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Katrina: The Debris // Ingredients

Photo of Gustave Blache III work
"Cutting Squash" from the Leah Chase series by Gustave Blache III. Oil on wood, 2010.

The root of the word “restaurant” is in fact the French verb restaurer​, to restore. And New Orleans restaurateurs, the proprietors, were seen as key figures in restoring the life and spirit of the city. But in those first months after the flood, nobody was sure how or even if the city's most famous restaurants were going to reopen. 

We hear tape from an October 2005 meeting of New Orleans chefs — including John Besh, Susan Spicer and Leah Chase — about how to get the city's restaurant industry back on track. And we talk to present-day John Besh about how Katrina changed the way he does business. 

A consultant from Martin Wine Cellar talks about what it's like to deal with thousands of cases of ruined wine after a natural disaster.

And we hop on the streetcar for a late night ride with New Orleans' service industry workers. 

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WWNO's Listening Post project sent out a text asking New Orleanians about their experiences with food right after Katrina. Here's what we heard:

  • What did you eat that first week after the storm? Where did you find food?
“Tuna for 3weeks. Unfortunately. Walmart was the only thing really open in the Lafayette area” “I was able 2 drive 2 baton rouge” “National Guard helicopters brought MREs on the day the food ran out.” “Mostly sandwiches. We were able to escape New Orleans” “bread & canned tuna the 1st day, Then canned beans the next.” “Lots of peanuts & water stocked up on, as storm was coming in” “I Dont remember being able to eat. I was sick to my stomach” “Hotel food” “Po boys in Breaux Bridge.” “Regular food I went to Jefferson Parish and shopped” “Ruby Tuesdays” “Tacos in Austin” “Granola bars, slim Jim’s & black beans. Food we bought before the storm” “MRE” “groceries with the help of Red Cross cards” “Tessa Steak house in Houston” “Baton Rouge grocery stores.” “My grandmas house in St. Francisville” “House was situated on 2 terraces in Gentilly & well-stocked w/ food & h20. We boiled a dozen eggs on Day 1.” “Restaurant food in Dallas, Texas” “Red Cross, MRE’s and Vienna sausages” “I was at home in Missouri, coincidentally for my grandmother’s funeral. I ate my mom’s cooking and likely leftovers from the wake. Definitely had a loss of appetite, though.” “Ugh. Fast food drive thrus is all I remember.” “I evacuated to my family’s home in north Alabama and had no trouble finding food.” “Can food Had It With me” “IKEA MEATBALLS, BABY! Also a giant pizza in Houston and way too much fast food.” “Chicken. Baton Rouge” “This was not our first rodeo so to speak. We took everything that would spoil and headed to relatives in Alexandria. We stayed there for a week while the Navy figured out what they were going to do with us. Ultimately we were sent to Dallas/Ft Worth where we stayed until the end of November before being allowed to come home to Belle Chasse” “We went to Knoxville Tennessee where we were fed by donations from the Red Cross and we stayed in a hotel for several weeks.” “I was in the Nat Guard @ jackson barracks, the the dome. But in my back yard i always kept 2 huge trash bins filled wMRE, & a 3rd with gallon jugs of water. I had alway joked that if the shit ever really hit the fan, whoever needed it could have, lol…till it happened. On of my semi-homeless neighbors used those supplies to feed his family whose home had flooded. When I was able to check on a neighbor ’s cat, i found that family living in my back shed, so convinced the landlord to let them stay in an undamaged unused apt& they one of many folks we (the guard) regularly dropped off supplies” “I was at my sister’s in Arlington TX so all foods were available.” “Canned and dry good. MREs. Cleaned out our pantry and Red Cross brought water and snacks” “People gave us food from hotel we when 1st.2 Tx. Then 2 cal .” “Family in Shreveport” “Seafood, Memphis” “Nothing out of the ordinary while we were evacuated. We stayed with family friends in Jackson for a few weeks and groceries weren’t really an issue there.” “Went to another house we have in Texas” “fast food .McDonald's”

  • If you were displaced by the storm, what New Orleans foods did you miss?
“Red beans” “Never left! But definitely missed good roast beef poboys until places started reopening” “Tee Eva’s pralines and Snowballs, Domilise’s Poboys” “Zataran’s Jambalaya when we relocated!” “Gumbo, soft-shelled crab, blackened redfish, & Zapp’s potato chips!” “Red Beans and fresh seafood” “I was only gone a month and poboys were the least of my worries…” “Crawfish” “Crawfish” “Popeye’s and red beans and mustard greens with pickle tips and pick tails and ham hocks and corn bread” “Yes, we went from Houston, to Atlanta, to New York. We were gone 9 months while we rebuilt. I missed crawfish more than anything. People tried to feed me” “Lebanon’s Cafe on Carrolton; Juan’s Flying Burrito on magazine; Chargroiled Oysters at Drago's” “Fried seafood po-boys” “Copelands” “Hot sausage pivot” [Ed. note: poboy?] “Hot dog?subway?” “Alligator Cheesecake” “Catfish poboys, which I ate plenty of at Parkway while rebuilding my house in 2006″ “Poboys, gumbo” “Left on 9/1, returned around 9/30. Didn’t think of food, thought about entire lifestyle wiped away overnight more than anything.” “None” “I missed running into people at bars and restaurants, more so than any specific dishes or drinks. Coming back, it felt good to see people you loved - and people you didn’t like! All things familiar were welcome.” “it only took a week to be back in NOLA” “I mainly missed my neighborhood restaurants - we made jambalaya for everyone more than once!” “Fried chicken” “The Popeye’s on Canal St. Best chicken ever. No other location has ever had it as hot and crunchy as they did. I think they used Voodoo grease.” “I cook so really the only thing we missed was Toni’s and real andouille.” “FRESH MILK! Fresh veg! Fresh Bread! Our unit went from the dome to convention center @ we lucky enough to an army"food truck" from N LA& were fed NOLA staples pretty regularly….much to the consternation of guard troops from American Samoa, south Dakota & Kansas” “Red beans. Andouille. King cake. Beignets. Muffalettas. Olive salad. Crawfish. Po-boys. Ro-tel.” “I just missed cooking in my OWN kitchen” “Seafood” “Coffee & chicory” “RB&R, Vietnamese” “Plum street snowballs.” “Poboys, fresh seafood” “Chicken red beans”

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