I gave Treme a shot for its first two seasons. This was mainly because I failed to believe, or wanted to believe, that the same group behind The Wire could be this awful at telling one of the easiest and most compelling stories of the young 21st Century. Early on Treme focused on telling the culinary side of the Katrina epic. Most importantly, telling it correctly. They even brought in Anthony Bourdain, to consult in order to make the restaurant and kitchen scenes authentic.
Unfortunately and infuriatingly, they got the post-Katrina culinary story as wrong as a well done steak. I stopped watching after episode 1 of Season 3 and here is why.
According to Treme, Janette Desautel owned a popular Uptown-ish restaurant prior to Katrina. After Katrina, her restaurant was able to re-open quickly and she soon had dining rooms full of New Orleans locals and world-class chefs. Then boom, she runs out of money and has to close.
STOP RIGHT THERE
If a restaurant was able to open fairly quickly after Katrina and you were a good enough chef to attract Colicchio and Chefs, you would not have ever closed due to lack of money. End of discussion. First of all, you would have been booked solid. Any no shows would promptly be replaced by people waiting in the bar. The citizenry of New Orleans took to open restaurants like a moth to flame. Mostly, this can be attributed to many people not having kitchens at home, so dining out became the default option.
Secondly, people were going out to chat with neighbors, learn about insurance hangups, socialize and drink. Guess what is one of the leading revenue and profit drivers of a restaurant? Ding, Ding, Ding, booze. So a restaurant may have been only able to serve meatloaf or chicken salad, but they would have sold say $50 of cocktails or wine per table. Expenses would have been lower as labor costs were limited by the simple unavailability of it. While Janette may not have been able to buy a Porsche, she would have been able to keep the lights on and the doors open.
Thirdly, the logical thing for chefs in New Orleans was to expand after Katrina. In all reality, Desautel would have had a second restaurant under construction and plans for a charcuterie line within one year after Katrina. Did anyone on Treme's much vaunted writing staff even pick up the phone and talk with a New Orleans chef?
After losing her restaurant, Desautel then exiles herself to New York. She throws a drink at Alan Richman, works for David Chang, and eventually feels the tug back to New Orleans. Make no mistake what the implication is here. It is not that she wanted to leave New Orleans; or start over. That happened and still happens with chefs, lawyers, plumbers, teachers, you name it. What Treme implies, with a heavy hand, is that Janette had to go to New York to be a better chef and businesswomen. That a chef in New Orleans just isn't skilled enough to be successful at running a "real" restaurant.
You see, she was just a hayseed. Just a Cajun-Creole girl who gosh darn it could cook well enough for New Orleans before Katrina, but not after. The Richman drink throwing scene was completely undone, by proving his point throughout the rest of Treme: that New Orleans isn't a good town for chefs or food. According to Treme, in order to be legitimized, Desautel needed the blessing of the New York Chef Mafia. She needed to learn about hydrocolloids or cooking with pork fat under the tutelage of the chefs Treme's writers think are important. This is such utter horseshit.
New York is an excellent restaurant town, to be sure. And there is always something to learn from others, but spare us the protective custodian of helpless New Orleans angle. We didn't need your blessing, and we certainly did not need you dumping the lower half of Williamsburg into the Bywater like a trash barge looking for a port.
You got the story wrong. You got it horribly wrong. Why don't you just shift it and put Desautels in a food truck slinging free range goat ramen in the parking lot of a Brooklyn haberdasher. Worse you already explored this exact "New York as the gateway to New Orleans" story with Delmond Lambreaux. On top of being incorrect, it is redundant. Your story of New Orleans' culinary reemergence after Katrina is about New York, not about anything that happened down here.
Before you jump down the comment throat and say, "Lighten up, its TV," that isn't the point. Reality TV is staged, sitcoms and dramas are written, Treme attempted to be some adaptation of what happened in New Orleans. The restaurant industry in New Orleans doesn't get enough credit for what it did after Katrina. It offered refuge, sustenance, and socialization when they could have tucked and ran or hid behind their aprons. Instead of heading to New York or Atlanta or Houston, the chefs, cooks, waiters, and bartenders of New Orleans returned and rebuilt. For that they deserve our gratitude and an honest assessment of their story. Treme failed to do so.