Cooking With Holy Angels
A cancelled Northwest Airlines flight kept me marooned in Memphis airport for several hours on Friday; there was more than enough time to walk the airport from end to end and to discover that there are at least four places for travelers to get a pulled pork sandwich and not one but two places to listen to live music. Now that was a first -- live music in the airport.
After a rerouting to Houston, I finally arrived in New Orleans at midnight, weary but relieved to be on the ground. As tired as I was, though, I couldn't help but notice the smell of mold as I entered the terminal, an inevitable lingering remnant of the storm that turned this city on its head 22 months ago.
There was enough time to catch about fours of sleep in my dorm room at Xavier University before I'd meet my colleagues and embark on our first day on the job. Our destination was Holy Angels Convent, in the Upper Ninth Ward, a low-income neighborhood that's been without a supermarket for the past 20 years. The mission: to cook brunch for a fundraiser that would benefit The Renaissance Project, a multi-faceted community development organization. Led by Greta Gladney, a fourth-generation resident of the Ninth Ward and a mayoral candidate last year, Renaissance Project has been successful in launching two farmers' markets in this supermarket-less neighborhood, and has plans for a third. Plans are also afoot for a culinary training program in the ward's high school.
Word got out that there were a bunch of chefs in town, so the neighbors lined up for a buffet of lemon-ricotta pancakes with a berry compote, scrambled eggs with chorizo, bread pudding with praline sauce, shrimp and grits and a white gravy and fruit salad. There was a sense of excitement and hope in the air; one of the sisters told me that it was the first time the cafeteria had been used since before the storm. We served about 125 people in a few hours, and after we cleaned up, walked out into the parking lot for a stroll through the burgeoning farmers' market. Among the vendors was a man and his wife who drove over 400 miles to sell his peaches and plums from Alabama and a local woman shrimper, selling her shrimps for only $3 a pound.
A quick change out of our chef's whites and our day became two, maybe three, given all that we did until bed, which included lunch at Bayona, Susan Spicer's perpetually creative restaurant in the French Quarter and a crawfish boil hosted by fisherman Joey Fonseca, who's one of the last remaining fisherman of wild catfish, Judy Jurisch, owner of a cooking school called the New Orleans Cooking Experience and Poppy Tooker, culinary diva extraordinaire and head of Slow Food New Orleans.
Sorry to keep this short, but I must put on my do-rag and head out and join my fellow cooks. Stay tuned for more snapshots tomorrow.
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