Hurricane Evac Breadcrumb Trail

For a man whose motto is "rebuilding New Orleans --- one plate at a time," leaving behind his beloved city on account of another hurricane must have been incredibly painful for chef Frank Brigtsen.

Chef Frank Brigtsen at the stove in June 2007. (Courtesy Gerald San Jose)

But as Hurricane Gustav inched closer to the Gulf Coast threatening Category 5-like damage rivaling that of Katrina, getting out of hurricane dodge is exactly what Brigtsen, his family and kitchen staff did over the weekend.

Miraculously, I was able to track down this native son of New Orleans just before he and his group of 20 evacuated in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday. Below, our e-mail exchange before and during the storm (and before the power went out in Natchez, Miss.).

As to be expected, Brigtsen is cooking to keep hope alive; I was there last year to hear him utter the following zinger that rings through my consciousness like a mantra: "Food is the greatest medium to share with people -- socially, emotionally and spiritually."

Stay tuned for more notes from the evacuation breadcrumb trail, just as soon as the power resumes in Natchez. And if you've heard from someone on the Gulf Coast, feel free to share those stories in the comments area.

Saturday, Aug. 30

Dear Frank:
Just letting you know that many of us are thinking about New Orleans right now and sending our good vibrations. If you are on safer ground and want to do a Q&A via e-mail about what's happening in NOLA, let me know.
All best,

Thanks so much, Kim. We all appreciate your thoughtfulness. We are prepped and leaving at 4 a.m. for Natchez, Miss. (about 170 miles northwest of New Orleans). hTough it too may be in somewhat in the path, it is at least further inland.

We thought we had it all figured out. On Tuesday, made hotel reservations in Natchitoches (a historic town in north central Louisiana about 240 miles from New Orleans) for 20 of us. Then the storm starts tracking there. Friend offers a hunting lodge near Natchez that sleeps 20. Cancel hotel rooms. Get the call that the owner of the lodge is using it for HIS evacuation. Managed to squeeze a few of us in neighboring home belonging to Mom of one of our cooks. Whew. This was at five this evening!

Very impressed by planning and prep this week by all federal, state, and regional governments. Outstanding jobs all around. Also the citizens and merchants have been totally ready and taking care of business. Now all we need is a little luck and grace from above.

Will take your number and try to at least text a bit. Thanks for thinking of us, Kim. It means so much.


Sunday, Aug. 31

Hope you and yours are safe, wherever and whenever you land. Is your group of 20 all from the restaurant? Gosh, there are so many questions I want to ask you.

Hi Kim,
We are nicely settled into our evacuation spot. One of our cooks, Rose, invited us to stay at her Mom's home in the country near Natchez. We left N.O. this morning just after 4 a.m. and arrived 6 1/2 hours later (average speed in this contraflow was only 20 miles per hour -- ugh). There are eight of us from the restaurant here, and some family, and some dogs and cats. We learned many lessons last time out, and this time, we weren't leaving anybody behind.

We had a good day together, exploring the nearby creek and feasting on leftovers from the restaurant.

Will try and keep in touch.


P.S. Hunkered down now and keeping an eye on the storm. Praying for the best.

Frank, I'm glad to hear you're all safe. What did you have to do to secure the restaurant? I can't imagine what was going through your mind as you packed up. If there was one dish you'd make over the coming days as you wait things out and wring your hands, what would it be? I am planning to feature your evacuation efforts in my column on Tuesday. Send recipes, stories, random thoughts -- whatever you'd like the world to know.
Good night.

Monday, Sept. 1

Looks like the City is making out all right with Gustav. Saw the overspray at the Industrial canal. Will have to wait out the water rise and see what happens. Talking about opening the river lock on the canal, which should relieve some of that pressure. Hope they can do that.

Our evacuation day was a busy one. Though we started preparations on Tuesday, the last day is the toughest. Boarding up the restaurant, my sister-in-law's house, and my own took half the day, but we left knowing we did all the right things (I hope!). Just had a wonderful breakfast with eggs, biscuits, broiled homegrown tomatoes, pork chops and venison breakfast sausage! Yum.

We still have power here near Natchez and the weather is moderate -- light rain, 20 mile-per-hour winds. I am already anxious to get home, and so is my dog, Daisy. She got in my truck this morning, parked in the shotgun seat, and was ready for the road. Took 30 minutes to get her out and she was NOT happy.

We'll continue monitoring the rising waters at home, as we know it was after the last storm passed that problems occurred. I know our neighbors in Terrebonne (a coastal parish about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans) and to the west took the brunt of this storm and I pray that the damage was not too severe. Again, I have been extremely impressed with the way all of our governmental agencies have worked smartly and with great cooperation. We have more confidence now.

On a sour note, my fish man's home in uptown N.O. was broken into and badly vandalized. Neighbors alerted the police and the thief was apprehended. So it is good that not everyone evacuates. Each time we go through these things, we get smarter. This time, there are many more people with generators in their homes so they can hunker down and ride it out. Contrary to the mayor's comments about this being the "mother of all storms," I have seen many storms like this in my lifetime and if I had been on my own, I might have stayed for this one. But we are all together here in Mississippi, and tonight I am cooking some marinated pork tenderloins and maybe a whole beef tenderloin. I brought some Louisiana popcorn rice and others will provide salad, etc.

Best to all and I will keep in touch.


By Kim ODonnel |  September 2, 2008; 7:21 AM ET New Orleans
Previous: What's Slow Food, Anyway? | Next: Staring Gustav in the Eye


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Frank Brigtsen, his wife Marna, and their wonderful staff have given us some of the best meals of our lives over the years. We're relieved to hear that they are safe, and hope they and the rest of NOLA bounce back quickly. No doubt the leftovers from the restaurant kept everyone's spirits up during the evacuation!

Posted by: Alan McCutchen | September 2, 2008 3:18 PM

I just heard from Frank Brigtsen, who returned to New Orleans this morning. Here's an excerpt from his e-mail:

House is good, we have power, and LOTS of house guests. Jefferson Parish, where we live, opened at 6 a.m. this morning to returnees, so we left Miss. at 1:45 a.m. (I didn't sleep a wink last night). Traffic not bad until the checkpoint that turned us back until 6 a.m. We had a caravan of four cars. We met up with my Mom and sister while pulled over on the side of the interstate. We arrived early and had to wait with hundreds of other cars.

We are so happy to be home! A/C, lights, TV, computer, refrigerator, all the modern comforts. Our wonderful local grocery store was open this morning, as promised, and the shelves were picked bare in no time. Breaux Mart may be one of only 2 or 3 stores open at this time. Thanks to my sweet niece Sophie, we made groceries. Everyone is napping now - in the beds, on the couches, and on the easy chair. I have been taking down hurricane boards and removing some debris.

We are very blessed to be enjoying the comforts of home and are trying to keep in touch with our family of staff. Tonight or in the morning I will be able to visit the restaurant and assess that situation. Tomorrow we will decide whether to open Fri & Sat or wait until next week. Lots of factors involved - the status of our coolers, equipment, etc., available staff, food supply, communications, etc. We have staff members stretched form Colorado to Memphis to Florida. The biggest issue in New Orleans right now is electrical power. Less than half the city has it. Thirteen of the 14 major transmission trunks in southern Louisiana are inoperable as of now. We need business infrastructure to get back in working order as well - groceries, gas stations, banks, all the things we take for granted in our lives. Thankfully, we were blessed with little or no damage at this point and we pray for those that got hit hard. A special thank you to all Americans for their care, concern, and support.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 3, 2008 2:32 PM

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