Note: As I indicated some days ago when I mentioned that I’d be writing about this article, I’m going to be using some strong language here. Be forewarned that if you don’t like that kind of stuff, you should skip to another entry. I’ll try and keep it to a minimum, but…
I knew I was in for a difficult read after the first sentence of Alan Richman’s bizarre bitch-fest about New Orleans. “I’ve never had much luck eating in New Orleans” is just the start to a piece that attacks New Orleans from just about every conceivable angle, but which ostensibly asks the question, “can food save New Orleans?” Richman’s answer is a resounding “no.”
I want to ensure that my own bias in this subject is clear: I am what is known in the sports world as a “homer” for the food culture of New Orleans – a person so dedicated to his home team as to defy logic on occasion. I have written before that while we may not have the best restaurants in the United States, we do have the highest proportion of good places to eat, because here more than anywhere we love to eat. There’s very little tolerance for bad food around here, and consequently even the most inexpensive sandwich joint tends to serve decent food.
A couple weeks ago I had a drink with a friend after work. I got to the bar first, and sat next to two couples who were obviously from New Orleans. And when I say obviously Dawlin, I mean obviously from NewAwlins. Want to guess what they were talking about? If you said “food” you got it. Where they were going to eat, what they’d been cooking, what they missed about their Mama’s cooking… You get the idea. This is so common in New Orleans that it doesn’t really merit discussion among locals. “So you heard people in a public place talking about food huh? Gee, were they breathing too?”
I have always pointed to that kind of thing with pride, as an indication that New Orleanians have the proper perspective about life in at least that sense – food is important. Richman, on the other hand, feels quite the opposite. Here’s an illustrative quote:
New Orleans has always been about food and music, with parades added to the mix. (In the North, where I come from, we like to think we’re about jobs and education, with sports thrown in.) Vulnerability goes along with loving the dinner table too much – think again of our old friends the French. It might sound harmless for a civilization to focus on food, but it’s enormously indulgent. Name a society that cherishes tasting menus and I’ll show you a people too portly to mount up and repel invaders.
Mr. Richman is entitled to his opinion in that regard, of course. Lots of people think of food more as fuel for the body than something to savor, to enjoy. And it’s also true that one thread in the tapestry of culture that makes up the US is the Puritan spirit of some of the earliest settlers in Mr. Richman’s “North.” It’s certainly an odd position for a freaking food writer to take, but hey. He’s an award winning food writer, and he’s published in a widely circulated magazine. Again, he’s entitled to his opinions about New Orleans and our food. What really puzzles me about his recent article is how lazy it is. My first thought was when reading it was to wonder whether he has anyone doing research or fact-checking for him. The answer is either “no” or “yes, but the people doing the fact-checking wouldn’t know a fact if it sodomized them.”
Here’s another choice quote that manages to illustrate both the nasty tone and the factual errors rampant in the piece:
I know we are supposed to salvage what’s left of the city, but what exactly is it we’re trying to cherish and preserve? I hope it’s not the French Quarter, which has evolved into a [sic] illogical mix of characterless housing, elegant antique stores, and scuzzy bars, a destination for tourists seeking the worst possible experience. The entertainment values are only marginally superior to this of Tijuana, Mexico.
How do you respond to someone who suggests your home is not worthy of being rebuilt? To the extent you agree with him about that, I don’t expect to change your mind, but if you agree with the factual assertion that the French Quarter is full of “characterless housing” then you’re simply wrong. It appears that Mr. Richman’s experience with the French Quarter was limited to a few blocks of Bourbon Street, which to be completely honest is pretty much what he described. While I might disagree about some of the music being played on Bourbon Street; for example, there are some venues that play traditional jazz, Bourbon Street is designed for tourists. Drunk tourists. Drunk tourists who generally want to buy a T-shirt that says something like “I got drunk on Bourbon Street.”
But the French Quarter is more than Bourbon Street, and in a City that does tend to live in the past, it has predictably been preserved very well. If you walk through the French Quarter, you will see buildings that have been standing for hundreds of years. Many of those buildings now belong to folks who live out of town, but there is, in fact, a vibrant residential community in the Quarter. He may not like the architecture, or the people, or the culture, but to suggest it’s “characterless” is just stupid and lazy.
But it gets worse. After making the ridiculous observation that “New Orleans is one of the best-promoted destinations, and it has few restaurants that aren’t famous (italics mine)” he continues with the following:
Supposedly Creoles can be found in and around New Orleans. I have never met one and suspect they are a fairie folk, like leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race. The myth is that once, long ago, Creoles existed. Certainly there was a Creole cuisine, a fancified amalgamation of French (mainly), Spanish (just a little), Italian (even less), and African-Carribean (unavoidable). The African-Carribean was the kind of fortuitous culinary accident that occurs when the swells eating the food don’t come from the same background as the workers cooking the food. The idea that you might today eat an authentic Creole dish is a fantasy. Turtle soup, crawfish bisque, and fried speckled trout are unlikely to be made precisely as they once were, and the one dish that is faithfully replicated – gumbo – might be Cajun and it might be Creole, depending on whom you favor. I side with the Cajuns, who unlike the Creoles, appear to be real.
This is among the most utterly stupid pieces of food writing I have ever had the displeasure to read. I am embarrassed to put it on my website, but I feel like it’s necessary if I’m going to adequately demonstrate that this piece of facile bullshit is not just offensive in tone, but a display of ignorance that ought never have been published.
So for those of you who aren’t familiar with New Orleans, and our food, I will tell you that he’s correct on one point: this is not a Cajun city. Cajun country is southwest Louisiana, and if you have ever heard a real Cajun speak, you wouldn’t mistake them for a resident of New Orleans. Cajun food is not dis-similar to Creole food in many respects, but it is a distinct cuisine that is largely absent from New Orleans restaurants.
The idea, however, that there are no Creoles, and never were, is wrong. Creole is not a term limited to New Orleans. Indeed, the term was initially intended to describe mixed-race folks resulting from intermarriage and interbreeding by African slaves, native American/Carribean Islanders, and European settlers. In many of those early Colonial Carribean (and also Central and South American) societies, intricate caste systems were developed to distinguish between folks who had varying proportions of “white” blood running through their veins.
As time passed, and as the populations of these “mixed race” folks increased, they began to dominate both politically and culturally. This is a sweeping generalization about populations who’ve been studied and written about for a hundred years or more. I’m not trying to sum all of that research and writing up in this piece, but I am saying that it exists, and is available for anyone who wants to find it. All of which makes Richman’s assertion that Creoles are “fairie folk” no more meaningful than if he’d found a way to fart in writing.
When he says he’s never met a Creole, he’s also undoubtedly wrong, because while our City’s population hasn’t yet returned to pre-Katrina levels, some of the people Mr. Richman met on the street were certainly Creoles. Our culture as a whole is a reflection of the demographics of our population, and that very laissez-faire attitude for which Richman displays such contempt (“food and music with parades added to the mix”) is a reflection of our Creole heritage.
Now it just happens that a good bit of my college history degree was based on studying how indigenous (Native American) and African societies were transformed by slavery and colonization in the New World, so I may bring a bit more to the table than one would expect of the toadlike (seriously, look at a picture of the poor bastard) Richman. But if I were to write about something about which I had no knowledge, I’d at least do a little research in the first place. If I were writing for Gentlemen’s Quarterly, I’d expect I might have someone to do the research for me.
Apparently Mr. Richman had neither the inclination to do the research himself, or the resources available to even the smallest local newspaper. Either that, or nobody at GQ really gives a shit that Richman just made their editorial staff look like paint-huffing imbeciles for printing this crap in the first place.
I’m pissed enough about someone coming down here and shitting all over just about the only economic engine this City has going for it right now. It’s worse that he did so by writing something he either knew was wrong, or should have.
Now to be fair to Richman, he liked a few things he experienced down here. He enjoyed Lilette and August (though he even found something to complain about at John Besh’s restaurant too – he was seated in the less desireable back room); and he liked Cafe du Monde’s beignets. I think he liked the Gumbo at Liuzza’s by the track, as well as their barbecued shrimp. These were very rare concessions in a piece otherwise marked by such characterizations of New Orleans as, “I think people either take to the city or they do not. They buy into the romance, or they abhor the decadence. I know where I stand.”
This is already a long piece, but there are two other instances of lazy reporting in this piece that I feel need to be discussed. The first is that Richman doesn’t have a palate sufficient to distinguish between a roux and cornstarch. Read that again. This is a food critic. An award-winning food critic. Yes, one aspect of his schtick is that he doesn’t know how to cook, and doesn’t have any interest in learning. That, again, is an odd stance for a food critic, but it’s not uncommon even for people who love to eat to prefer to have other folks do the cooking. If, however, you are going to write about food, you must, at a minimum, at least know something about how your food is being prepared. Without that basic level of knowledge, I fail to see how you can write intelligently about the subject.
Which assumes, of course, that Richman writes intelligently; I’ll leave that for others to decide. Here’s the “roux-quote” that set me off:
I can’t say I took a liking to New Orleans Gumbo, finding it dull and one-dimensional, lacking high notes. Maybe roux is magic to locals, but as a thickener, I don’t see that it’s much different from cornstarch.
This guy is the Dean of Food Journalism for the French Culinary Institute, and he can’t distinguish between cornstarch and the kind of roux that goes into Gumbo? Frankly, even a short-cooked or “blonde” roux has a distinct flavor that anyone should be able to recognize over flavorless and tasteless cornstarch, but he’s talking about the long-cooked roux employed as the essential building block of Gumbo. If you’ve ever made Gumbo, or even tasted a decent Gumbo, you know that flavor as the nutty, toasty backdrop to the whole shooting match. In addition, a real Gumbo (and the Gumbo he’s describing is one of the City’s better examples, from Herbsaint) is so far from one-dimensional that I don’t really fathom how he could disagree. And what the everloving fuck does he mean by “high notes?” You know what Cap? Gumbo lacks esprit de corps too, why didn’t you note that?
Again, I can’t argue with someone who says, “I don’t like Gumbo,” or, “I didn’t like the garlic soup at Bayona.” Those are statements of opinion, and you really can’t argue about opinion. If you’ve read this site more than once, you know I really like both Bayona and Herbsaint. Richman described the food at both as “miserable.” We just disagree, that’s fine. But that’s not the issue, is it?
The second and last thing I wanted to discuss was another of Richman’s mis-statements that a few minutes of research would have cleared up. Richman claims that he ordered trout at Galatoire’s (where he says the food is mediocre, but the service and ambiance are great) but was served something else:
I don’t like many fish preparations better than trout meuniere amandine, but what I got for lunch looked and tasted fried rather than sautéed. I’m also reasonably sure that the thick fresh fillet of fish wasn’t trout, unless somebody had landed a fifteen-pounder that morning.
First, a fish prepared a la meuniere means that the fillet is first dusted with flour – meuniere means miller’s wife in French, reflecting the use of flour in the dish. You then pan-fry the fillet (you can say “sauté” but in reality the technique is effectively frying) and sauce it with lemon, butter, and parsley. (Amandine means that toasted almonds are also a part of the garnish). Anyone who expects to order trout meuniere and receive fish that has been steamed is making a mistake. Moreover, it is at least apparent to me that what he’s “tasting” when he says it tasted “fried” is the flour. I have a very difficult time believing that’s what’s going on, that someone with Richman’s credentials could actually not understand what a meuniere preparation involves, but I can’t figure out what else he might be saying. Is he suggesting that the fish was deep fried? Does he really believe that the fillet he was served (which he apparently believed was too big to be trout) was put into a deep frier? Bottom line: this is not the kind of mistake a food-writer who is also the dean of journalism at the French Culinary Institute should be making.
Edit on 11/9/06: Since writing the above paragraph, I have learned that the trout meuniere at Galatoire’s is, in fact, deep fried. I was wrong, and regret the error. I have also learned that Mr. Richman was possibly not served speckled trout, but my point in that regard remains regardless. It’s not something he could have determined by the size of the fillet.
Second, has the son of a bitch never heard of Speckled Trout? Was he expecting to be served some kind of dainty little freshwater trout IN FUCKING NEW ORLEANS? Yeah Alan, we do actually get 15 pound specks down here dude. And even the four or five pounders more regularly served at Galatoire’s tend to leave you with big fillets. How could he suggest that he was served something other than what he ordered at Galatoire’s without doing even a cursory check into speckled trout?
Honestly, I know that I am upset about this article in large part because he slams the City I love. But he could have done his slamming far more effectively by actually taking thirty minutes to read up on the City, our food, and our resources before bringing his toadlike ass down here to piss all over us. There’s more of this kind of sloppiness in the piece, but does anyone need to read further than “I can’t differentiate between a dark roux and cornstarch” to write this guy’s opinion off?
And it’s not like he’s in the majority in his opinion about New Orleans. Food writers from all over the world regularly visit the City and come back charmed by our culture, our approach to life, and our food. Most of those food writers actually know what a roux tastes like too.
I get that some people don’t care whether New Orleans comes back. If that includes you, fine. Please don’t tell me about it, because I don’t care, and frankly I don’t want to hear it. If you do hold that opinion, however, please try to base it on something other than your own fantasy of what New Orleans is, or what our people are like. We are a City with problems, many pre-dating Katrina, and there is ample room for criticism of the way we have comported ourselves both before, during and after the hurricane. But the food culture here is a thing of rare beauty my dears, and something that Mr. Richman’s “North” might do well to emulate.
Posted by on October 29, 2006 2:07 PM | Permalink
Well written, I love the anger but hate why you had to write it. I wonder who pissed in his cornflakes the morning he got up and thought ” hmmmm who should I shit on today, I know – New Orleans they don’t have anything bad happening there” A-hole.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the Governor needs to create a new position : Food Ambassador of New Orleans – Robert Peyton
Keep it coming brother
Posted by: Chicken Fried Gourmet | October 29, 2006 7:12 PM
Glorious. More power to thy spleen!
Posted by: Simon Guerrero | October 30, 2006 7:21 AM
Thank you! I usually like the articles in GQ, but reading the Richman slander really pissed me off. It made me wonder who broke this guy’s heart in New Orleans – which he should be banned from forever!
Posted by: Lisa Noland | October 30, 2006 12:25 PM
Wow. Just…wow. Great piece.
Kicking a town when it’s down, real classy Richman. Hey, if you’ve got some time on your hands, I’m sure there are some tsunami survivors who would love to hear why their home is worthless.
What a dick.
Posted by: Stephanie | October 30, 2006 4:04 PM
I’d also love to know where, on his road trips through Florida 50 years ago, did he happen to come across alligator saugage and shrimp cheesecake like what is served at Jacques Imo???
Posted by: Niki Arena | October 30, 2006 4:16 PM
Nicely said. Moo. MKP
Posted by: Mary | October 30, 2006 6:55 PM
Great response. Richman is an ass.
Posted by: Louis | October 31, 2006 6:47 AM
And yet, if you read his assorted links, he picks Commander’s as number 1
on his list of “10 restaurants that still matter”.
“How do you respond to someone who suggests your home is not worthy of
being rebuilt?” Well, I don’t like working blue, either, but I did it this
To quote Strother Martin: “Some men you just can’t reach.”
Posted by: ashley | October 31, 2006 8:21 AM
Looks like he made several stops at Betsy’s Pancakes.
Posted by: Frolic | October 31, 2006 8:27 AM
You and I are on the same wavelength. Here’s the letter I wrote last night, already on its way to Mr. Richman, GQ Editorial and the Op-Eds at the New York Times and the Times Picayune (I encourage everyone reading to do the same):
After digesting Alan Richman’s absurdly vitriolic ax job on the city of New Orleans, its cuisine and its entire culture [GQ, November ’06], I was left with a few burning questions.
First for the writer: What’s wrong, Mr. Richman—did you lose your per diem lunch money in the slot machines at Harrah’s? Has your wife stolen off with a washboard player? Surely, there must be some source to your reservoir of venom other than a few overcooked oysters and an unimpressed maître d’. As an independent rock critic who lives and works in New Orleans, I know all about harboring unpopular opinions about hallowed institutions; I disseminate them on a monthly basis. But your bitter rant reads less like a balanced critique from a celebrated gastronomic authority and more like the outsider observations of a jerk who’s just jealous that he wasn’t invited to the party. More malignant than merely picking on a scuffling populace, your rank, error-riddled writing is akin to intentionally tripping a hapless cripple. There isn’t a person in this city who hasn’t been through hell in the last 12 months, whether it be from losing their loved ones, their house or simply their job. Instead of pointing out the positive angles to their story—e.g., that 75 percent of New Orleans’ eateries have now reopened, or that several world-class restaurants have since started up—you saw fit to set fire to their rebuilding efforts with overt falsities. You are a heartless arsonist, sir, and for that, you should be ashamed.
To the GQ editorial board—the same people who, I can only assume, commissioned this baseless piece of yellow journalism from an ignorant, admittedly biased author and are therefore left to answer for it: What if I wrote food articles for a swank, Southern-based mainstream fashion magazine and traipsed around Manhattan on the company’s dime back in the Summer of 2002? What if I decried the supposed “newness” of the New American menus at David Burke & Donatella and the River Café; bitched about being presented the wrong bottle of wine only five blocks away from ground zero; whined about the dry franks and lumpy shakes at Grey’s Papaya; and then proclaimed that Spanish Harlem had never existed because I didn’t run into a single Puerto Rican during my limo ride from Yankee Stadium to a hotel on the Upper East Side?
The obvious answer is that I’d be unceremoniously dismissed—the very same action that the gentlemen who steward this suddenly afflicted Quarterly will take with regard to the embarrassing Alan Richman, should they seek to retain even an ounce of the fallow dignity it once so fervently flaunted. Only then will you regain New Orleans’ respect and, more to the point, its growing potential readership.
Noah Bonaparte Pais
Senior Editor, ANTIGRAVITY Magazine
Posted by: Noah Bonaparte Pais | October 31, 2006 11:46 AM
I’m with y’all. New Orleans turned me into a foodie, and Alan Richman can go fuck himself.
Posted by: Tana | October 31, 2006 12:20 PM
Nicely done my good man. Thank you sir for pantsing the little boy and sending him packing. There’s nothing more enjoyable that to be able to remove his head, spine and balls like a surgeon and hand it back on a plate. Well, okay there’s one thing better, reading your piece doing exactly that.
Nola is a better place having you there.
Gee, I’m a born and raised Californian and I know the difference between a roux and cornstarch. A roux is magical. The only problem here is that you have to have a heart and a soul to experience magic. He has neither.
Posted by: Dr. Biggles | October 31, 2006 3:01 PM
I’m still trying to wrap my head around GQ being a reputable magazine on anything–let alone a solid reference on good food.
I thought the only people who read GQ were sexually confused high school boys.
Posted by: Denver | October 31, 2006 11:56 PM
I gave GQ and Mr. Richman a piece of mind today. Obviously I did not agree with his take on the food, but I was more disturbed at his generalizations about the people. At this point I’m pretty sure he is just a bad person.
Posted by: Jeffrey Glaser | November 1, 2006 6:28 PM
I’d love to hear if you (Robert or Noah) get a response from Mr. Richman or the GQ editors.
Excellent writing, you two.
Posted by: Michael | November 2, 2006 10:03 AM
Thanks Michael. I thought Noah’s letter was excellent too. He obviously writes for a living; on that note, you might also be interested in our local paper’s food critic’s take on the article:
Like Noah’s letter, it’s what you get when someone with actual writing talent (i.e. someone who doesn’t have to rely on profanity-laced ranting) takes on the subject.
Posted by: Robert | November 2, 2006 11:35 AM
Well the obvious problem is not with Mr Richman or New Orleans, but with the Canadians who invented Cajun food.
Posted by: arajay | November 2, 2006 1:54 PM
Oh, it gets better. An NYC friend let me on to the Conde Nast email formula, so now 197 CN/GQ employees have a surprise waiting in their inbox. Circle the wagons, everyone — there’s a gunfight a-comin’ to the LA Corral.
Posted by: Noah Bonaparte Pais | November 2, 2006 2:27 PM
I just listened to the podcast of Richman explaining some of his comments about the article.
The idiot actually pronounced Liuzza’s by the Track, “Louisa’s”! I agree it was a very poorly researched piece.
I was a pastry chef and have lived and worked in San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans and France and my husband grew up in New York City. We both agree that New Orleans is the best food city in America. And I believe it will continue to be.
How the hell could he not tell the difference between a roux and cornstarch!
Posted by: Loulou | November 2, 2006 4:08 PM
This is amazing. Creoles don’t really exist anymore? After he spoke with Mrs. Chase? I would love to get her comments. Or maybe some of the Marsalis family’s comments. Don Vappie could chime in. John Boutte might say “here, I’m a creole, I exist”. He thinks new orleans was settled on the river because people think the river is pretty. Please, everyone let GQ know he is now in a league with that pill poppin draft dodging fat ass who likes to make fun of people with diseases.
Posted by: mark c | November 2, 2006 10:29 PM
Bravo brother. reading your screed has calmed me down a bit, since you did the venting for me. I read this article at the Barnes in Metairie and I was cussing so much I had to move away from the family of three next to me. this guy really failed as a journalist. when he talked about Vaughns being in a neighborhood where the roads were destroyed–my neighborhood!–i was like WTF!! The roads are washed away? Did he even come into the Bywater? The roads are fine, a bit pot-holey but they aren’t washed away. A detail like shows that he did’nt even try to write a real piece, he phoned in a venomous hack-job. Fuck Alan Richman.
Posted by: Beau | November 2, 2006 11:06 PM
Alan Richman is a moron.
I have lived in several major cities around the country, and I always notice one thing. . .you can always find restaurants devoted to Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Greek, etc. . .AND to New Olreans-style cuisine. New Orleans-style cuisine has the same draw that international cuisines have in major U.S. Cities. You RARELY EVER see restaurants devoted to Charleston-style cuisine.
Also, the man claims to be a journalist, but he doesn’t even take the time to learn how to pronounce Liuzza’s On the track (He pronounced in Louisia’s!). He is interviewed on a GQ podcast (http://odeo.com/audio/2235181/view), and this is just one of the many ways he displays his ignorance about NOLA. He also talked about the “Trolly Cars.” The TROLLEY CARS?! Gosh, what an idiot.
Posted by: Marisa | November 3, 2006 8:50 AM
Do real men read GQ?
Posted by: barbawit | November 3, 2006 1:07 PM
I’m glad to see that the preeminent food forums of both cities I call home (New Orleans, Chicago) have taken up the good fight against Richman! I’m going to go home, drink some beer, listen to his pukecast, and allow my vitriol to be primed. But so many amazingly creative expressions have arisen to denigrate this louse that I am afraid all the good ones have been taken! 😉
Posted by: Jason | November 3, 2006 2:49 PM
Hi Robert – if anything you weren’t angry enough. Alan Richman has always struck me as a complete idiot about food – this is not the first time he has done this kind of shoddy ‘job’.
I wonder what his French dictionary says that saute means? I wonder if he ever read anything in his life.
I have never had the fortune to eat at any of the top notch spots in New Orleans. Both my lengthy trips there came at a time and in circumstances where I tended to end up eating at more homely places – a few of which were spectacular and some of which were pretty ordinary – about what I’d expect.
It would be fun to feed Mr Richman a gumbo made with cornstarch – maybe it would be gluey and gummy enough to keep him from writing anymore?
I am not planning to dignify or reward GW or him by reading the piece in question…
Posted by: Owen | November 3, 2006 5:43 PM
On Nov 2, 2006, at 1:40 AM, [email protected] wrote:
RE: “I know all about harboring unpopular opinions about hallowed institutions.”
Obviously you don’t.
Best of luck.
Subject: Re: A letter to Mr. Richman and the GQ Editorial Board
Date: November 3, 2006 3:54:45 PM CST
Cc: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], devin_friedma[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
Thanks for your response, however rote. It’s entirely plausible that you were, at one point, an intrepid, relevant reporter; the French Culinary Institute is an estimable organization, its inclusion of you as an ethics professor notwithstanding, and it’s doubtful that the dear James Beard Foundation could have erred a dozen times over.
That said, your piece on New Orleans was so poorly planned and ineffectually argued as to be deemed laughable — if not for its lackadaisical reductionism, libelous bigotry and grave implications of serious sabotage on the city’s one functioning economic engine. Amazingly, you seem not to know (or, worse, not to care) what corrosive effects your high-profile hack job could inflict upon the region and its ongoing recovery. Such lack of foresight and insight into one’s own professional and ethical responsibilities is beyond contemptible. From someone in your decorated position, it’s downright unpardonable.
I thought that by listening to your podcast I might better grasp why an honorary like yourself would choose such a lowbrow approach to his craft. I only grew more confused. You sling hateful hypocrisies as if they were poison-tipped arrows from atop an ivory tower; express unprovoked contempt for a culture you barely understand (your friend Leah Chase is one of your “faerie folk” Creoles, you should know); and wield the resources of a respected, 70-year-old journal as a soapbox for dispensing ridicule and racism in the guise of sardonic marginalization. Not to mention the continual mispronunciation of “Louisa’s by the Tracks,” your second favorite joint in the city even though you don’t know its name (“I’ve never said it aloud”), and your confession of a simpleton’s comprehension about the general tenets of social geography (“New Orleans shouldn’t exist … Why have they built there? Because it’s nice living on a river”). Following your rationale, it’s no wonder 12 million people settled in the equally precarious New York City: Situated as it is, on not one but two rivers, Manhattan must be just swell.
More offensive than your offhand generalities are your misleading, mean-spirited specifics. Could it be that poor Derek Guth, the Parkway Bakery daytime manager you ruthlessly skewer for displaying a photo of his damage, was simply excited to have a luminary like yourself eating in his humble establishment? You liken his ebullience to some sort of masochism: “Maybe the residents of Pompeii had the same macabre sense of fulfillment, pleased that they were being buried in hot ash like none before them.” Were New Orleanians not so busy “stumbling out of bars” and “loving the dinner table too much,” you pompously posit, we could have done more to prepare for Katrina’s unprecedented devastation. Read your own paragraph once more, and then imagine the outcry had someone in 2001 gallingly suggested that the $350 prix fixe at Per Se somehow prevented New Yorkers from properly defending their borders. Your logical jumps would make Evel Knievel jealous.
“New Orleans has always been about food and music, with parades added to the mix,” you oversimplify in the same sorry passage. “In the North, where I come from, we like to think we’re about jobs and education, with sports thrown in.” Might I suggest, Mr. Richman, before embarking on your next sensationalist smear campaign, that you properly educate yourself about the region you are about to excoriate — it might save you and your unfortunate employers from another internationally distributed ignominy.
That is, if these eight pages of repugnant excrement don’t first cost you your job.
Noah Bonaparte Pais
Senior Editor, ANTIGRAVITY
P.O. Box 24584
New Orleans, LA 70184
Posted by: Noah Bonaparte Pais | November 4, 2006 12:24 AM
So he responded to your letter Noah? And that was his response?
What a dick. Good on you for at least getting to him Noah. Great job.
Posted by: Robert | November 4, 2006 5:43 PM
OMG….if that was his response…what an asshole. Go Noah, keep up the great work and to you Robert thanks for posting a series of words that get not only New Orleanians but also others across the great state of Louisiana riled up. This is what the people in this state are about…good food, good family and principles. I know that the people we elect tend to choose which of these three to follow but this is our chance to show the world why we choose to stay here. Its what we love.
Posted by: Chicken Fried Gourmet | November 4, 2006 10:30 PM
“But the food culture here is a thing of rare beauty my dears, and something that Mr. Richman’s “North” might do well to emulate.”
Please don’t tar us Yankees with the Richman brush. Wherever he comes from, he’s no representative of our thinking re NOLA cuisine (which is loved even in the highest towers of Manhattan). If there’s anyone y’all gotta watch out for, it’s them Texans.
Posted by: Joe Weintraub | November 6, 2006 1:26 PM
you made The Food Section
Posted by: Chicken Fried Gourmet | November 7, 2006 7:21 PM
What a gorgeous piece of angry writing.
“It might sound harmless for a civilization to focus on food, but it’s enormously indulgent.”
Geez, I hope the moron isn’t planning a trip to Asia anytime soon.
Posted by: Robyn | November 8, 2006 12:00 AM
Indeed, [“creole”] was initially intended to describe mixed-race folks resulting from intermarriage and interbreeding by African slaves, native American/Carribean Islanders, and European settlers.
“Creole” originally referred to those of French (Spanish – criollo, Portuguese – crioulo) ancestry born in the colonies and then later referred to the mulate community. (There’s a book, IIRC entitled Louisiana Creoles, which talks about this.)
You may be confusing the term with a “creole” language, a pidgin spoken as a native language.
Posted by: Therese | November 8, 2006 12:15 AM
Know what’s funny about Alan’s Comment here? I just realized all those CC’d email addresses are now searchable by google and will be picked up by every spambot that’s alive.
While I realize those addresses from GC are probably online elsewhere, it’s really bad form to publish one’s address like that on a public forum.
Could we expect any less?
Posted by: Dr. Biggles | November 8, 2006 6:19 PM
I think the gentleman food critique, le monsieur, has soundly proved he’s NOT Creole. Perhaps it’s a good thing too.
Posted by: elizabeth simmons | November 8, 2006 8:30 PM
I came across this via Bookslut (I’m not really one to read GQ for its informative, hard-hitting, in-depth articles) and I have to say, I’m pretty gobsmacked. As a native Louisianian in voluntary exile on the West Coast, I have to admit to hurt feelings and a real sense of bafflement at the bizarrely judgemental vitriol in the article by Mr. Richman.
My grievance with Mr. Richman is not about his assessment of the food. It’s about the connection Louisianians feel to our food, and the wanton disrespect Mr. Richman displayed regarding that connection.
I was recently in New Orleans, post-Katrina, and ate at a number of the restaurants Mr. Richman profiled. The food was uneven in quality, and a few of them did not live up to their pre-Katrina standards. So I’m not opposed to unbiased criticism where it’s merited– fair enough. But Mr. Richman’s attack was so personal, and so utterly premeditated, I was left with the feeling that he needn’t have bothered to visit. Rather, he could have simply deposited GQ’s check and written essentially the same piece from New York.
I don’t mean to suggest he owed it to that beleaguered city to wear kid gloves in his reporting; just that he should have remembered what he was there to write about– the food– and left the hurtful, poisonous, misplaced social commentary out of it.
Frederick Douglass said, “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.”
Pity Mr. Richman isn’t more of a gentleman.
Posted by: amanda | November 14, 2006 4:12 PM
Gore Vidal covered this general subject in an essay on “literary bandits.”
He cites the case of a self-promoting “shock” writer beginning a piece by saying, ‘we all know George Bernard Shaw’s plays are crap, but perhaps we might find something of merit in his musical criticism.’
Richman’s approach is of a piece with that approach. No, it isn’t all about slamming New Orleans under the guise of critiquing New Orleans food . It is about Richman making a splash— and it worked with you, didn’t it?
Posted by: Dr. Robert Hellman | November 15, 2006 8:23 AM
Look at those eyebrows… He deserves our pity, not our disdain.
Posted by: Chris | November 15, 2006 2:01 PM
Don’t be too upset. I was furious and hot-headed the first time I read the article too, but he’s clearly an insecure snob (thumbing his nose at the Pic because it said mean things about him, for instance…calling it “third-rate” doesn’t make the things it said about him any less valid) who came down here, was exposed to something other than “the North” (regionalist asshole), and withdrew into himself, criticizing and condemning everything he experienced as “bad” and “different than in the north.” If he wants to try and be smug and “witty” or whatever his intent was, fine. But his assessment of New Orleans as a city (and a historical city) were factually inaccurate. If he cared about the quality of his writing, he would have fact-checked. The fact that he didn’t bother suggests that he cares more about screeching like a 5 year old about how “elite and worldly” he is. Have you read anything else he’s written? He has an asinine, layin’-it-on-thick, pretentious tone in nearly every piece he’s written. This one just hits a little close to home. I hear ya’.
Thanks for stepping up, even if what you said didn’t phase him. It’s difficult to convey emotional significance to a man with so inwardly-focused he’s all but incapable of empathy.
Posted by: Shannon | November 16, 2006 7:51 PM