Last week, Ian McNulty, superstar author, rugby aficionado, and sole remaining friend of the wine guy known as Bloggle, wrote a terrific piece in The Gambit about how trends in the restaurant and food world were gaining a foothold in New Orleans cuisine. The article probes a serious question which I believe to be, "Is New Orleans cuisine amenable to change?"
My answer is yes. Painting in broad strokes here, but the concept of "Creole Cuisine" is rooted in the fundamental principle that people move here. They bring with them ideas of food and cooking. They look around New Orleans and say, "How can we do that here." That is the truest definition of Creole cooking.
I cook red beans pretty regularly, but on Sundays, not Mondays. Sundays are when I do wash as like normal Americans, I work on Monday. Because beans are better the next day, I cook them on Sunday and eat them on Monday. Tradition and practice must adapt occasionally or else we all end up looking like this:
Let's take this a step further shall we and put it into hypothetical practice. In general Antoine's created or refined the concept of the American restaurant. For years, Antoine's innovated, explored, and created. Rightly so, they were rewarded with throngs of business, private rooms, a wine cellar as deep as the Mariana Trench, and accolades from Presidents and Popes.
Then they stopped doing what made them famous. Antoine's settled into a parody of itself. A play in which patrons watched understudies perform the leading roles. (It was once told to me by a member of the family which owns Antoine's, "We dont have a chef. We have cooks.") In the meantime, Prudhomme, Chase, Emeril, Spicer, Brigtsen, and now, Link, Besh, and Garcia have passed up Antoine's in terms of the full dining experience. You want to take a client to dinner, you aren't going to Antoine's anymore.
Look, I love going to Antoine's once or twice a year, but how many times can we all pretend the fish isn't dry, or the steak flabby, or that she just isn't that great anymore. Antoine's has become an old beauty queen. One can still see she is gorgeous, but her makeup is smudged and her dress sticks to her slip.
So what to do? Well, the amazing Jimmy Corwell just parted ways with Le Foret. His cooking skill and talent is a very welcome addition to the New Orleans dining scene. He assembled a very sharp, trained team of cooks at Le Foret who eventually will open their own restaurants (assuming Eddie Sapir doesn't get in their way).
Hire Jimmy Corwell. Leave the current kitchen staff there; they can handle the traditional menu and those large banquets. Give Corwell and whatever crew he can find, one room and one menu. Let him create the next Oysters Rockefeller. Let guests once again feel like they are eating in the greatest restaurant in the world. A juxtaposition of the old and the new. You want Oysters Foch? You got it. A puree of butternut squash topped with a foie gras mousse and truffles? Of course. You have a waitstaff any 3 star Michelin restaurant would pay to have. You added a bar. Take it one step further.
You wo'nt lose your street cred, Antoine's. You will attract younger diners who - let's face it - you need to get a hold of right now before you are a distant memory. Imagine the press, the excitement, the waiting lists. Set the bar again, Antoines. Make your food matter as much as the rest of it. And keep a talented chef in New Orleans. This isn't about trends or traditions. It isn't personal; it is business.