Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Willie Mae's Scotch House

Willie Mae's Scotch House, originally located in Treme, opened as a bar in 1957. After a year, the bar moved to its current location in the Sixth Ward, near Treme and the French Quarter. Willie Mae's Scotch House originally featured a bar, a barbershop, and a beauty salon in the front. By the 1970s, however, the beauty salon closed, and taking advantage of the available space owner Willie Mae Seaton expanded the bar into a full-service restaurant.

The restaurant quickly became famous for its soul food and especially its fried chicken. Fried chicken is something of a New Orleans speciality thanks to the efforts of Willie Mae's and Al Copeland and the creation of Popeye's. The restaurant garnered national attention in 1995 when the James Beard Foundation awarded Willie Mae's with an award for "America's Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region."  The fried chicken often appears on lists of America's best fried chicken. The restaurant continued to grow in popularity until it was nearly destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. As with other famous New Orleans restaurants--like Dooky Chase--Willie Mae's eventually reopened in 2007 thanks to the support of local and national organizations like the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization devoted to the preservation of Southern food culture.

Currently, Willie Mae's kitchen is run by Seaton's great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton Stewart and still serves the famous fried chicken.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Second Lining

            Second lining is one of New Orleans’ biggest cultural traditions. In traditional brass band parades, there is the main or first line—consisting of the band and members of the organization or club sponsoring the parade. Then there is everyone else who follows behind just to enjoy the music or the atmosphere—the “second line.”  Typically those in the second line wave handkerchiefs or twirl parasols in the air. There is frequently exuberant dancing, drinking, and general jollity. New Orleans also has a tradition of jazz funerals with a band parading through the streets. These, however, are more solemn occasions and feature funeral dirges or hymns rather than the upbeat music common to second lines. 

            Second lining likely derives its origins from traditional West African circle dances where children formed a circle outside the main circle of adult dancers. As with many West African traditions—like the use of spices in food—this second line tradition came via the Atlantic slave trade. African slaves, during their free time, continued to engage in their cultural traditions. As a result, second lining found its way into funeral processions and other group celebrations. While New Orleans’ various slave codes eventually banned such activities since authorities feared that slaves congregating together might eventually lead to resistance or even outright rebellion.  

            After the Civil War African and African American musical traditions began to merge with white traditions like the brass brand cultural. This fusion gave birth to jazz, among other things. While emancipation meant the end of slavery, it did not mean equality. As whites denied the formerly enslaved access to cemeteries, churches, and other businesses, African Americans created their own. They organized benevolent organizations and clubs. Membership in these clubs included brass bands for funerals and at least one organizational parade per year. The increasing frequency of these clubs led to the development of the second line tradition. 

            As a result, second lining is most common in the traditionally African-American neighborhoods of Treme and Central City. They, however, can generally be found all across the city. Jazz Fest features a daily second line to introduce visitors to this quintessentially New Orleans’ tradition. Second lines range in size from a handful of people to hundreds or even thousands. Any occasion featuring a brass brand frequently leads to a second line. The past few years at the DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil has featured a second line. New Orleans, naturally, has a second line season that lasts throughout most of the year. It takes breaks for Mardi Gras—that’s a whole separate parading season—and during the hottest parts of the summer. Some parades are spontaneous and others are planned. Longer parades often make stops, commonly at bars, with food and drinks for members and participants. Most recently, New Orleanians have held second lines in honor of chef Leah Chase and legendary musician Dr. John—both of whom recently passed away.  

            So the next time you see a second line, join in! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Southern Food and Beverage Museum

           New Orleans has long been a center of culinary creativity in the United States, merging the city’s diverse ethnic and culinary traditions into a cohesive whole.  The city has also been at the forefront of preserving the history of food in the United States.  The Southern Food and Beverage Museum, founded in 2004, seeks to explore the culinary history of the American South, including the origins of Southern food and drinks.  

            The museum’s first exhibit opened in June 2004, at a temporary location, about the history of New Orleans beverages. Later exhibits included an examination of the revival of the New Orleans restaurant scene following Hurricane Katrina. Thanks to the museum’s growing popularity, they found a permanent home at the Riverwalk Marketplace in June 2008. Six years later, in September 2014, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum opened its doors in Central City. The permanent home includes Toups South, a restaurant run by local chef Isaac Toups, an archival research center, and an events space. 

Inside the Food and Beverage Museum 

            The current exhibits include: 

The Leah Chase Louisiana Gallery: Named after the restaurant legend who died last week, the exhibit focuses on the food and traditions of Louisiana including beignets, crawfish, jambalaya, and Cajun and Creole cuisine. The Museum is currently pushing for the city of New Orleans to rename Lee Circle in Chase's honor. 
Tout de Sweet: All About Sugar: This exhibit looks at the history of sugar in Louisiana and around the world. 
Capturing the Coast: Eating from the Gulf: The Gulf of Mexico is essential to the history of New Orleans and its food. This exhibit explores food of the gulf, the history of Gulf fish and fishermen, and the environmental impact of disasters like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  
The Delgado Community College Culinary Arts Program: For years, Delgado Community College has had a thriving culinary arts program that has taught thousands of New Orleanians about the city’s culinary traditions. 
Red Bean City: Red beans and rice is inseparable from New Orleans and Camellia Beans tells the story of the rise of the humble red kidney bean. 
The lights outside Al Copeland's house 
Creative Kitchen of Al Copeland: Al Copeland was a New Orleans food legend. The exhibit takes guests through his life of creating Popeye’s spicy fried chicken, opening a series of restaurants, famously decorating his house with Christmas lights. 
Gallery of the South: States of Taste: Curated by residents of each Southern state, the exhibits highlight the food traditions that are unique but also contribute to a regional “Southern” food culture. 
Galatoire's Restaurant: An Exhibit: You can’t tell the history of New Orleans restaurants without discussing Galatorie’s. The famed Friday lunches still require men to wear sport coats and the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. The exhibit features artifacts, menus, and other mementos from over a hundred years of history. 
The Menu Project: An ongoing project that collects menus from a wide range of restaurants across the South. The projects traces the trends of the food world, cataloguing the rise and fall of dishes and ingredients, and how they spread across the South. 
            The next time you visit New Orleans, make sure to carve out some time for the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, it’s well worth the trip. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Leah Chase

            Leah Chase, the famed New Orleans chef and restauranteur, passed away on June 1 at the age of 96.  Born in New Orleans, Chase grew up in Madisonville, Louisiana, the oldest of 11 children. When she was a teenager, Chase moved back to New Orleans to complete high school—since Madisonville did not have a high school for students of color. 

            After graduation, she worked a variety of jobs including for a local bookie and as the manager of two amateur boxers. She also worked as a waitress at the long-defunct Colonial Restaurant in the French Quarter. In 1946, she married Edgar “Dooky” Chase, a local musician whose parents owned a street corner stand in Treme that sold lottery tickets and po’ boys. In the ensuing years, Edgar and Leah began converting the stand into a full-service restaurant. Leah took over the kitchen and combined her experience helping out on her family’s farm growing up and her time spent in the service industry to create a menu deeply rooted in the New Orleans culinary tradition.

            During the Civil Rights era, the restaurant, now named Dooky Chase after her husband, hosted African-American and white leaders. Local civil rights leaders A.P. Tureaud and Dutch Morial often met at Dooky Chase to plan protests. In the upstairs meeting rooms, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders organized the Montgomery Bus boycott based on the work of Baton Rouge activists. All the while, Chase participated in these discussions and served everyone gumbo and fried chicken. The Chases hosted voter registration campaigns, NAACP meetings, and a myriad of other activities. Police and city authorities, meanwhile, refused to interfere with the meetings or close down the restaurant. The restaurant served as a neutral ground for city authorities and activists and shutting it down would only enrage the community further. 

            Over the years, Dooky Chase Restaurant began a local institution in the African-American community of New Orleans. The Chases patronized local artists and musicians, hanging their art in the restaurant and invited them to play. The restaurant also became known for its Holy Thursday tradition. Leah Chase would prepare her famous gumbo z’herbes—a meatless gumbo made from various greens—and fried chicken.  Chase found that food had a remarkable power to bring people together. As she explained, "Food builds big bridges. If you can eat with someone, you can learn from them, and when you learn from someone, you can make big changes. We changed the course of America in this restaurant over bowls of gumbo. We can talk to each other and relate to each other when we eat together."  

            Dooky Chase Restaurant flooded during Hurricane Katrina. Leah Chase, now in her 80s, lived across the street in a FEMA trailer for over a year while she and her family worked to raise money to rebuild the restaurant. After reopening, Chase and her family ran the restaurant under limited hours to prevent Chase from overworking herself. She won about every culinary award imaginable both in New Orleans and across the country. She was the inspiration for the Disney film The Princess and the Frog. Chase famously stopped Barack Obama from trying to add hot sauce to her gumbo. 

            Chase was a New Orleans legend, not only for her food, but for her activism, belief in civil rights, her support of local artists and musicians, and her unwavering belief that food could bridge the differences between people.   

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Opening the Morganza Spillway

The Morganza Spillway in 1973 

           The Mississippi River has been above flood stage for four months. Continuous rain in the Midwest has sent torrents of water down the Mississippi towards the Gulf of Mexico. With no let-up on the way and the increasing threat of the Mississippi overflowing its banks at Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to open the Morganza Spillway to alleviate the problem. The opening of the Spillway will divert the excess water into the Atchafalaya Basin, relieving the flood threat. It will also destroy wildlife, ruin crops, and devastate the crawfish, oyster, and other aquatic life. 

            Since the opening of the Morganza in 1954, the Corps of Engineers has only opened it twice—for 56 days in 1973 and 55 days in 2011. The opening of the Spillway is generally considered as a last resort to protect populated areas from flooding. As the Corps of Engineers prepares to open the Spillway, let’s take a look at the point of the Spillway, its history, and what happens next. 

The Spillway in action 

            In 1927, heavy rainfall that began the previous year swelled the banks of the Mississippi causing the river to overflow its banks. The resulting flood left 700,000 people homeless and put over 27,000 square miles of land under water. In a desperate attempt to save the city of New Orleans, city and government authorities blew up the levee 13 miles south of the city at Caernarvon. By blowing up the levee, they hoped to divert the floodwaters into the lowlands south of the city. Ultimately, however, the detonation was unnecessary. Other levees had already broken upstream that lessened the flow of water towards the city. 

            The following year, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928 to try and prevent future disasters. The law authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to design a system of levees and spillways to divert water away from populated areas during floods, but also keep the Mississippi on its current course through Baton Rouge and New Orleans before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. The Corps of Engineers eventually constructed multiple spillways along the Mississippi River including the Bonnet Carre Spillway outside of New Orleans that directs floodwaters into Lake Pontchartrain. Work on the Morganza Spillway’s levees began in the late 1930s, but was not completed until 1954. 

Graphic from The Advocate 

            The land around the Morganza is well above the normal river level, so for most of the year, the land is dry. Water only reaches the Spillway when the Mississippi rises above flood stage. When the water level is normal, the Old River Control Structure (ORCS) and Old River Control Auxiliary Structure (ORCAS) control the flow of water before it ever reaches the Morganza. ORCS and ORCAS divert excess water from the Mississippi River into the adjacent Atchafalaya River. By sending about 70% of the water to the Mississippi and 30% to the Atchafalaya, ORCS and ORCAS have kept the Mississippi River on its current path. If left to its own devices, the river would have shifted to the west down the Atchafalaya, which is now the shortest distance to the Gulf. 

When the ORCS and ORCAS systems can no longer direct the course of the water, the Corps of Engineers considers opening up the Morganza. The structure itself has 125 gates that can be opened or closed to allow more water to flow from the Mississippi. To open the gates, the Corps of Engineers employs 25 foot cranes to open and close the gates as needed. As the flood waters rise higher, the Corps of Engineers needs to open the spillway before the water rises over it and ruining any chance of lessening the flood levels. 

            As a result, the Morganza has only been opened twice in its history—in 1973 and 2011—and the Corps has never opened all 125 gates. In 1973, they opened 42 and in 2011 only 21. Considering the large amount of water being diverted, the Corps prefers to release the water gradually. 

Flood damage from 2011 

            The opening of the Morganza will cause immense damage to the Atchafalaya basin, which is filled with a diverse range of wildlife, farms, and seafood. Over the years, people—especially the poor—have taken to living in the basin because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. The water will damage their homes and livelihoods. The influx of water will also drive animals of all kinds—deer, bears, turkeys, hogs, rabbits—from their homes, forcing them to seek higher ground that could include roads and residents’ homes. With a lack of available high ground, most will die. The water will also be devastating to fisheries the influx of warm fresh water will kill crawfish and oysters, which thrive in salty, cold water. This river water, which has largely been accumulating near the Spillway, is stagnant and will kill fish or other aquatic life. Birds may be better off, but ground birds and birds in the midst of nesting will likely drown. 

            All of this will be the result of nearly a hundred years of flood control where the Corps of Engineers decided to try and assert its authority over the Mississippi River itself. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

DGA Dining: Bywater American Bistro

            Last year, we reviewed Compere Lapin, a restaurant blending New Orleans, Italian, and Caribbean influences. The restaurant, the brain-child of chef Nina Compton, a competitor on Top Chef: New Orleans, has become one of the most beloved restaurants in the city. Compton and her team have won a slew of local and national awards. Food & Wine Magazine named Compton one of the Best New Chefs of 2017. Eater critic Bill Addison placed Compére Lapin on his list of 38 Essential Restaurants in America. In 2018, Compton won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. New Orleans restaurant critic Brett Anderson awarded Compére Lapin four beans—the Times-Picayune’s highest rating.  The appeal of the restaurant, Anderson argued, was that “Every meal at the restaurant over the past six months has brought a creation that, at the time of its consumption, has had the effect of overshadowing something extraordinary that came before.” 

            In 2018, Compton and husband Larry Miller opened Bywater American Bistro, their much anticipated follow-up to Compere Lapin. The two restaurants differ in significant ways. Bywater American Bistro is located in the Bywater, a formerly working class neighborhood undergoing an artistic and culinary evolution. Bywater is very much a neighborhood restaurant. The simplicity of the name revealing its purpose. The menu features a section devoted to grains as a tribute to the restaurant’s building, formerly the largest rice mill in the country. Now the Rice Mill Lofts house Bywater and residential condos. Compton and Miller live in one of the condos above the restaurant. 

            While Miller manages Compere Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, Levi Raines helms the kitchen at Bywater. A former sous chef at Compere Lapin, Raines oversees the small open-air kitchen with ease. At a recent dinner, Raines, recently named a 2019 Young Gun by Eater, glided seamlessly between plating, tasting, and expediting, all within several feet of the restaurant’s bartenders, who serve the customers seated at the bar. At any given moment, Raines is six or so feet away from customers, while the restaurant hums around him. 

            Like Compere Lapin, Bywater American Bistro’s food shines with well-executed food inspired by a sense of place. Let’s take a look at some of the dishes we tried. 

            The spaghetti pomodoro combines the comfort of spaghetti at home with the precision of one of the nation’s most skilled chefs. The noodles are silk-like in the texture, and the surrounding sauce is combines buttery richness and a delicate balance of sweet and acid. 

            The ricotta agnolotti is a pasta-lover’s heaven. The ricotta burst with flavor out of the delicate pasta wrapper. Swimming a rich and flavorful sauce, we would have been happy to just eat a giant plate of it. 

            The rabbit curry, served with jasmine rice and pecans, rivals the flavor found in Compere Lapin’s curried goat. The bold flavors of the curry match up well with the tenderly cooked rabbit. The pecans provide crunch and substitute for cashews or other nuts found in curries. 

            The spiced Nutella flan is a delightful and surprising dessert. Light and bright, the flan is a wonderful compliment to the rest of the menu. Filling, but not overwhelming, the flan leaves diners with one last bold hit of flavor in a menu full of them. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

New Orleans Accents

Accents. Everyone has one. Our accents are shaped by where we were born, our education level, our class, our race, and a myriad of other factors. Across the United States, different regions have different accents. Try asking for "wah-tah" in Boston or "wooder" in Philadelphia and you'll see the difference.

Then there's the ubiquitous "southern" accent with its slow pace, glideless vowels, and emphasis on pronouncing "r"s, amongst other linguistic evolutions. Accents are both a point of regional pride and a nearly inexhaustible source of humor. Some of it funny, most of it trite.

When it comes to New Orleans, the city has an accent all its own. Centuries of immigration andclass and racial divisions have made the city's accent unique--not just in the United States, but in the South and even within Louisiana itself.

Want to learn more about the New Orleans accent? The good people at Very Local NOLA have put together a handy little guide. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

2019 NFL Draft Recap

Mickey and Sean contemplating another trade up 

           The never-ending NFL draft is finally over and, as promised, let’s take a look at the New Orleans Saints picks. Even though the Saints went into the draft down their first, third, and fourth round picks, they still managed to do what they always do—trade away future talent to meet current needs and believe way too much in their own talent evaluation relative to the rest of the league. 

 Round 2, No. 48 Overall: Erik McCoy C, Texas A&M 

            Let’s start with the pick itself. As we discussed last week, the Saints had a desperate need at center after the surprise retirement of Max Unger. McCoy, alongside free agent signee Nick Easton, will compete to fill Unger’s spot. McCoy also possesses the ability to play guard, making him a versatile addition to the Saints offensive line. McCoy is 6-4, 303 pounds and started 39 games over the past three seasons at Texas. McCoy’s ability to stay in the lineup should help bolster the Saints line which has dealt with injuries to Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead over the past few seasons. 

            So if the pick of McCoy makes sense, then what’s the problem? The problem is the same as it always is. New Orleans traded up to get McCoy and overpaid for him in the present, while also hurting themselves in the future.  Here’s the trade that the Saints made to get McCoy. They sent their second round pick, 62 overall, 202 overall, and a second-rounder in 2020 for picks 48 and 116. Using Chase Stuart’s trade value chart, derived from the value that draft picks actually produce, the Saints sent away approximately the value of the 15th overall pick in the draft to acquire McCoy. As a general principle, teams generally don’t take centers with picks that high. They’re just not as valuable as quarterbacks, wide receivers, pass-rushers, or offensive tackles, who play on the outside of the line and lack help from interior offensive linemen to block opposing defenders.  

Round 4, No. 105: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida 

            Once again, the pick here is understandable. The Saints need help in their secondary, especially at safety. Gardner-Johnson played in the slot and swapped between run defense and pass defense with relative ease. Having players with the flexibility to play the run and the pass is especially important as teams not only pass the ball more, but try to exploit opposing defenses by trapping them in pass or run only personnel. 

            And once again, the price is too high. The Saints traded up again (and for the 17th time in 13 years), this time sending the newly acquired 116th pick and their fifth rounder, 168th overall, to move up 11 spots. By the time teams reach the fourth round, the differences between players are relatively small. And while teams may have players they prefer, there’s no need to aggressively trade up unless you have picks to spare. Instead, New Orleans trusted its own talent evaluation over the fact that they might be (and often are) wrong. Rather than guard against that reality, the Saints stuck their head in the sand again, believing they, somehow, can evaluate talent better than any other team in the league. 

Round 6, No. 177: Saquan Hampton, S, Rutgers 

            Now we’re at the part of the draft where it’s hard to evaluate because players drafted this late are often fighting for roster spots and may not make it to September.  As with the Gardner-Johnson pick, Hampton makes sense as the Saints still have needs in the secondary. Hampton will hope to contribute on special teams and pass-heavy downs. 

Round 7, No. 231: Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame

            Mack certainly fits a need, but can he make the team. In 2018, he only caught 36 passes for 360 years with 3 touchdowns, hardly anything to write home about. He’s a developmental pick, but the Saints, who are trying to win a Super Bowl this year, may not have time to wait around. 

Round 7, No. 244 overall: Kaden Elliss, OLB, Idaho

            Elliss has a chance to contribute on special teams and perhaps as a situational pass-rusher. He’ll be competing against undrafted free agents for his roster spot. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

2019 NFL Draft Preview

           The NFL draft begins this Thursday night. For New Orleans Saints, however, there’s very little reason to tune in. The Saints don’t have a first round pick. In fact, Saints fans don’t have much of a reason at all to watch the draft. As the team has gone all-in to try and win the Super Bowl over the last two seasons, they’ve traded away draft picks for players who can help the team now. Some of those moves have worked, others not so much. 

            So let’s take a look at few picks the Saints have left, what they might do with them, and where all the missing picks went. 

1-30—In 2018, the Saints traded their  first rounder, 27th overall, and their 2019 first rounder to the Green Bay Packers to move up to the 14th pick and select defensive end Marcus Davenport. The aggressive move was classic Saints, pay too high a price for a player the team’s front office loves. In his rookie season, Davenport looked every bit the developmental prospect that draft analysts had described. He was fine, but was he worth giving up value equal to the 4th overall pick in the draft? Absolutely not.

2-62—Hey, they kept this one! Don’t be surprised if the Saints try and trade up by throwing in a pick from the 2020 draft. Ideally, the Saints would trade down and pick up an extra 3rd or 4th rounder, but that’s not Saints GM Mickey Loomis’ forte. Sometimes it works, see Alvin Kamara, but most of the time it doesn’t i.e. every other trade Loomis has made where he gives away future picks in higher rounds. 

3-93—The Saints traded this pick to the New York Jets back in training camp for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If New Orleans wanted Bridgewater so badly, they could have signed him as a free agent a few months earlier and kept their draft pick. Bridgewater barely played in 2018 because the Saints have Drew Brees at quarterback. Why pay such a high price for a backup? Especially since if Brees is hurt, the team is screwed anyway. 

4-132—New Orleans traded this pick mid-season for cornerback Eli Apple. This trade was one of the few draft pick for player trades that turned out well. Apple, who had struggled with the Giants after being the 10thoverall pick in 2016, solidified the Saints pass defense. Lining up as the starting cornerback across from Marcus Lattimore, Apple replaced Ken Crowley and the injured P.J. Williams. 

The rest of the Saints draft picks are in the 5th (168), 6th (177, 202), and 7th (231, 244) rounds. So now let’s take a look at some areas of need for New Orleans. 

Offensive Line—With the surprise retirement of Max Unger, New Orleans needs a new center to anchor the team’s stellar offensive line. Guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford will be free agents after 2019 and 2020 respectively. Left tackle Terron Armstead is a great player when healthy, but always seems to miss a multiple games per year. An effective offensive line is key to keeping Drew Brees upright. 

Tight End— Ever since the Saints traded away Jimmy Graham, they’ve struggled to find a permanent replacement. New Orleans signed 32 year old Jared Cook in free agency and he won’t be around forever. It’s time for the team to draft and develop a tight end for the future. 

Defense—Despite the Saints massive improvements over the past two seasons, they still need help just about everywhere on defense. Another edge rusher to complement Cameron Jordan and Davenport would be useful, especially after the loss of Alex Okafor. New Orleans could also use another safety behind Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell. As NFL teams become more and more pass-happy, having 3-4 effective safeties is becoming more and more important and the Saints just released Kurt Coleman. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019

            The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, otherwise known as Jazz Fest, is a yearly celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans. The festival runs every year on the last weekend in April (Friday-Sunday) and the first weekend in May (Thursday-Sunday). The Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track in Mid-City New Orleans plays host to the festival. The music begins at 11:00 AM and runs through 7:00 PM. Jazz Fest attracts tourists from across the country and the world. It is the second biggest event in the city each year—only trailing Mardi Gras. The festival brings in over $300 million annually. 

            Jazz Fest features hundreds of performers and performances ranging from local musicians to internationally famous rock and roll bands. There are twelve different stages with musical acts playing all day from 11-7.

           The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac were originally scheduled to headline this year's Jazz Fest, but both had to withdraw due to illness. But the lineup this year features artists like Katy Perry, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Santana, Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, Gladys Knight, Alanis Morissette, and Diana Ross.

           Jazz Fest also features a host of local musicians playing everything from jazz to zydeco to hip hop to bounce music. Show up at any day of the festival and you’ll find New Orleans artists like John Boutté, the Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Big Freedia, and a number of Mardi Gras Indian bands. Artists who have performed at the DGA crawfish boil, like the Hot 8 Brass Band and Flow Tribe, will perform this year. 

            The festival began back in 1970 thanks to the efforts of the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association. The Association wanted to highlight New Orleans’ unique musical and cultural heritage to bring tourists to the city—where they would stay in local hotels and motels and boost the economy. The first two festivals, in 1970 and 1971, were held in Beauregard Square—now Louis Armstrong Park—and Congo Square.

            Admittance to the first festival cost $3 and had only four stages without microphones. Visiting musicians stayed at the homes of the festival’s organizers. The next year, however, the crowd began to grow. By 1972, the festival moved to its current host site, the Fair Grounds Race Course. In the mid-1970s, organizers began producing a yearly poster series to promote the festival. By the late 1980s, the festival was attracting over 300,000 people per year. 

            Jazz Fest is owned and operated by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, which over the years has become an important civic institution. The Foundation uses the proceeds from the festival to fund education, economic development, and cultural programs.

            Since 1979, they have donated over $1 million to local schools, artists, and musicians. The Foundation owns the Jazz and Heritage Gallery, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Jazz and Heritage Radio WWOZ 90.7FM, the Jazz and Heritage Foundation Archive, the Jazz and Heritage Center, and the Jazz and Heritage Gala. Educational programs include the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, the Tom Dent Congo Lecture Series, and School Day at the Fest. They provide grants to Raisin' the Roof (a program that assists southern-Louisiana musicians with home-buying costs), the Jazz and Heritage Music and Media Market, and the Jazz and Heritage Music Exchange.

            The Foundation also organizes and hosts a number of other festivals including the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, Fiesta Latina, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, Gospel is Alive!, Jazz Journey, the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, and many others. 

            Every year Jazz Fest seeks to celebrate the culture of Louisiana. Make sure you check it out. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

New Orleans Chefs Recommend Where to Eat

Over the years, we've reviewed and recommended places to eat in New Orleans. We all have our favorites, but it's hard to go wrong food wise when visiting the Crescent City. Rather than have us again recommend some places to go, we thought instead to let some chefs who put New Orleans on the map let you know where they go out to eat.

First, we'll start with Emeril Lagasse. Underneath the polished TV persona that became self-parody with the the incessant shouts of "BAM!", Lagasse possesses a deep and abiding love of New Orleans and its diverse food culture.

Nina Compton is part of a new generation of rising New Orleans chefs. We wrote written about her stellar restaurant Compere Lapin last year, where Compton blends New Orleans, Italy, and the Caribbean, creating innovative and inspiring food.


First at his restaurant Shaya and now at Saba, Alon Shaya pioneered high end Israeli food in New Orleans. He rose to prominence as a chef and partner at Domenica restaurant before branching out on his own.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Christmas Trees in the Marshland

            Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the aid of the Louisiana National Guard deposited over 9,900 Christmas trees into the Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge. Helicopters, carrying bundles of trees, hovered just above the ground before dropping the trees into the marsh. 

            The joint effort has been a spring tradition for over twenty years. In early January, crews collect natural and undecorated trees—no tinsel, ornaments, or lights are allowed--from residents in the Greater New Orleans area. Local waste companies and environmental groups then clean, sort, and bundle the trees together. In March every year, pilots from the Louisiana National Guard—who conduct the drops as part of training exercises—drop the bundles from their helicopters into Bayou Savage. Then workers in the Bayou anchor the bundles into place. 

            Bayou Savage is a 23,000 acre wildlife refuge full of marshes located within the New Orleans City limits. It is the largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States. Situated in New Orleans East, the refuge sits inside the levee system and helps hold back storm surges and regulate water levels in New Orleans itself. It houses a wide range of wildlife including the endangered brown pelican, white pelicans, raptors, alligators, bass, catfish, and the other wildlife you’d expect in a protected marshland. In total, there are some 340 different bird species that call Bayou Savage home. The refuge also features a mix of freshwater and brackish marshes, hardwood forests, lagoons, canals, and bayous. 

            The trees dropped into Bayou Savage provide a stable platform for the growth of new plants. These new plants can then catch silt, cleaning the water and building up the marshes even further. When hurricane season comes, these barriers slow down erosion and most importantly help slow down the storm surge. Refuge manager Shelley Stias explained that “When a storm comes, a healthy marsh will absorb all of that water and slow the wave action down. Not saying that New Orleans will not flood, but it will not flood as bad.” 

            Re-growing marshland takes years, but the decades long effort has added hundreds of acres of marshland to Bayou Savage. As the marshland builds up, there are more plants available for birds and other wildlife to eat, causing a growth in the wildlife population. 

            Captain Richard Suarez of Mandeville echoed the importance of the project. He told 4WWL that “Being from Louisiana, growing up, we know that coastal erosion is a huge problem here. Something I can do personally to have an effect on reversing that or stemming it, is something that has a lot of meaning to me.” 

            When it comes to protecting and growing marshland, who knew that Christmas trees could be such a powerful and effective weapon? 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Saenger Theatre

            Opened in 1927, the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans is home to Broadway musicals, rock concerts, and stand-up comedians. Currently, the Saenger is hosting one of the national touring companies of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical, Hamilton. The theatre, with its famous starry ceiling, has long been a staple of the New Orleans entertainment scene. Throughout its history, the theatre has seen its fair share of ups and downs, culminating in its recent renovation that has restored it to as much of its original appearance as possible. 

            Construction on the Saenger Theatre began in 1924 and was completed three years later at the cost of $2.5 million. Located on Canal Street, the theatre quickly attracted large crowds, who paid 65 cents for a silent movie and a production of a stage play. A live orchestra would accompany both the movie and the play. 

            The Saenger was once the flagship theater of the Saenger Amusement Company. In the 1920s, Julian and Abe Saenger constructed theaters across the Gulf Coast, including in Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans. The two brothers, who began their careers as pharmacists, bought their first theater in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1911. In total, they owned 320 theaters across the South, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico. 

A postcard view of the theatre from 1940

            The Saenger brothers opened and operated their theatre chain during a transformative era in American popular culture. The post-World War I economic boom in America—coupled with runaway borrowing and lending—meant that Americans had more money in the pockets and wanted to spend it on the new entertainments and technologies of the 1920s. The twenties saw the rise of jazz, flapper culture, and the modern film industry. American popular culture soon became obsessed with celebrity as musicians, actors, and actresses became mainstays of magazines and newspapers. Modern technologies like movies, radio, cars, and the airplane transformed the ways Americans sought out and experienced their entertainments.  

            Tapping into this era of prosperity, the Saenger brothers hired architect Emilie Weil (1878-1945), who designed the Dixie Brewery, Pelican Stadium, and the Whitney National Bank in New Orleans, to conceive of and oversee the construction of the New Orleans Saenger Theatre. Using an Italian baroque style courtyard as his inspiration, Weil installed 150 lights into the theatre’s ceiling. He arranged the lights to take the shape of constellations in the night’s sky, lending the theatre an exotic appearance and appeal. Local advertisements described the interior as “an acre of seats in a garden of Florentine splendor.” The interior contained statues, crystal lighting fixtures, and oiling paintings. It had a seating capacity of 4,000. 

            In 1929, the Saenger brothers sold the theatre to the Paramount Publix film studio. The company converted the Saenger into a movie theater and ran it throughout the Great Depression. By 1964, the theatre's management decided to divide the theatre into two movie auditoriums. They separated the orchestra level seating and the balcony into two, making a 900 person upstairs theater and 1,900 person downstairs. In December 1977, the theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Pre-Katrina Interior

            In 1978, the theatre was sold to a group of investors who converted the Saenger into a performing arts venue. At the cost of $3 million, the group restored the building to its one theater set-up with seating for 2,736. Comedian Johnny Carson was the first performer at the renovated theatre. In the ensuing decades, the Saenger would host rock concerts, musicals, plays, and show films with a live orchestral accompaniment. 

            In 2005, Hurricane Katrina effectively destroyed the Saenger. While the building remained standing, floodwaters reached a foot above the stage and filled the basement and orchestra seats. The theatre’s vintage Wonder Organ also suffered some damage. In 2009, the city of New Orleans took ownership of the theatre and leased to the newly formed Saenger Theatre Partnership. As part of a 52 year lease, the Partnership has to host at least 80 shows and sell 100,000 tickets per year. The new partnership also benefited from state and federal aid, tax credits, and private donations to rehabilitate the theatre for $38.8 million. 

            The newly renovated Saenger reopened in September 2013 and has once again become a center of entertainment and culture in New Orleans. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Crawfish Boil 2019: Recap Video

We hope you all had fun at the 12th Annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil on March 9, 2019 at Maison Lafitte in Mandeville. For anyone who missed out or wants to relive the experience, we made this little recap video.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Crawfish Boil 2019: Peeling Crawfish

Just a reminder: the 12th Annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is THIS SATURDAY! That’s right, this Saturday, March 9, 2019 from 12-5 at Maison Lafitte, 402 Lafitte St. Mandeville, LA.

Now to get you properly prepared, here’s Benson to teach you all had to peel and eat crawfish. 

The process is relatively simple, and a well-coooked crawfish should give even inexperienced folks little trouble. Before you start peeling, remember that crawfish boiled live typically have curled tails, such as the one in the image above.  Those that were dead when they went in the boil (there’s always a few) have flat tails and mushy meat.  You can toss those suckers into your pile of shells if you like.

You might have heard of the twist, pinch, and suck method of peeling crawfish.  This refers to twisting off the head, pinching the tail, and sucking the head.  This is the basic method we’re going to learn, although sucking the head is entirely optional.  Most crotchety Cajuns suck the heads to put newcomers off their crawfish, but there’s also a culinary reason to do it and I’ll explain that at the end.

Although these colloquial terms are wildly inaccurate in terms of a crawfish’s anatomy, the two basic parts you need to know about are the “head,” the main body of the crawfish, and the “tail,” the segmented abdomen of the crawfish. 

To start peeling, grasp the head in one hand and the tail in the other. 

Next, twist the head and pull it away from the tail. 

At this point, you can pinch the tail and pull out the meat with your teeth, but that takes some crawfish experience.  Being new to peeling crawfish, you will have more success if you peel the first segment of the shell off of the tail. 

You can then flip the tail over, use your thumb to pinch the tail at the base, and then pull out the meat.

Last, but not least, you can suck the head.  The reason to do this is that most of the fat is in this part of the crawfish and it doesn’t always come out with the tail meat.  Like crabs, crawfish fat is extremely tasty and it holds a remarkable amount of flavor. You also get a good taste of the spicy boil from sucking the head.

See you Saturday! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Crawfish Boil 2019: What are Crawfish?

        The DGA Friends and Family Crawfish Boil is about many things. It's about bringing friends and family together. It's about listening to some awesome local music. And it's also about eating crawfish. But just what are crawfish and why do they taste so good? Let's take a look at the history of these delicious crustaceans and how they've become a culinary staple of south Louisiana.  

          Crawfish season runs from late February through early June. Crawfish live in the wetlands that surround the Mississippi River and its estuaries. In the centuries before European settlement in Louisiana, the crustaceans thrived in the creeks, lakes, and bayous of south Louisiana. Local native Americans collected crawfish by the bushel by baiting wooden reeds with venison and dipping them into the water. The crawfish would latch onto the meat and dangle off the reeds, providing locals with their dinner. 

Watch out... it'll get you. 

          When the Acadians arrived in Louisiana in the 1750s, they quickly learned the value and deliciousness of this local delicacy. These French settlers, who had been expelled from Canada by the English during the Seven Years War, began incorporating crawfish into the cuisine. Over the ensuing decades, crawfish became a staple of Cajun cuisine. The Cajuns even created their own legends about the origin of crawfish, demonstrating just how important they had become in Cajun culture. According to the legend, after the explosion of the Cajuns from Canada, local lobsters followed the Acadians from the ice cold waters of the Atlantic to the Mississippi basin. When the lobsters entered the warm waters of the gulf, they shrank to their present size. 

          The commercial sale of crawfish began only in the late 1800s with the first recorded harvest in 1880. The crawfish, raised in the Atchafalaya Basin, resulted in a  harvest of 23,400 pounds, worth about $2,140 (about $51,000 in today’s money). In 1908, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded that Louisiana produced about 88,000 pounds of crawfish per year, worth about $3,600 (about $93,000 today). The Great Depression of the 1930s drove the price of crawfish down to as low as 4 cents per pound. Technological advancements, including trucking, railroads, and refrigeration, fueled the movement of live crawfish from the rural bayou to urban centers like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The introduction of traps and nets allowed for the collection of greater numbers of crawfish. 

There are entire memes devoted to crawfish. 

          In the 1930s, Louisiana began to cultivate the production of crawfish on farms. Rice had long been a staple of bayou farmers. In order to gain more income, rice farmers began re-flooding their fields in order to produce harvests of crawfish in the winter and early spring. This practice soon spread across Louisiana wherever low-lying ponds and marshland could be found.

          The process of farming stabilized crawfish production. Before farming, the harvest in any given year depended on the water levels in the Atchafalaya Basin. Thus the market fluctuated wildly from year to year. Now with consistent water levels, farmers could control the size of the harvest and stabilize their incomes. By the mid-1960s, over 10,000 acres of crawfish farms had spread across Louisiana. In the decades since, crawfish farms have increased by a factor of twelve to approximately 120,000 acres. Louisiana accounts for 85%-95% of total U.S. crawfish production. 

Hmm... crawfish 
          In 1960, the community of Breaux Bridge was named the crawfish capitol of the world and every year since has held yearly crawfish festival.  This growth in production caused Louisiana restaurants to begin featuring crawfish on their menus. Long a staple of Cajun cuisine, crawfish étouffée became a restaurant staple. With its increasing visibility as a product unique to south Louisiana, crawfish boils became a way to celebrate the culinary traditions that make Louisiana unique. Today, the crawfish industry accounts for seven thousand jobs and 300 million dollars in revenue for the state. 

The process for cooking crawfish has stayed the same over the years (and this may attest to the longevity of crawfish consumption); get a pot of water boiling (seasoned with salt and spices), add the live crawfish, let cook for several minutes. Then eat the crawfish on newspaper covered tables until you can’t eat them anymore. It’s a tradition that we look forward to upholding on Saturday.