Peter and I are both fans of Hell’s Kitchen. This week, New Orleans chef Robert was in serious threat of elimination and for the first time I was concerned. Because as much as we dislike New Orleans, Peter and I love New Orleans cooks.
On our cross-country trip last year, I have to express again how much I love and admire my fellow countrymen. From Salt Lake City through Boston, from Boston to Orlando, from Austin to San Jose, they are all individualistic, opinionated, and friendly, especially in a way that people from no other country are. The one and only place we disliked and fled as quickly as possible was New Orleans, LA, which is ironic because my brother worked there for many years and met (what I hope) is the love of his life there.
My brother currently lives in Florida, after having been relocated by Hurricane Katrina. Since he’s technically only my half-brother, we’ve only met each other only about 5 times, on occasions centered around serendipity and family deaths, but as the only acknowledged offspring of our father, we have a certain affection towards one another that we don’t share towards other such half-siblings. I called him as we were leaving Orlando, and he asked me if there was anything I might want that he could give. We’d been living off fast food and Dunkin Donuts so I told him nothing would delight us more than a home meal.
I was thinking sandwiches for lunch, but his New Orleans wife, Suzie, made us an amazing meal which I still dream about. Both Russ and Suzie warned us explicitly to avoid the new New Orleans at night, which was splendid advice, given what we saw there in daylight. We had stopped just short of it in Slidell, where our “no smoking” room reeked of tobacco, had a smoke detector with the batteries deliberately removed, sheets with holes in them, and where everyone else (besides us) apparently evacuated the premises at 4 a.m. As bad as that was, as we drove west, east New Orleans looked like a war zone in comparison to Slidell, and frankly, anything else we’d seen.
Russ and Suzie also explicitly t0ld us to go to Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter, where we would experience fabulous beignets. They were amazing, but the rest of New Orleans suited the warning Russ had given Peter to “watch your wallet.” The grifters descended upon our small family as we toured the French Quarter in the early morning, when wiser people (without children) were already working upon getting an alcoholic buzz.
We fled, quickly, towards Texas, but the impression that the one thing New Orleans has going for it is great cuisine didn’t leave me. As a result, I’ve been rooting for Robert, the cheeky and talented New Orleans cook in Hell’s Kitchen. Like my sister-in-law, he loves food and can cook like a god. If New Orleans is hell (and it sure seems like it), at least the beignets and gumbo and muffolettas and all their other food is awesome, and just for that, Robert deserves to win.