New Orleans is considered a great restaurant town not only because it has its own cuisine, but also because plenty of talented chefs are there to put their personal stamp on it. Gerard Maras of Ralph’s on the Park (see page 17) is certainly one of them. But you can meet a bunch more courtesy of Joseph Carey in his Creole Nouvelle: Contemporary Creole Cookery (Taylor Trade Publishing, $29.95).
Carey, a New Orleans native who now heads the Memphis Culinary Academy, has come up with a slick approach to cookbook writing here. This volume includes many traditional Creole recipes—Carey handles these himself—plus inventive takes on them from five top New Orleans chefs: Susan Spicer of Bayona; Peter Vasquez from Marisol; Anne Kearney, formerly of Peristyle; Donald Link of Herbsaint; and John Harris of Lilette.
There’s plenty of culinary firepower in this group, to be sure. But Carey’s got some cooking chops of his own, plus an enviable attitude about why Creole food needed some contemporizing by his distinguished friends.
"The best of the genre (original Creole) was to be found in restaurants owned or run by creative, professionally trained chefs who observed classical techniques, were emphatically not cooking in France or Spain or Italy, and used only the freshest ingredients with an eye to appearance and taste, as well as nutrition." Carey begins. "Unfortunately, what we have termed ‘Creole’ cuisine over the years has become kind of tired and banal. It has lost its innovative, eclectic verve. Repetition and imitation to curry favor with the tourist dollar was the whoop de jour. That era has come to an end, folks."
Indeed. "Not that there is anything wrong with any of those dishes when well made. Quite the contrary," Carey notes. However, "you are unlikely to find many of these dishes at any of the restaurants that contributed to this book. If you do the version will be vastly different from the traditional version."
So what you get is a terrific cuisine that’s been reinterpreted by an imaginative new generation of New Orleans chefs. "I think the five chefs who appear in this book represent the very best of contemporary New Orleans cookery—a cuisine that can stand up tall to anything being done in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago."
All in all, it’s quite a collection. And future cookbook authors take note: this book’s all-star cast approach is one worth exploring on other topics.