No Reservations: Anthony Bourdain in Cajun Country
Bourdain and bone.
No Reservations opens to a bunch of guys saying the Lord's Prayer to a pig.
This is not boding well for the swine...
as we'll see later on.
Tony is in rare form tonight. After all, Louisiana is the perfect place for him if you think about it. It's filled with suspect and colorful characters, music, food, and booze. Lots of booze.
Tony says, "Crawfish, New Orleans, the holy trinity, corn. Things get mixed up in New
Orleans. Family, food, bloodlines. But we know where jazz came from. It
came from here."
The first man to really make jazz was Buddy Bolden. If you haven't heard the name, it's because there was only one known recording of him, and that's missing. New Orleans-born and -raised Wendell Pierce from Treme takes Tony to the Eagle Saloon in downtown, where Bolden and the jazz greats played. He explains that jazz is true American art and
demonstrates how European and African music melded to form jazz.
But the food... there is so much food porn in New Orleans. Where to start?
Tony says that usually when we think of New Orleans, we think of Creole cooking, a mix of French, African, and Haitian foods. But there's more. Consider this story:
"Once upon a time some musicians and cooks were out late drunk and dropped by New Orleans' early Chinatown. Later -- broke ass and too lazy to go out -- someone tried to re-create what they ate and made it more Creole. The dish that used to be considered trash food became a meal of last resort. Hence yak-ka-mein, nicknamed 'old sober'; this is usually served on the streets of New Orleans after hours."
Tony then visits Willie Mae's restaurant in Treme. Willie Mae opened Willie Mae's Scotch House as a bar but found something better to sell -- her cooking. Tony tries the red beans and rice and claims they're the definition of something simple elevated to new heights. But the fried chicken is the specialty. Though Willie Mae is retired, her granddaughter Kerry took over, using the same "secret recipe" for the chicken.
Tony goes to Cajun country for turkey wings, crab, and okra. Stuffed and smothered is the way to go. Cajun "stuffed" isn't croutons stuffed inside a turkey. It's stuffed with holy trinity. "Smothering" is when you take French cooking and let it go horribly wrong.
Tony notes that all great cuisine comes from a culture where you have to eat to survive, so he cruises down the road in his convertible to Breau Ridge, the crawfish capital of the world. Tony notes that crawfish was the throwaway last-resort food, but it's delicious. He wants to be covered in crawfish jizz. Ewww...
At a crawfish boil, the paper goes down on the table as the mudpuppies go into the pot.
There's something of a breeze blowing this evening, and it's hot, and there's work to be done. Here in Cajun country, this party isn't a party -- it's the preparty. Nobody seems to cook professionally, but everyone has a specialty.
Toby is cooking a turtle. Was that alive or road kill? Emma is making corn hash, a mix of corn, chopped chilies, bell pepper, and pork.Tony wishes he could tell us how sweet and delicious it is.
More food -- little quails, veal gravy, a crack jar filled with reduction. More food. Everyone doing his or her own specialty. Tony notes that the sophistication of the cooking is "shaming and awesome."
Everybody works; everybody's done this before. At the turtle station, there's a disagreement, but it gets solved.
Tony notes that everyone cooks. Mom cooks every day, and Dad cooks for the holidays -- the glory dishes. Tony pitches in by chopping tomatoes. Then he picks up a beer. Everyone also makes his own wine, and it's not half bad, according to Tony.
Tony says, "Did I mention that everyone plays an instrument?" Finally night falls and pretty soon they're eating all that good cooking. Wait! Is Tony holding a child?
Wood duck. Turtle stew, crawfish stew that's the best thing he's eaten since El Bulli. Tony literally has a food orgasm.
Then... the pig. They talk about butchering a pig at 6 a.m. Tony agrees to be complacent in the murder of the pig. Tomorrow at 6 a.m., piggy goes down.
The next morning at sunrise, weird shit is happening. There's a band warming up, the poor pig is being fed, and then people are giving the pig his last rites. They're saying the Lord's Prayer. To be honest, there's something kinda sad and cool about the fact that these people respect the life that's about to be taken. And there is something about Louisiana where life and death and the living and spirits all inhabit the same plane, so it makes sense about the pig.
Then Tony shoots the pig in the head. Poor piggy. The blood is pouring out, and salt is added to keep it from coagulating. The guys put the pig into a hot bath. They'll turn every bit of the pig into something smoked or cooked.
Tony notes that "they're scraping the hair like Jersey housewives before a weekend at the beach." Tony mutters a Kardashian reference, which makes me love him a little bit more. Tradition demands a toast in respect for the fallen, so the guys and Tony take a break for a little whiskey.
After the brushing, Tony notes that "the pig is smooth as hairless as a pole dancer's taint." Again... love.
There's a precise point where it stops being an animal, Tony says. "I don't know at what precise moment it becomes meat, but it's about when the hair comes off.
As soon as Tony whacks off a section, someone else takes it to butcher it.
Everyone has a part of the pig to cook. Some chick is holding the pig's penis or... tail?
Tony notes that "the pig, having gone gently into that good night, there's nothing left to do but get drunk and wait for the magic."
Tony gets poetic. "This is epic the amount of food. And pork. So much joy from one animal skirts the acceptance of morality. Each station doing something mysterious, timeless, and beautiful with each part of the pig."
He takes us around to all the pig-cooking stations. Hogs head cheese pie (You do that on Top Chef, you win). Organ meat stew that some guy's been working on for hours. BBQ ribs and loin and other tender bits. "Oh lord, oh mama. With different smells coming from all different directions, you just want to touch yourself," Tony notes. "Even Paul McCartney would be conflicted. Oh noble little animal, I hope you felt no pain," he says. We're not sure Sir Paul would agree, but we'll go with it.
Tony eats sausage made from pig blood and rice while still hot. He says, "You want this, don't you? You're a bad, bad person."
He then gets down and dirty, literally, with the poop chute. Well if you're going to eat the whole pig you have to eat this it separates the man from the boys.
Cracklings. And the tail. Tony says he makes the ass jokes around here.
Then Tony spots his true love. "This..this this is the one. I've been peeking longingly at this all day", he says. "This thing began with a dark brown roux, a molten lava of fat and flour, marrow and rib steak smothered in rich brown sauce cooked until tender".
For the second time this trip he's blown away by the depths of flavor and deliciousness that he's rarely encountered anywhere. Tony salutes the pig. "You died for a good cause. This alone made your passing a good and noble sacrifice.
Let there be music and dancing and revelry. Let us be transported to a magical place that smells like pork cooking only to be hurled into our beds to dream of pig, pig, pig." See? he's in rare form. Can all that pork make you drunk?
The next day before driving out of New Orleans he goes to Daiquiri Bay, the drive thru booze place, to get a house special of 190 proof vodka, rum, and everything else in the liquor cabinet. By the way, they also have jello shots to go. But today is all about the daiquiri. And the muffaletta. He notes that its not the locals who projectile vomit in the streets of the French Quarter, as he cabs off into the sunset.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in the South Florida dining scene.