Interview with Alan Richman

Not long after I wrote the profanity-laced rant on Alan Richman’s GQ Article “Yes We’re Open,” I sent Mr. Richman an email. Although I’ve never done it before, and probably won’t again, I asked for an interview. To my surprise, Mr. Richman agreed, and we worked out a format in which I sent him questions via email, and he replied in the same way.

I was less than subtle in my earlier criticisms of Mr. Richman’s piece, and downright surly when it came to him personally. For the latter, I apologize, both to him, and to anyone reading. I think the more astute among you probably noticed some hypocrisy at work in my ad hominem attacks on Mr. Richman. I was deriding him for pretty much the same thing about New Orleans.

I still disagree about most of what Mr. Richman said about New Orleans and our food culture. I’ll have some thoughts in that regard following the interview. Text in boldface indicates my question.

A lot of the responses I’ve read to your piece, mine included, were extremely emotional. Given the circumstances, you understand that even if you don’t condone it, right?Not only do I understand it, I sympathize with it. Well, most of it — maybe not the mindless disparagement. What troubles me is that the anger isn’t directed at the bureaucrats and politicians and agencies that have let you down, but at some guy who wandered into town, looked around, and had a few words to say. Are all of you really angrier at me than at the people who have lied to you?

How many times have you been to New Orleans, and when was the first time?

I’d guess I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times, probably more, the first time when I was an NBA beat writer in the seventies and covered New Orleans Jazz games. Pete Maravich and I got along extremely well, although you might find exquisite irony in a comment he made to me. He once told me he’d never read anything I’d written.

Prior to your visit, did you do any research, or did you prefer not to bring preconceptions to your work?

Well, I surely had preconceptions about the food, which I’d been eating on and off for more than 30 years. I actually did a lot of research about Cajuns and Creoles, which people who hated that part of my story might be surprised to learn.

You seemed to like the cuisine at August and Lilette, do you have a sense of why? Did you find any other restaurants taking the same approach?

I like old-style food. Truly. I wanted to love the food at, for example, Galatoire’s. I did not. I really don’t think the New Orleans restaurants that are attempting renditions of classic Creole food are doing it well or doing themselves much good. If they were, I might not have felt as I do, that August should be considered the prototype for the next generation of upscale New Orleans restaurants. What makes it so good is that it isn’t selling cuisine that used to be. When I eat most classic New Orleans restaurants, I get no sense of an authentic culinary lineage. I feel as though I’m eating food out of old cookbooks, prepared by people taking shortcuts.

Do you recall anything you ate at the Upperline specifically?

An odd question. Sure. I have notes (but not the menus, so don’t expect exactitude.) Gumbo — which I didn’t love, by the way. Shrimp remoulade. Fried oysters with a spicy sauce that tasted to me as though it had sun-dried tomatoes in it, although I doubt that it did. I also thought I tasted garlic, lemon, pepper and butter. Nice crabcakes on fried green tomatoes. Lots of good desserts.

Have you eaten at Cuvee or Stella! How about Clancy’s, Mandich, or Pascal’s Manale? Did you visit any other “traditional Creole” restaurants during your July

visit or at any other time? I know you mentioned not going to Arnaud’s or Antoine’s in a decade, but how about Dooky Chase, Brennan’s, Pampy’s, Broussard’s or Tujague’s?

Well, every place I visited is in the story. It’s a big city. I couldn’t dine everywhere. I recall that Dooky Chase wasn’t open. I don’t believe Mandich was, either. I really wanted to get to Clancy’s but did not. I did eat at Brennan’s — that’s in the story. Long ago I went to Pascale Manale’s for the barbecued shrimp. I thought it was a flawed presentation, the shrimp incredibly awkward to eat. I hope you’re not going to say that I failed because I missed all the best places.

You mentioned that you doubted the existence of Creoles, yet you met Leah Chase, who certainly considers herself Creole. Was your point that “Creole culture” as it existed hundreds of years ago is no longer around?

I’m about to get murdered again, but here goes. I will concede the following: I probably deserve to be criticized for taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to something that is taken far more seriously by the people of New Orleans than I realized. I should have just come out and said the following: I think Creole culture as it once was clearly does not exist, and while I understand the joy of celebrating what was, I suspect the people of New Orleans believe it still is. Okay, more hate e-mails coming my way.

You also noted that Cajuns were originally from Canada, via France, and seemed to imply that Cajun food was therefore somehow Canadian. That was a joke, I trust? You don’t actually see anything Canadian in Cajun cuisine, do you, one reference to Poutine aside?

Of course that was a joke. Thank you for being the one person who stopped being angry long enough to figure that out.

You wrote a good bit about the “narcissism, indolence, and corruption” of our culture, do you see any positives to our lifestyle?

Perhaps I have more Puritan in me than I know. I find the lifestyle seductive but not admirable. The greatest positive is warmth and friendliness.

One of the things that struck me about your piece was your seeming disdain for “loving the table too much.” Isn’t that an odd stance for a food critic? Am I mischaracterizing what you said?

Boy, that’s a question requiring introspection. No mischaracterization at all. I’ve never been a person who desires to eat excessively. I don’t admire people who do. I’ve never liked the work of food critics who go places in order to eat as much as they possibly can. I’ve always thought our work should be more qualitative than quantitative. I think the ultimate point I was making is that I find a connection between irresponsibility and gluttony. I suppose I could be wrong about that.

Do you know what Cala and Chaurice are?

Trouble ahead for me. Nope.

I think you’ll recognize that the vast majority of food critics who’ve visited New Orleans come away with an opinion that is very different from yours. Do you believe that other critics have either bought into the “hype” surrounding New Orleans food, or, post-Katrina, have decided to “take it easy” on us?

I’m not sure that many of the so-called food critics who visit New Orleans come away with any real opinion at all. Critical analysis is a dying craft, and very little of the food-writing of today is about that. These days, food editors issue marching orders that go something like this: We’re doing a spread on New Orleans. Go down there and tell us the best places to eat. Make sure you include some new ones nobody knows about. Thee writer comes back and announces that everything is fabulous, which is exactly what the publication wants to hear.

Do you consider Commander’s Palace a Creole restaurant? If not “classic Creole,” do you see the Creole influence on the menu there? How about August, do you see “Creole” influences on its menu?

As boxer Roberto Duran famously said in Creole when he left the ring, unwilling to take any more punishment, “No mas. No mas.” I’ve had enough Creole discussions to last me a lifetime.

Has your opinion about Commander’s Palace changed since you included it in

your list of 10 restaurants that matter?

It was closed when I went down there in July. I hope it still matters. I think it’s a New Orleans institution, and it has always done a lot of things well, particularly that jazz breakfast. It might be touristy, but it’s a hoot.

Did you have a chance to visit Cochon, or K-Paul’s while you were here? Have you ever been to K-Paul’s?

I did not get to Cochon, although I heard raves. Would it be mean-spirited of me to suggest that the reason Herbsaint was so disappointing is that Donald Link was concentrating on Cochon and wasn’t tending to the kitchen at Herbsaint? As for K-Paul’s, where I have not eaten, I have all the respect in the world for Paul Prudhomme. I think he was one of the great culinary forces in American history. But I don’t care for blackened redfish, which I’ve eaten a number of times. I’ve never found it an admirable dish

Were you aware that Paul Prudhomme came to prominence as the Chef at Commander’s Palace?

Sure. I knew that.

What’s your opinion of Emeril’s restaurants, and as a separate issue entirely, about his influence on food culture in the US generally? Do you think he’s been a good thing or a bad thing as a whole?

I think Emeril, who I know and like tremendously, has been good for American food and bad for Emeril. He’s a great cook, but who would know? Celebrity restaurants are their own worst enemies. They don’t need people like me to tell them that.

Did you have a chance to visit parts of the French Quarter not mentioned in your piece? (You mentioned Bayona, Galatoire’s, Central Grocery, and parts of Bourbon Street). Where did you see “characterless housing,” and how would you define it?

I’ve walked every block of the French Quarter. I’ve seen it all. I think those curlicued wrought iron balconies serve the same purpose that perfume did in France more than a hundred years ago, when nobody wanted to bathe. They cover up the decay. Yes, there are a few nice places here and there, mainly on the fringes.

Another thing that caught my attention was your statement, “Maybe roux is

magic to locals, but as a thickener, I don’t see that it’s much different

from cornstarch.” I gather your point was that you should be able to taste

the difference?

You can criticize me if you want for not being able to discern some difference between roux and cornstarch that was indistinguishable to me. But I do know the difference, even if so many angry e-mails insisted I do not.

In the quote, you were talking about the gumbo at Herbsaint. Are you saying that the gumbo at Herbsaint did not have a flavor and aroma distinct from something thickened with cornstarch?

I don’t want to hammer Herbsaint any more than I already have, but I distinctly recall sitting there trying to figure out in just what way a roux was supposed to impart a distinct and agreeable flavor.

Have you ever made a roux, or seen one made? Do you understand that the color in gumbo – the brown or in some cases dark brown – color comes from flour cooking in oil? Do you know of a way to achieve that color without

also producing the characteristic aroma and flavor of a roux?

This is absolutely not a commentary on the gumbo at Herbsaint, but it is a commentary on some New Orleans cooking, Yes, I do know an alternative way to achieve such a color. It’s called Kitchen Bouquet.

What Are Your Specific Comments about Brett Anderson’s article in The Times-Picayune?

I think by now you understand enough about me to know I’m pretty immune to negative comments. I ordinarily wouldn’t care what’s said about me in The Times-Picayune, a third-rate newspaper that rose to the occasion after Katrina and has subsequently returned to being a third-rate newspaper. But the article hit me hard, not simply because it was unethical and hypocritical but also because it was a written by a person I had considered a colleague. He didn’t attack my story. He attacked me. I don’t care how tough you are, and I’m pretty tough journalistically, that hurts.

You want specifics, fair enough. Let’s start with one astounding comment made about me by Anderson, who is the Times-Picayune restaurant writer: “When I saw him less than two months ago in Seattle, he mentioned that that he’d recently traveled to New Orleans. I bring this up not because Richman didn’t contact me during his journey south. It’s why he didn’t call. He said it was because he didn’t think I’d like what he was going to write. It can be difficult presenting an opinion to a party who is likely to challenge it, and that Richman actively avoided such a conversation suggests how completely his journalistic instincts failed him. People in the news business have a word for refining their viewpoint through discussion: It’s called reporting.”

Anderson and I were in Seattle at a meeting of the James Beard Association restaurant committee, and his rendition of what I said is essentially correct. Yet it was wrong for him to assume a comment I made to him in the course of such a meeting was what we call “on the record.” It was a private comment, and if he wished to use it in the story, he owned me at the least a telephone call to ask permission. In journalism, that’s called ethics.

He assumes I didn’t want to speak to him because my story would not stand up to the brilliance of his alternative point of view. What a raging ego. Does he think he has become the one essential voice on the topic of the restaurants of New Orleans and no story dare be written without his approval. Why didn’t I call him? You want to know? Not because his opinion would be too much for me to handle. It was because he has ceased being a New Orleans journalist and become a New Orleans apologist. I spoke to many people in New Orleans — chefs, journalists, restaurant owners, restaurant workers. He was perhaps the only person in the city whose viewpoint I did not respect.

Finally, back to this shameful statement: “People in the news business have a word for refining their viewpoint through discussion: It’s called reporting.” Where did he come up with that definition of reporting? Is he that far gone as a journalist? Reporting is hitting the streets for a week, visiting places and talking to primary sources, as I did. He thinks reporting is having a chat with a colleague. I’m stunned that he’s sunk so low.

Look, I can go on and on. The story was warped, filled with name-calling and slurs. I could pick it apart, but it was in The Times-Picayune, for goodness sakes, and I have to assume nobody took it seriously. Anderson has become both vain and unprofessional, quite a combination. I hope that the pressure of post-Katrina coverage is to blame and one of these days he’ll snap out of it.

I’ve read and re-read Richman’s piece a number of times now, and I think that where substantive points are made, there’s less to disagree about than I believed initially. That’s in part because a lot of the piece is not substantive at all. As Richman notes above, not everything he said was intended to be taken seriously – the Canadian genesis of Cajun food, or the non-existence of Creoles – but in the context of his overwhelmingly negative view of the City and our native cuisine, any failure of interpretation lies with Mr. Richman. I think we can be forgiven for not chuckling along with Mr. Richman’s observation that:

I’m not certain the cuisine was ever as good as its reputation, in part because the people who have consumed, evaluated, and admired it likely weren’t sober enough at the time of ingestion to know what they were eating.

Or:

It was never the best idea, building a subterranean city on a defenseless coastline. Residents could have responded to that miscalculation in any number of conscientious ways, but they chose endless revelry. New Orleans fell in love with itself and acted accordingly, becoming a festival of narcissism, indolence, and corruption. Tragedy could not have come to a place more incapable of dealing with it.

And ultimately it’s sentiment like that which colored the reaction to his entire piece. I know that some people, even locals, agree with him about the food at Galatoire’s. I’ve heard critical comments about every restaurant in the City at one point or another, including Bayona, August, Lilette, and Herbsaint (two of which he liked, two of which he didn’t). The real problem that I have is not with Mr. Richman’s opinions about the food.

Is it really a big deal that he can’t distinguish between the taste, texture, and aroma of a roux as opposed to cornstarch? No (though it does make me question his assessment of gumbo in general, and Bayona’s garlic soup in particular. Part of his criticism of the soup was its thickness, which he attributed to a roux; the garlic soup at Bayona does not contain a roux).

Was his misconception about Creole culture that important? Well, yes, to us down here it is. I suspect it’s far less important to anyone living more than a few hundred miles from New Orleans though. And, like other of his observations, calling Creoles a “fairie folk” was apparently a tongue-in-cheek statement too. Mr. Richman’s point appears to have been that the Creole culture that existed 100 years ago may no longer be found in New Orleans. That should shock precisely no-one, of course, any more than one would expect to see extras from Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York parading around Manhattan. If that really was the point of his “I’ve never met a Creole” stuff, I don’t get it.

I also don’t get the research about Cajuns and Creoles to which he referred above. It wouldn’t take much research to determine that Creole culture has evolved over the last 100 years, and it would take about 2 seconds to distinguish a Creole from a Cajun. More focused research might have served Mr. Richman better.

Mr. Richman admitted to not knowing what Cala or Chaurice are. Cala are a rice-cake which originated in Africa, and was brought here by slaves. They were street food, and while not common on any restaurant’s menu, their local incarnation is a creole invention. The same is true of Chaurice, a Creole variety of Chorizo sausage. Not knowing either of those food items does not disqualify you from writing about New Orleans, or even about Creoles, but it is indicative that you don’t really get it. (I will admit that I thought Cala were corn-based when someone first asked me, so I don’t really meet at least part of my own standard).

I am not of the opinion that writing critically about New Orleans should be off limits because of the devastation we suffered at the hands of the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and just about every elected politician from both parties who’ve served here over the last two decades. There’s ample room for criticism, and while it may be poor form to hit someone when they’re down, it’s also the way of the world. I mean, you’re not likely to get a kick from me unless you’re already prone. And unconscious. And probably dead. But I digress.

I think Mr. Richman’s answers to what I recognize were not exactly “hard-hitting” questions give his piece a more favorable overall context. Maybe that’s because it’s harder to be blunt directly to someone than to an entire city. (I know I felt a twinge of what you non-lawyers call “guilt” I believe, after exchanging a number of emails with Richman). He’s not backing off a lot of what he said though, and I found a lot of what he said to be snide comments masquerading as jokes. For the record, not only is stumbling out of bars not my morning exercise routine, I have no morning exercise regime.

I’m glad I got to do the interview, even if it comes across as crawfishing on my own part. I feel just about the same way I did when I wrote that Mr. Richman was a penis, though I’m less inclined to that actual characterization now that we’ve corresponded. I prefer, now, to think of him as someone who just doesn’t get New Orleans, and that’s not a capital offense.

Posted by on November 13, 2006 9:55 AM | Permalink

Comments

Good work, Robert. I linked to you from my blog, since of all the bloggers writing about this, you said it first, and you (repeatedly) said it best. Nice of you to be (somewhat) conciliatory, but I think your original assessment is correct. And yes, he took his lumps rather well, but still. He doesn’t get it.

Posted by: Tana | November 13, 2006 1:41 PM

First, I’m glad that Richman feels that Anderson’s attack was not an attack on his article, but an attack on him.

That is how I feel his article on New Orleans was: not a criticism of the cuisine, but an attack on our city and our entire way of life.

Certainly, if he doesn’t like Galatoire’s, that’s fine. Tell me why, and make me a better consumer. Tell my why you did like Louisa’s by the tracks [sic] and I’ll put that on my list.

His research on Cajuns and Creoles could not have been focused, as you say. I don’t know where he did this research, but when I am researching mission planning for underwater gliders, I don’t look in Time or Popular Science. Perhaps the “dean of journalism” at FCI should polish up his research techniques.

Reading his explanation of his bigoted attack on Creoles, I now have a second possibility. Either he is a) a blatant racist who sees nothing wrong in attacking a race so small that they cannot make enough noise to get him fired, or b) truly ignorant of Creoles. Initially, I had thought no one who would dare attempt to write about them could be that ignorant of Creoles. After reading his explanation, I realize that I am mistaken, and he could be that ignorant. Sad, really; although it does not excuse his bigotry or racism.

He’s never eaten at K-Paul’s? Ever? Please, someone inform him that there are things other than blackened redfish on the menu. Amazing…

Then, he tries to lecture Brett Anderson on ethics, and states that Anderson has a “raging ego”. Mr. Kettle, you are black, as are you, Mr. Pot.

His writing of New Orleans food in general reminds me of the first time the food network tried to recreate “Iron Chef”. They had, as a judge, an actor from the Sopranos, who stated he only liked Italian food. This is not the audience for squid ice cream with eyeball. Perhaps we should just stick a bagel in Richman’s mouth and that would not only make him happy, it would shut him up.

So the conclusions are still: 1) he should stick to writing about food, 2) he should apologize to the entire Creole race.

Posted by: ashley | November 13, 2006 1:52 PM

Nice of Richman to blame post-traumatic stress for Brett Anderson’s rejoinder, but unnecessary. And not important. Anderson’s was a pretty sober estimate of the flaws in Richman’s piece, and of the man himself.

By just reading, you can tell what’s what here:

a) Richman does what many menopausal writers do, which is to go all categorical in his attacks, in the first case, of NO food, and in the second, of Anderson’s character, because only a lack of information can support such a lack of nuance;

b) Obviously cornered, Richman resorts to trying (vainly) to diminish Anderson’s credibility with the dumbest of epithets, such as “third-rate,” “unprofessional,” the “only” person whose opinion he did not respect. (Really? The only one? Somebody help the guy out here. Surely there are other people with un-respectable opinions around). What the poor man probably meant to say is that Anderson’s opinion is one of the few or many he avoided because it is based in fact, which, apparently, is anathema to Richman’s–how shall we say?–impressionistic approach.

c) Among the many things “reporting” includes are hitting the streets for a week, visiting places and talking to primary sources, as well as a chat with a colleague. And much, much more. Just for the record, Alan, we’re always on the record!

d) Re: roux vs. cornstarch, or whatever. I guess you could say the distinction is not that significant, but then you’d have to argue that nothing is really significant. Facts and their implications seem too unwieldy for Richman to lift. Nobody but nobody in their right mind seems to have said that Richman has to like or appreciate the food of New Orleans or write about it lovingly, but after he’s spent some 200 years in the business, we ought not embarrass Richman by reminding him that it really helps if a scorched-earth argument like his is true in an airtight sort of way.

e) Richman tries to acquit himself by saying of Anderson’s piece that it “was in the Times-Picayune, for goodness sakes, and I have to assume nobody took it seriously.” I know of exactly one person who did. So does Richman.

Posted by: Lorem Ipsum | November 13, 2006 5:00 PM

New Orleanian in NY here. He’s not totally wrong, The theme park reference makes sense. But he’s an ass, and I don’t really understand his restaurant choices as a way to judge New Orleans. You could pick out the same number of restaurants in any city – New York even, and be JUST as unforgiving. I don’t even really understand why he went to those restaurants and not others. And yes, The picayune is third rate, but hello GQ is an absurd magazine – so I’m wondering where all his snootiness is even coming from.

Posted by: Ralph Mcginnis | November 13, 2006 11:40 PM

I’m a native New Orleanian and I understand the city (even before Katrina) is not for everyone. I read Mr. Richman’s piece and Brett Anderson’s. What can I say. Mr. Richman seemed to go in with the idea that the city and its food was worthless. I guess that matches the value of his piece.

I hope he learns a bit about his next subject, as well as that some jokes just don’t go over well, whether in print or verbally.

Don’t like the lifestyle? Well, we’re not here for your admiration. New Orleanians live life each day like its the last day we’ll have. It’s not for every uptight, Puritanical person out there, but it works for many of us.

And, while New Orleans needs every visitor it can get, may Mr. Richman stay away. that would be fine with me.

Posted by: Thomas B. | November 14, 2006 7:48 AM

This Q&A; did not give me a better impression of Richman or his skills. He claims he did extensive research, yet not one iota of it shows through.

Richaman is really the Bill O’Reilly of food critics. Why spend the time learning about the intricacies of a cuisine or city when you can come loaded with a blunderbuss of opinions and just start blasting away. He’s food critic as bully — bullying is a lot easier than finding nuance, and hectoring gets more media attention. He should take a cue from his Fox mentor and just start yelling “shut up!” everytime someone disagrees with him. Which, I guess, he is doing.

Alan: we know you can do it. Do some research. Think about what you’re writing. Look for subtleties. Use facts as precision instruments rather than ill-considered opinion as a big stupid club.

Posted by: Curtis | November 14, 2006 7:59 AM

Even I know what Cala and Chaurice are. But, I read NolaCuisine.com. If he’s such a good friend of Emeril, he should at least know what Chaurice is for God’s sake.

This was a good interview and shed some light on Mr. Richman’s snarky comedic talents. One can tell much from a few answers and the way in which they are phrased. One can also tell much from Mr. Richman’s photo. Maybe he should try reporting on soccer. He’s no C. Trillin or R. Olney.

Posted by: Marco | November 14, 2006 8:17 AM

Mr. Richman admitted to not knowing what Cala or Chaurice are. Cala are a rice-cake which originated in Africa, and was brought here by slaves. They were street food, and while not common on any restaurant’s menu, their local incarnation is a creole invention. The same is true of Chaurice, a Creole variety of Chorizo sausage. Not knowing either of those food items does not disqualify you from writing about New Orleans, or even about Creoles, but it is indicative that you don’t really get it. (I will admit that I thought Cala were corn-based when someone first asked me, so I don’t really meet at least part of my own standard).

**so these are foods that no longer exist? are you kidding me? this is what you’re mad about? grow up.

reading your questions sounds like a scholar of medieval minutia trying to play gotcha with someone who merely ate your food and wrote what he thought.

must one be intimate with new orleans history in order to enjoy gumbo? i don’t know who you are or why you are an expert. but as a simple reader this interview with Richman comes off as a petulant child mad that once famous restaurants no longer are. elyse weiner

Posted by: elyse weiner | November 14, 2006 11:14 AM

I’m not from New Orleans so I’m not personally defensive about this, but I can see why Mr. Richman would anger people who are from the city or who love the city.

It’s one thing to criticize the food, which is his job. It’s quite another to make sweeping generalizations about the people who live in a particular place.

To imply that New Orleans is a city full of drunks at this particular time, when the people of New Orleans have shown that they are made of much tougher stuff than that, is unnecessary and uncalled for.

To make light of a culture that is an essential part of not just a place’s identity, but is how many people there define themselves, just because he doesn’t happen to believe in it, is irresponsible.

I don’t think Mr. Richman gets that part of it at all. In his mind, he was just being brutally honest. But he could have been brutally honest about the food at certain restaurants without taking cheap shots at the entire population of a city, who have already gone through a lot of character-testing lately.

Would he also have written an article cracking jokes about the rudeness and attitude of New Yorkers just after 9/11, at a time when the city’s people had proved that there was much more to them than that?

Posted by: KT | November 14, 2006 11:59 AM

In one of his answers Mr. Richman says that “As boxer Roberto Duran famously said in Creole when he left the ring, unwilling to take any more punishment, ‘No mas. No mas.'”

I’d just like to point out that Roberto Durán is Panamanian and he said “No más, no más” (No more, no more) in pure unadulterated Spanish, not “Creole.”

Posted by: Mark | November 14, 2006 1:46 PM

…and, ironically enough, Roberto Durán spoke those famous words where?

In New Orleans. 33-1 that Richman didn’t know that, either.

Posted by: ashley | November 14, 2006 3:50 PM

excusing ignorance as a witty joke does not cut it. especially for a first rate publication like GQ.

Posted by: mark c | November 15, 2006 8:44 AM

I saw his FoodTV show “Dining Around” way back when, and he and the co-host were discussing a restaurant somewhere known as being a “chef’s restaurant”, meaning chefs from the area often eat there, and that this would be a sign of a good place. He said chefs were high school drop outs and doesn’t trust their opinions.

Posted by: mark c | November 15, 2006 11:45 AM

While I can certainly understand why the residents feel that they were attacked personally, they should look at Richman’s past pieces and understand that he always does this type of “reporting.” He’s more interested in being entertaining than informative, and sometimes his jokes may fall flat with those who are among his targets. I distinctly remember one of his first pieces for GQ, back when the Democratic Party was prepping for their upcoming convention in NYC (early 90’s, I believe). Richman prepared a pull – out section that featured hundreds of NYC restaurants, using a small checkpoint listing to illustrate the various memes – namely, easy of getting there on public transportation, cost, and so forth. The one heading that held your attention was his description of how dangerous each restaurant’s neighborhood was, which was illustrated by the number of skulls and crossbones in each ledger. In short, it was hilarious, and you didn’t hear any New Yorkers complaining about it afterward, because it was a fact of life in the city at that time. Perhaps New Orleans residents can adopt the same attitude towards articles like this, and take it as a sign of maturity as a city. Hey, you’ve fared much worse than this – who cares what he thinks?

Posted by: Dmac | November 15, 2006 2:29 PM

Richman is a fussy jackass sent down by a metrosexual magazine to diss New Orleans after New Orleans and Louisiana showered NYC with sympathy after 9/11. It is so outrageous–immoral even– it is really hard to believe.

Posted by: NYc | November 15, 2006 6:56 PM

I’m surprised he didn’t ask “Can’t you take a joke?” Just apologize asshat.

Fussy jackass is right.

Posted by: Tim P. | November 15, 2006 10:40 PM

I just still can’t pick my jaw up off the floor. Still, with the tiresome talk about the city being “subterranean and defenseless,” and “indolent, and in love with itself?”

I don’t think the residents of New Orleans, displaced or not, had much to do with the settlement of the city, so referring to it’s elevation in some sort of snarky defense (like the author’s transparent attempt to berate the Times Pic as “third rate” to defend his ego and minimize the fact that he was hurtful and insensitive) of his vapid, “I’ve been there six times so I’m an expert on NOLA culture, history, cuisine, and all its “shoulds and shouldn’ts.” Please. It would be insulting even if the city WEREN’T hypersensitive to criticism right now, as it emerges into a giant clump of PTSD symptoms.

Outside critics of New Orleans, who don’t understand the cultural fiber of the city, and who drop in now and then to self-promote (i.e. write, to draw attention to themselves)need to back of and take a more humble, sensitive approach to commenting on these things. Sneering at the food in the city is one thing; he obviously ate at the wrong places, because there are some pretty damned good restaurants here. But presuming to dismiss Creole culture as nonexistant? Implying that Katrina’s devastation was in any way “okay,” because “the city should have been built above sea level and not fallen in love with itself?”

Maybe I’ll forward the original article to my friend at the Chicago Tribune, so he can criticize this (and I hate to be vulgar) asshole in a FIRST-rate newspaper.

Ugh.

Posted by: Shannon | November 16, 2006 7:33 PM

Anyone care to make this a petition?

Begin forwarded message:

Date: November 17, 2006 2:00:43 PM CST

To: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], erik_mee[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]

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], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

Subject: A Call To GQ: Fire Your Food Writer For Racist Invective

This letter is a request for the immediate ouster of Alan Richman from his position as food writer at GQ. The formal inquiry, as voiced by its sole author, Noah Bonaparte Pais, but with doubtless support by countless others, is based around the abject bigotry in Mr. Richman’s latest article, “Yes, We’re Open” [November ’06], in which the writer had the following (and much more) to say about New Orleans’ native Creole people:

“Supposedly, Creoles can be found in and around New Orleans. I have never met one and suspect they are a faerie folk, like Leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race. The myth is that once, long ago, Creoles existed … The ‘crab and Creole’ salad wasn’t as interesting as its name—I was expecting a composition that included chopped up Creoles, allowing me finally to glimpse one of them.”

Furthermore, Mr. Richman, in one of several letters sent to me amidst a recent maelstrom of withering criticism, attempted to acquit himself with the following argument:

“Was I racist? A ridiculous claim that I refute outright … Were Creoles attacked in the streets by non-Creoles egged on by me? Have Creoles been banned from public schools? Is there a national campaign underway to relocate Creoles to military bases, segregate them behind barbed wire? Did anybody even stick his tongue out at a Creole? Please.”

Ironically, this radical defense only goes further toward the realization of Mr. Richman’s inherently racist views. Unlike those who flaunt their prejudice (e.g., skinheads or white supremacists), casual bigots do not believe their viewpoints to be slanted at all—they maintain positions which fall within the boundaries of their own self-created mainstream. Hence, when confronted with this accusation, Mr. Richman conjured a holocaustic, Nazi-like dream state with which to contrast his own comments, thereby expressing his own extremist opinion that nothing short of a human rights crisis could possibly constitute harmful racism. That is, in and of itself, the embodiment of casual bigotry, and should be taken as tantamount to a subconscious confession of such.

Needless to say, there is no place in the pages of GQ—or in any other Conde Nast publication, or in any other publication, period—for Mr. Richman’s hubris-fueled hatred. As precedent for a dismissal, please review the case of Kevin O’Brien, former head of 13 stations under the Meredith Corporation broadcasting umbrella, fired in 2005 for alleged comments disparaging African Americans, Indians and Jews, and ESPN’s recent removal of commentator Brian Kinchen from on-air work, after an offhand remark about homosexuals elicited criticism from listeners. Three weeks after publication, the public outrage at Mr. Richman’s article eclipses both these examples.

Another passage from the aforementioned letter provides additional insight into this writer’s warped psyche. Asked whether he stands by his words, Mr. Richman answered:

“I’m very proud of what I wrote, but that’s not a response to your definition of what I should be proud of and what I should not be proud of. I’m proud because this country badly needs a debate on New Orleans — my naive assumption was that my story might incite a lively, spirited debate.”

On two points Mr. Richman was proven correct. His assumptions were indeed naïve, and he has certainly incited a debate: Thousands of people nationwide now want to know why GQ would sponsor and publish hate speech disguised as grumpy gastronomic commentary. Having been libeled 854,155 times over, all currently existing Creoles—both in New Orleans and abroad—are owed at least an honest answer to this question.

Noah Bonaparte Pais

Senior Editor, ANTIGRAVITY

P.O. Box 24584

New Orleans, LA 70184

www.antigravitymagazine.com

www.myspace.com/noahbonaparte

www.noahbonaparte.com

Posted by: Noah Bonaparte Pais | November 17, 2006 2:53 PM

Did you see Regina Schrambling’s “Gastropoda” post about Richman’s a-holery?

It’s undated, but appears on her site:

http://www.gastropoda.com/index.html

“I used to subscribe to GQ just for the food coverage, but that has been many years ago. Judging by the kerfuffle over the New Orleans story, I don’t think I’ll be re-upping anytime soon. Reading about it online made me remember the dismal day I went to lunch when I was still not weight-bearing and a guy walking out deliberately knocked my propped-up crutches off my chair; my surprised friend thought it was ‘like kicking a cripple.’ Maybe the cooking really has gone completely to hell in one of America’s top five food cities, but now is not the time to blare that thought out, not while the people who staff the restaurants are so scattered and so many problems are clearly still far from solved. But in every debacle there is always a laugh, and mine came when I read the outrage over the outsized trout the poor critic was served. I guess he don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speckled trout. And we should all be glad no one attempted to serve him puppy drum. I can read it now: ‘Not only was it not a dog, I couldn’t beat it.’ ”

Here’s hoping someone pointed that out to Richman.

Posted by: Tana | November 28, 2006 8:25 AM

From what I hear Castro is still alive too! This man is so insensative about a Culture so alive and beautiful that Im supprised he even has taste buds. He needs to do his homework before opening his mouth. Tisk Tisk such a professional. But what do I know Im only “ONE” of 8 million Creoles in the world.

Posted by: Liz Fontenot | January 16, 2007 11:09 AM

Alan Richman, wrote “I suspect they [Creole people] are a faerie folk, like leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race.” Umm, hi I do exist, I am 100% Louisiana French Creole. I come from a very large family and have more than 40 Creole first cousins. Appearently he wasn’t even smart enough to try to google to find out if we exist. If he would have done some research he would have easily found the Louisiana Creole Heritage Site. If he wanted proof that we exist, all he had to do was spend less than 10 min on the internet. I’ll make it easier for him:

http://www.nsula.edu/creole/default.asp