The nicest part of my job as Food editor this past year was hearing from readers who shared with me their passion for food and the many ways it touches their lives, be that through cooking, entertaining, nurturing or just thinking about its role in our world.
I really love ideas more than food or cooking, so to meet the people and hear their stories, suggestions and ideas has meant a lot to me.
One such reader is the charming and inspirational H. Jess Walker, who served as chairman of the LSU Department of Geology in the mid-1960s and now holds the title professor emeritus of that department. He still keeps an office in the old geology building, crammed with fascinating books, weathered clippings and research documents, all testaments to a successful career and a life well lived.
Walker contacted me several months ago to suggest a story idea on crêpe fillings, which I thought a splendid idea and finally got around to doing this week. I hope you enjoy the recipes for both sweet and savory fillings for this special story.
More recently, Walker shared with me a book that is among his treasures, and is one of my new favorites. It’s the kind of book that made this job fun for me because it touches so much on our history and food culture in south Louisiana, while also throwing out some outlandish and off-the-wall factoids and tidbits, some of which are of dubious veracity.
The book is titled “Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices,” and it was written in the 1960s by George Herter, owner of a sporting goods business in Minnesota in the mid-20th century. He was also, according to a 2008 New York Times review of the book “a surly sage, gun-toting Minnesotan and All-American crank — the kind of guy who would take his own sandwiches to Disneyland because the restaurants were No Damned Good.”
The same New York Times article describes Bull Cook as “one of the greatest oddball masterpieces in this or any other language.”
Oddball masterpiece, indeed. Herter devotes a lot of space in his book to south Louisiana, New Orleans, really, declaring among other things that: “New Orleans is not a good town in which to eat,” in part because of its preponderance of Italian restaurants, which he declares to be the “worst he has ever eaten.”
He goes on to a praise a waiter at Galatoire’s named William Bordelon for being, “by far the best waiter in New Orleans and one of the three best in North America.”
He claims that Bienville taught the early French colonists how to make a primitive version of an Oyster Loaf, and he freely gives restaurant recipes for classic dishes and drinks such as Remoulade Sauce, Oysters Rockefeller, Hurricane and the Ramos Gin Fizz, which Herter explains was created in 1888 by a Baton Rougean named Henry Ramos.
Whether all of Herter’s anecdotes are accurate, or opinions are valid, is beside the point. What matters is that a book like this has, still today, something of a cult following according to the literature on it, and that south Louisiana cuisine occupies such a prominent place in its more than 300 pages. It’s yet another example of how influential this part of the country really is in the culinary world.
It always has been and, I suspect, always will be.
It has been a privilege to write about local food; and, moreover, to have the pleasure of meeting vibrant, interesting individuals like Walker, to whom I owe a thanks for lending me his book.
I will be leaving the Food section to pursue other opportunities. Sometimes they come along before you are ready for them.
But of course, this Food section will remain in the capable hands it was in when I came to it a year ago and will hopefully continue to inspire you all to try new things and enjoy the rich, wonderful foods that make living in south Louisiana so special.