By now, you are likely aware that Top Chef is coming to New Orleans to film. And if you have been paying attention, there is a lot of discussion about whether or not it was proper for some of the funds from the BP disaster to be used to "sponsor" the series. Anthony Bourdain who has always recognized the brilliance and uniqueness of New Orleans suggested the BP money should be donated back to a New Orleans charity by Bravo. Bravo's Andy Cohen brought in tax rebates that went to Treme. That brought in David Simon to offer his point of view. Read this to catch up.
So if you are scoring at home. A New York food personality, a Baltimore newspaper man-cum-director, and a St. Louis exile who traffics in human reality are lecturing each other on the proper usage of funds received by Louisiana from a British company. This is either a punchline to the worst joke in history or a set-up for a Mark Twain quote. Now this may sound xenophobic, but it is quite presumptuous of people who don't live here to tell us what we can and can't do with our money. Sure, we may be jaded at the end of tourist season with outsiders, but really can you just leave us alone?
I have no problem with BP funds used to promote tourism going to Top Chef to lure them here. This is how the game is played. At least it is a better usage than just putting billboards on interstates or catchphrases tucked inside in-flight magazines. This money from BP was earmarked for a specific purpose: promoting tourism. It can't just go into the hands of shrimpers or fishermen or just be given to charity.
My problem isn't with the expense, its with the expectation. Does anyone really think a person who truly enjoys food and cooking doesn't already know that New Orleans is a good spot for both? Is some guy with a platinum rating on Yelp! Charlotte going to suddenly remember to visit New Orleans and see what the fuss is all about because of a Quickfire Po Boy Challenge?
What is more likely is this will be a retread of every New Orleans travel show or segment. There will be Brennan's. Lots of Brennans. There will be oysters, shrimp, and crab and sly references to "Creole" cooking by Padma which imply it sucks. There will be a second line Elimination Challenge and a Sazerac Quickfire. A Toyota Prius will drive from the Whole Foods Uptown to the swamp to cook alligator in a pirogue while Dixieland plays in the background. A cheftestant will wear a white cap and sling their take on beignets at Cafe du Monde. Katrina will be referenced more than Harold McGee by the cheftestants. Mardi Gras and voodoo will exist in a perfect harmony gumbo analogy.
But this is ok. We will watch and point out to each other how the contrived the Cajun challenge was and how old some chef looked. We are used to being painted with a brush as wide as the Mississippi as being a particular and sacrosanct way. The real problem is every tourist (and local) has their idea of how New Orleans is supposed to be. Like two Italian Americans fighting over whose grandmother made the best ragu. One says, "My grandmother's New Orleans used jazz bands, late nights at Lafittes, and oyster po boys." The other says, "Your grandmother is wrong, its Mardi Gras Indians, streetcar rides, and boiled crawfish."
Neither is right and both are wrong. But hey, at least there is food on the table.