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Creole cuisine, developed mostly by the French and Spanish colonialists, remains New Orleans' most definitive culinary genre. There is a wealth of creole restaurants in New Orleans serving up incredible food – many of which are run by talented young chefs who were either born into the city’s passion for sustenance, or attracted to it from afar for the important role it plays in the culture and the natural abundance of ingredients available to them.
Traditional, formal Creole restaurants like Antoine's and Galatoire's, have been popular for well over a century and present classic renditions of Creole dishes, such as shrimp Remoulade and poisson Meuniere. However, "traditional and formal" does not equal "stodgy" or "dull". Friday lunch at Galatoire's is wildly popular and many people show up at 11.30am when the French Quarter restaurant opens, staying straight through until dinner at eight or nine o'clock at night, eating, drinking (people here really like to booze it), and wandering off from their tables to visit friends nearby.
In the Tremé neighbourhood, Chef Leah Chase continues to operate her legendary Dooky Chase Restaurant, the scene of many historic civil rights movement planning gatherings. Mrs. Chase once admonished President Barack Obama for adding hot sauce to her famous Creole seafood gumbo. She said something like "What do you think you're doing? No one puts extra seasonings in my gumbo; it just does not happen."
In May, Chef Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace in the Garden District won the James Beard Award for Best Chef-South. He's one of a new breed of chefs who use the underpinnings of the Creole style in their cooking then use modern interpretations to elevate the form. His shrimp Henican combines sweet, spicy, piquant and pickled flavours into one complex dish.
On Magazine Street, Chef Michael Stoltzfus has turned Coquette, one of the best creole restaurants in New Orleans, into a creative culinary think tank. “Our defined sense of place is the basis of our cooking,” he said. “But from there we thrive on creating new dishes that reflect everything from modern southern (American) techniques to dishes that have global references.” The chef's vegan root vegetable salad with Satsuma vinaigrette, cashew puree and olive praline won him the Best Dish Award in a recent Star Chefs’ Culinary Competition.
Tableau made an instant splash when it opened this spring on Jackson Square at Le Petit Theatre, one of the nation's oldest continually operating community theatres. Chef Ben Thibodeaux showcases regional ingredients and classic French Creole dishes, with personal interpretations that keep things exciting for the young chef. His take on oysters en brochette forgoes the traditional frying of the succulent shellfish in favour of a wrapping of bacon and a sprinkle of Panko breadcrumbs. He skewers them on fragrant rosemary sprigs and serves them with a minimal drizzle of roasted garlic beurre blanc.
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Header photo: Galatoire's Restaurant on Bourbon Street, since 1905 © Louis Sahuc Photography
Have you been to the Big Easy lately? What are your favourite Creole food spots in New Orleans?
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About the author: JylBensonJyl Benson
A native of New Orleans, Jyl Benson has over two decades of experience as a journalist, editor, and writer, with a concentration in southern American culture, cuisine, and heritage.