so I can make sure that their culinary memories become part of what I know will be an amazing online exhibit to celebrate the culinary history of Treme. We do have some previous research done by Bethany Bultman where she researched and interviewed Italians and African-American former residents of Treme. However, we still need more to contribute. So, if you are a former resident or resident of Treme and have any culinary memories, family recipes, and/or would like to be recorded please contact me. Also, if you are a scholar or writer on Treme your participation in this project would be greatly appreciated.

*Tremé is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans. It was a Mecca for free people of color, Creoles, African-Americans, Sicilians, Caribbeans and Caucasians. It is also the home of the historical Congo Square, Storyville red-light district and Jazz. For more information on the history and culture of the Treme neighborhood, watch a film documentary called Fauborg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans which was produced by Dawn Logsdon & Lolis Elie and look for an upcoming HBO series called Treme which will be based on Post-Katrina and the residents who live there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Food Matters

There has been quite a bit written lately about the way we should eat. This continues the long line of American prescriptions about eating, going back to the nineteenth century concerns about "roughage" and regular bowel movements, the early twentieth century concern for bland food, and our current concerns about everything from cholesterol, sugar, carbs and whatever. We seem to want to force people to eat the way we want them to. It is very puritanical, as we Americans are.

Personally, I am unconcerned about the way we "should" eat. I eat to fuel my body and because it is a pleasure. But I am fascinated by how our puritanical roots inform the way we talk about something that gives us pleasure, that is food. Our language is punitive. There are lots of "doing what is good for you" type phrases. This is why food matters. It allows us to see ourselves today. And by looking at the past, it allows us to see attitudes and culture of the past.

Because everyone eats, food crosses class lines, as well as all of those other lines - gender, race, education, geography, politics, economics, etc. And we can imagine what our forebears went through in their eating, which gives us a tangible way to identify with them.

SoFAB will celebrate its first annivesary next week. We opened the first week in June, 2008. We can celebrate having survived for a year. But we can be secure in realizing that a food museum in not a frivolous enterprise (although it is a fun one), but one that will preserve for the future a special window on our culture.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dale DeGroff and The Essential Cocktail

I admit it. When I’m at home at night, I frequently watch MSNBC for the latest in news and political commentary. I’m a fan of Chris Matthews, Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow.

I’m also a fan of mixologist Dale DeGroff who has been making regular appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show. Last week, he was demonstrating mint juleps so that people could make these surprisingly easy cocktails for their Kentucky Derby parties. It was a fun segment.

I don’t know Dale DeGroff personally though he is connected to the Museum of the American Cocktail (he serves as president) and he comes to New Orleans regularly to teach people about the art of making superb drinks.

DeGroff is known in the industry as the “King of Cocktails.” He provides consulting and bar training to beverage companies, hotels, and restaurants around the globe. He was described in a New York Times article as being “single-handedly responsible for what been called the cocktail renaissance.”

DeGroff has produced a book that I really like: The Essential Cocktail, The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. It’s a beautiful book, and we sell quite a few of them here in the gift shop of The Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

The Essential Cocktail features drinks that stand out for their flavor, interesting formula, or distinctive technique – martinis, sours, highballs, tropicals, punches, sweets and classics. There are hundreds of recipes along with a compelling history that makes you want to make these drinks.

The book is a visual delight. It is beautifully designed and features fantastic photography.

The Essential Cocktail is one of those books you simply want to hold in your hands. It just has a great feel. Almost like holding a great cocktail.

See all the fun things you learn when you watch those cable news shows.

Whom Can We Trust?

I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky's The Food of a Younger Land. It is terrific book in many ways. It confirms Kurlansky's place as an historian, it serves as a snapshot of a particular time in history, and it calls our attention to an earlier time that involved foodways. We are reminded that we did not just invent the table. In addition the panoramic sweep of the book shows us the entire country, which allows us to see regional trends as well as border influences.

But the book is important to me as I read old cookbooks and read books written by restaurant chefs, the book makes me wonder what can we believe from old cookbooks. Where is the line between story and history? I read a cookbook today with some skepticism - considering the author's agenda and mindful of what may be omitted. But old cookbooks are read as pieces of history. I think that this is probably not wise.

Recently there was a workshop at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study that explored the pitfalls and benefits of relying on cookbooks for historical research. A recent analysis by Rien Fertel of Lafcadio Hearn's book, La Cuisine Creole, revealed plaigarism from other cookbooks and questioned its place in the pantheon of Creole cookbooks. So I am not alone in my questioning.

I know that even when I reveal my warts I want them to be seen in the best light. It is interesting that cookbooks - while appearing to be objective presentations of data - are as biased as a memoir. To me that means that the study of foodways and eating is a fruitful way to learn about the human condition. We wouldn't spin our food stories, if it weren't central to our lives.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting Carried Away With Betty

Author Betty Fussell kicks off the Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s (SoFAB) Special Lecture Series with “Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef,” on Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 5 p.m. at the museum. Best known for her book The Story of Corn, winner of the first Jane Grigson Award given by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in 1993, Betty Fussell is the author of ten books, ranging from biography to cookbooks, food history and memoir. Her most recent book on American food, Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef, was published in the fall and has been nominated for a book award by the IACP and the James Beard Foundation.

“We are excited to have a culinary star of Betty’s caliber lecturing at SoFAB. It will be a stimulating event timed to prime the appetite,” says Liz Williams, Director of SoFAB. A frequent speaker at IACP conferences, Betty Fussell was Scholar in Residence in 1999. Her essays on food, travel and the arts have appeared in scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers over the past 40 years. She has lectured throughout the country in venues as varied as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Iowa’s State Fair. A winner of Food Arts’ Silver Spoon Award, she has presented courses and/or workshops in food writing, food history and food preparation at universities, colleges, culinary schools and cooking stores across the United States and in Mexico. Her memoir, My Kitchen Wars, was performed in Hollywood and New York as a one-woman show by actress Dorothy Lyman.

Why a lecture on beef? Fussell may say it best in her book, Raising Steaks, ““Real American men, women and children eat steak because it’s red with blood, blood that pumps flavor, iron, vitality, and sex into flaccid bodies. For women, steak is better than spinach. For men, it’s better than Viagra. With steak, its easy to get carried away.”

SoFAB looks forward to getting carried away with Fussell. As a writer and lecturer, Fussell is both controversial and endearing. “I’ve spent most of my life doing kitchen battle, feeding others and myself, torn between the desire to escape and the impulse to entrench myself further. When social revolutions hustled women out of the kitchen and into the boardroom, I seemed to be caught in flagrante with a potholder in my hand. I knew that the position of women like myself was of strategic importance in the war between the sexes. But if you could stand the heat, did you have to get out of the kitchen?” writes Fussell in Kitchen Wars.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Culinary Corps

I have really come to look forward to the visits from Culinary Corps. Just in case you don't know about them, the Corps is a group of chefs who volunteer to travel to do good. Since Hurricane Katrina, Christine Carroll has been leading trips to New Orleans and the surrounding area. Culinary Corps is her brainchild. Christine has taken her idea and made it into a reality as real as government supported service organizations, such as Americorps and VISTA.

This group of chefs traveled to New Orleans to do good. They brought us cookbooks and menus for our collections. They wanted to know what the museum is doing to support the community. I was pleased to be able to answer their questions with our very real and often innovative activities. But every time that I talk to the participants in Culinary Corps, especially to Christine, I am struck by their generosity and selflessness.

So I would like to thank them for their visit. And in particular, I thank Christine, not only for a brilliant idea, but for perservering despite difficulties. We are all better for it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Texans -- We Need Your Old Cookbooks

If you have a cookbook with a Texas theme that is getting dusty and moldy on your shelf, let us know. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is seeking cookbooks from Texas to boost its holdings of books from the Lone Star State.
We estimate that the museum has only 20 to 30 cookbooks pertaining to Texas cuisine and that’s just not enough. Most focus on barbeque or Tex-Mex cuisine.
We also know there are at least 1,000 books that focus on Texas cuisine because the Texas Collection at Baylor University's Carroll Library has at least that many, some going back to the late 19th century.

Texas has a deep and rich culinary history. Each of the five regions of Texas was settled by pioneers from different parts of the United States and Europe. Each had different food heritages. The French, Native Americans, Spanish, Mexicans, and Germans influenced the culture and cuisine of Texas. They adapted their recipes to include local ingredients and cooking facilities.

The museum seeks a variety of cookbooks:
• Restaurant cookbooks and cookbooks created by celebrity chefs;
• Junior League cookbooks;
• Community cookbooks – the inexpensively produced, spiral-bound cookbooks that frequently are created as fundraisers for churches or schools;
• Cookbooks produced by churches, civic groups, public schools, universities, women’s groups or other cultural groups; and
• Specialty cookbooks. For example, a great book that was produced recently is the Texas Judicial Cookbook, a compilation of 59 recipes from residing and former judges and other state and county officials. It’s a tribute to Texas' county courthouses. That’s the kind of book we’re looking for.

Cookbooks are historical documents that provide important information to scholars, researchers, culinary professionals and foodies. Hefty hardbound books or small spiral-bound versions to benefit churches or schools. Filled with recipes from famous chefs or the ladies from around the corner. Seafood, fried food, casseroles, appetizers to desserts. They are all of value to us.

Monday, April 13, 2009

SoFAB is looking for a few good Elvis fans

Sometime last winter, we opened a box of donated books and found an Elvis cookbook.

After doing some research, we discovered there were at east 10 Elvis-themed cookbooks that had been published since the death of the King. This is odd Most chefs with lifetimes of experience don’t have 10 cookbooks to their name so why should Elvis, a man who made bacon and eggs when he cooked? And why were all of the books produced after he died? And though all of them have photos, why is there only one featuring a heavy Elvis?

We decided to find the other Elvis cookbooks and create an exhibition. After all, if droves of people visited Graceland each year, maybe we could attract a small crowd of devoted Elvis fans at a time when our new and small museum could use some help.

Visitors can now find a display of eight cookbooks as well as other Elvis memorabilia.

The main thing visitors will learn is that Elvis was a classic Southern boy who liked all the hard-core foods – meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pork chops, fried chicken, white bread with gravy, cheeseburgers, the whole nine yards. He had his favorites, including banana pudding and the infamous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Visitors also will learn about Elvis’ eating habits:
• Elvis did not like to eat fish;
• He loved watermelon and cantaloupe;
• His favorite meal was breakfast;
• Elvis ate a lot of sandwiches because he said he didn’t have a lot of time to eat;
• Elvis liked his meat cooked very well-done;
• When Elvis cooked, he generally fixed eggs and bacon;
• One item to be hand-made each night at Graceland was banana pudding;
• Elvis did not drink alcohol; and
• Elvis drank milk and would say “Milk makes ya sexy!”

Anther interesting piece of information is that Elvis did not change his eating habits once he became famous. Even though he had the money to eat anywhere he wanted, he did not like fancy restaurants. He preferred the food he grew up with.

Now we are waiting for the Elvis people to come. Impersonators are welcome too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I have been reading a lot about authenticity recently. It has made me look at the food of New Orleans and Louisiana to try to define what may be authentic about it. I think that after many bowls of gumbo and many people's versions of red beans and rice, I have come to a conclusion. This is likely to be an unpopular notion.

When we are familiar with the cuisine, I think that we consider authentic to be what we know. That means what we remember from early family life - what Mom or Dad or Aunt Jane served - defines authenticity. So if my mother took shortcuts and used prepackaged shortcuts or added cream of mushroom soup to her oyster bisque (she didn't), I might find that to be authentic. The younger person may say, never, it is only authentic with cream and homemade stock. But neither of us was around in 1900 when oyster bisque was made in some other way to make it authentic.

So if we have no early memory of food to benchmark authenticity how can we do it? I think that if local people eat the food, even as it is evolving, then it is authentic. Yes, food can be made the way that it was in 1875. But just because it is historically accurate doesn't make it any more authentic than the way we make it in 2009. Food changes: we begin to add garlic, we begin to omit blood sausage, we add wine, we experiment. As food evolves it remains authentic because it is still eaten and identified by the people in the area.

No cuisine remains alive if it is static, so historically accurate does not define authentic - eaters do. I have eaten many version of Salade Nicoise in the US and in France. In Nice this salad is served tossed in a bowl or on a plate. It is not a composed salad, but a tossed salad. As I traveled west along the coast in France, I was in Provence when ordering the Salade Nicoise was composed. I would venture to say that dispite the fact that I know this as a composed salad, that what I ate in Nice was authentic.

Monday, April 6, 2009

In Praise of Squid

Going through the boxes of donated cookbooks is fun because there is always something unusual that we haven’t seen before.

Recently, something truly unusual and interesting arrived – a cookbook that focuses on squid. The International Squid Cookbook, by Isaac Cronin, is a 94-page paperback devoted exclusively to the preparation and consumption of squid. There are not many cookbooks that focus on squid – in English, probably fewer than ten.

Squid has taken its time in getting to North America. As legend has it, American restaurateurs did not serve squid until someone came up with the idea of using the mollusk’s Italian name – calamari, which refers to any dish that contains squid. (The singular is calamaro.)

Up until then, Americans couldn’t seem to process the idea of eating squid, let alone octopus. Most Americans probably get their information about squid from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Even today, most Americans think of squid only as a deep fried appetizer.

The International Squid Cookbook serves as a primer on all things squid: varieties of edible squid; how to buy squid; how to clean squid; how to stuff and cook squid; and even a section on how to deal with tentacles.

Dozens of recipes are broken down by nation of origin as squid is a food that is prepared throughout the world. From Japan, there is squid ball soup. From Indonesia, squid curried in coconut milk. From France, squid and leeks in red wine. There are many recipes from the countries of the Mediterranean.

Obviously, a cookbook devoted to calamari is not something one finds in very many households at this time. They’re hard enough to find in bookstores. That might change because squid might become a more popular food source considering that it grows quickly and many species of fish have been over-harvested.

This is the kind of cookbook that tempts cooks to take a chance, and by doing so, one is rewarded with new and unusual additions to one’s cooking repertoire.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Menus, menus, menus

I haven't really blogged or talked about our Menu Project for a while. People ask me whether it is still on-going. The answer to that question is an unqualified "Yes!" We still want a menu at least once a year from every place that serves food in the South and from those places outside the South - the rest of the US and the whole world - that consider themselves Southern restaurants. We ask for your help.

Every time you eat out, whether it's at a diner, a gas station selling pimento cheese sandwiches, or a white tablecloth emporium, collect a menu. Then send us those menus. We will add them to the collection. When you are ready to discard that file of take out menus by the telephone and replace it with a more up-to-date file, send the old file to us. We want it all. Don't worry about duplicates. We want those too.

Of course, we also want any vintage menus that you can spare, but we are systematically collecting so that we will have the basis for a great research tool. Scholars in the future will be pleased that we collected and collected.

You can read about the collection, which is done in partnership with the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans, in the current issue of Food Arts magazine.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Southern Table

Perhaps because the phrase is a bit hackneyed, it seems the perfect title for a new exhibit we are planning - The Southern Table. We are constantly aware that as the SOUTHERN Food and Beverage Museum, we have to represent the entire South, although we are located in New Orleans. One way to make that statement visually is to set a round table - just as King Arthur intended, we do not want a head at our table - with place settings furnished by each state and the District of Colomibia. The backs of the chairs will be formed in the shape of each state.

Just yesterday we received a place setting from the governor's office of South Carolina. It is so exciting to see this project proceed and develop. It makes me think of other tables that have been created as art, as well as all of the analogies of peace and communication that eating together represent. Your suggestions for the table are welcome and encouraged.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is Missouri a Southern State?

Recently the question of what is a southern state has come up again. Originally we decided to define the south by the generally agreed upon definition of the New South. This decision is not set in stone. As we approach our one year anniversary here at the Riverwalk, I have been having second thoughts about what it means to go forward and just keep doing what we have been doing because that is what we have been doing! So as not to get into a rut - and thereby let opportunity and creativity pass us by - I think that it is time to re-examine the question of what is the south?

I would like your advice and thoughts on the matter. Does Missouri qualify as a southern state? Whatever your answer is -why? What about including Puerto Rico in our embrace? It is not a state, but neither is Washington, DC, and we include it. I am throwing rules to the wind and really want to hear from you about this. Please email me at I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cooking at Home

According to the many articles I have read recently, consumers are preparing dinners at home in order to save money. As a cook, I love the idea that people have a renewed interest in taking part in some of the steps that get food from farm to table. The journey is one of the most nourishing things about a meal.

However, over the past prosperous years, consumers have spent a lot of time eating out or getting prepared food to go at places like Whole Foods. What this means is that while people want to cook at home, many have forgotten how or have never learned in the first place.

After a weekend of cheese-making workshops and cuccidata (Italian cookies) demos, I feel as if the museum provides a service that is particularly relevant and valuable right now. We offer many cooking demonstrations that are free with the price of admission. You don't have to pay for a series of classes - you come to the ones that interest you. If you are a museum member, these classes are free to you.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Son, the Comic

I usually blog about new things at SoFAB. But today I am using my space here to talk about something that happened at SoFAB. My son is a stand-up comic. He stands there and is funny. So obsessed as I am with using everyone's talents to make SoFAB special, I invited him to perform at SoFAB the last time he was in New Orleans. I think that he and his friends had a good time, and that people who came had the unusual experience of eating Turkey Bone Gumbo (it was right after Thanksgiving), drinking beer and laughing at a museum. His name is Mark Normand.
Mark has been nominated for Best Emerging Comic by ECNY. I urge you all to vote for him. If you think that I shamelessly talk about SoFAB, imagine how I am talking about my son. He is my son, the comic. Whenever I tell anyone about it, they say, "You're kidding, right?" I wait for the reaction. If I were to say, "My son, the teacher," I could wait all day for a reaction. But being able to say "comic" is always good for a second take or a quizzical look.
Please watch him. Please vote for him. I am a proud mother. He performed at SoFAB.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cookbooks Thrive in Tough Times

If you’ve got a fresh idea for a cookbook, now is the time to think about approaching a publishing house.

Why? When times are tough, cookbook sales increase. It seems that people do more cooking at home and they buy cookbooks to help with meal preparation.

Some publishing experts suggest that economic downturns are good for cookbook production.

Consider the following statistics.

  • Retailers sold 14.9 million cooking-related books in 2006, a 9% increase from the previous year. (Nielsen BookScan)
  • Cookbooks generated $159 million in 2006, an increase of 5.1% over 2005 and 20% over 2002. (Simba Information)
  • American women own an average of 15 cookbooks, and three out of 10 women collect cookbooks. (1001 Ways to Market Your Books, by John Kremer)
  • Ninety-seven million people gave or received a book as a gift, and the most popular book category was cookbooks. (American Bookseller)
  • The cookbook market has sustained a growth rate of 5% annually since 1984 due to strong sales in cookbooks compared to the book market in general. (Trendwire, October 18, 2004)

With or without an economic downturn, it’s not such a bad idea to create a family cookbook. If you aren’t able to create a major seller, you’ll still be able to create an important heirloom to document the way you live and that can be passed down to other generations.

Don’t forget to make a copy for us!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bar from Bruning's Restaurant

Bruning's Restaurant was the third oldest restaurant in New Orleans. It was opened in 1859. It was a part of the Milneburg resort area on Lake Pontchartrain. The restaurant changed from an adult entertainment and resort to a casual family restaurant over the years. The bar moved from one building to another after hurricanes. Finally the bar was stored. And from that storage, SoFAB has become the recipient of the bar from Bruning's. We have a little piece of New Orleans history ready for restoration and exhibition. Very soon the progress of the restoration will be documented for you every week. When the bar is completely restored and ready for use, we will toast its reopening. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Used Cookbooks

Thanks to the generosity of a donor, the Museum Store has available for sale a large collection of used cookbooks. While these books new have retailed as high as $50, everything is priced between $1 and $9.95 and many are actually new. Aside from traditional American cookbooks, there are many international books that span the globe from Russia to Cuba. This represents a perfect opportunity for someone who wants to fatten their cookbook library while at the same time not lose any weight in their wallet.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Last time I checked, oysters were a great way to lure your lover. As an adieu to January, and just in time for Valentine's day, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum presents Chef Tenney Flynn's (of GW Fins) Gulf Oyster Class/Demo/Tasting. While raw oysters are sexy, why not put a little extra work into your V-Day Oyster Feast with oysters on the half shell with American Sturgeon caviar and uni with mignonette sauce, pickled oysters, creamy oyster stew with oyster butter, oyster and mushroom pie? After all, the only thing sexier than an oyster is a person who knows how to use one.

The event takes place Saturday, January 31 at 2 p.m. You must reserve a spot for this event by emailing More information on this event and others? Check out our events section on out website. Can't make it? You could have gotten the recipes if you were a SoFAB newsletter subscriber. Click here to sign up. The sign up is on the left side of the screen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Doctor Is In!


The SoFAB Museum Store is happy to announce that it is representing the works of Louisiana Folk Artist, Dr. Bob. While Dr. Bob may not be the person you want to go to if you are ill (unless you have a hangover) - he is the man when it comes to Louisiana Folk/Swamp/Alligator/Beer Bottlecap/Music/Food/9th Ward art.

Thanks to purchases of his patented "Be Nice or Leave" works by celebraties such as Mariah Carey, Oprah Winfrey, Emmylou Harris, Ellen DeGeneres and John Travolta, Dr. Bob has become a national figure on the Folk Art scene. In New Orleans, his works can be found in some of the finest and not-so-finest restauraunts and bars in the French Quarter and Marigny/Bywater areas. And best of all, our prices are about half of what he charges for his works on ebay.

Click on the link below to read Dr. Bob's biography, which no doubt includes some extreme exaggerations.

Joe Sunseri

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Children and food

Today I spent a very active 90 minutes talking and cooking with 24 second grade children at Lafayette School in New Orleans. We talked about the importance of smell in the tasting process. We made root beer - learning a lot about measuring along the way. We made fruit salad with satsumas, oranges, bananas and strawberries. I was reminded that children are ready and happy to eat healthy foods. We teach them not to.

We say, "Children won't eat this or that. We have to make a special meal for them." But let us not forget that children in Japan eat nori and children in Spain and Italy eat squid.

Especially if we engage them in the cooking process, children eat with adventurousness. They eat a variety of things, which is healthy. And when we cook together, we have the added benefit of growing closer by doing something meaningful together. Children will often talk while they work, so we learn things about them that might otherwise not be shared. And we can share our own thoughts with them, without lecturing.

I remember cooking with my own children. Today I cooked with surrogates, but had a wonderful time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let's DISH

In a matter of days, SoFAB will launch DISH, the city’s only book club that focuses on the culinary arts.

Dish meets at noon on the third Saturday of each month at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, in the Riverwalk Marketplace Shopping Center near the Food Court. This Saturday, Jan 17, the club will discuss The Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

Published in 1825 after three decades of research, The Physiology of Taste probably is the most famous book ever written about food. It remains among the most comprehensive, stimulating, and just plain enjoyable works ever published on the subject of the senses and their pleasures. In a work spiced with style and wisdom, Brillat-Savarin declares that "Animals feed themselves; men eat; but only wise men know the art of eating."

The day will consist of three events: discussion of the book; a presentation by Sharon Vercelotti, a chemist who works with food companies and who will talk about taste and conduct some fun quizzes with fruit juices and broths; and a cheese tasting. The St James Cheese Store has three different versions of Brillat-Savarin cheese that we will taste.

Participants also will get a behind the scenes tour of the museum.

Readers of all stripes are welcome to read book club selections and to attend meetings. Admission to book club meetings is free to SoFAB members; $10 for non-members. Participants also are encouraged to sign on in advance for book club meetings.

For more information, contact Chris Smith, coordinator of the book club, at

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Healthy New Orleans Cooking an Oxymoron???

While "healthy New Orleans cooking" may sound like an oxymoron, the fact is that it is possible to enjoy the tastes of our region in a more healthful way. To that end, the Museum Store has assembled the beginnings of a health-oriented section of cookbooks.

Currently in stock are two of Chef Jude Theriot's tomes : Cajun Healthy (1994) and Cajun Low Carb (2005). Theriot's "Healthy" manages to offer up an array of traditional recipes- but in a no fat/lowfat way. His "Low Carb" offers recipes as expected- low carb.

The Pennington Cookbook (2000) by Chef Kelly Williams offers great, healthy recipes while at the same time giving a breakdown of nutritional information, including calories, total fat, cholesterol, and sodium for each recipe.

The New Orleans Program (2006) by Dr. David Newsome and with 95 recipes from Chef John Besh includes critiques of current diet fads, commentary and facts on balancing the intake of alcohol, protein and carbohydrates- and advice on exercise, vitamins and more.

Healthy New Orleans Cuisine (2007) is the brainchild of New Orleans Chef Mark Gasquet. In this book, Gasquet, who is diabetic, rearranged some great recipes to suit his disease by cutting fat and salt while keeping the flavor and managed to lose 40 pounds along the way- without compromising his taste buds.

All of these cookbooks are currently available at the Museum Store. Please drop by for a visit and watch our collection grow.
--- Joe Sunseri

Friday, January 2, 2009

Good, Better, Best!

This is the traditional time to examine the previous year and to look ahead to the new one. I am going to let our previous year speak for itself (we opened!) and concentrate on the one ahead of us. This year will be the time to thoroughly ground all of our nascent projects and, we hope, plant the seeds for new projects.

1. Our exhibits will grow in depth and breadth, including more artifacts and interesting design.
2. Our menu collection will grow and become more organized for researchers.
3. Our library will be open to the public and we will double the number of volumes.
4. Our children's programming will expand and increase in substance and numbers of children reached.
5. Our e-zine will launch and thrive.
6. Our e-commerce site will make Southern food and beverage items available all over the world.

Whether you raise a glass of iced tea or champagne to toast the new year, we look forward to sharing it with you.