If you love New Orleans food thank a New Orleans mother. If you’re really lucky that will be your own mother, or maybe, like me, your mother-in-law. But it doesn’t even matter if you’re related.
New Orleans mothers have given a gift to this entire city and to all the visitors here who appreciate food with a sense of place, with character and identity.
Before this goes any further yes, thank New Orleans fathers too. The dads of the city contribute greatly to its food.
But this Sunday is Mother’s Day, and that has brought into focus something I’m forever hearing about as I follow the story of New Orleans food. It’s the inspiration, motivation and devotion of New Orleans mothers that flows through food. I hear about it from people at grand restaurants and little dives, around home kitchens, tailgates and front porches.
Restaurant chefs get the acclaim for setting the pace of New Orleans dining. But any city can brag on its big-deal chefs. What really makes New Orleans food ours is the kind of cooking you find both at restaurants and back home. That is the framework for the city’s reputation as a great place to eat.
New Orleans mothers don’t just pass down the recipes behind it. They set standards, the template for flavor that informs a local palate, that fuels the cravings and expectations and basis for comparisons that New Orleans people always bring with them.
What does it matter if food has a sense of place if nobody recognizes it? But New Orleans people relate to it because this is the food of home, it was the food they were given before they ever had to seek it out.
That goes deep, and it’s one reason New Orleans food can be so evocative, so fulfilling, so unifying in a city where unity can often feel illusive.
Not everyone gets a New Orleans mother. But if you get New Orleans food, if you really love it and appreciate it and know what it means for a city to share it, then this Mother’s Day it’s time to raise a spoon in gratitude.