growing good food in new orleans: a city round-up

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New Orleans has its obvious charms, with which I have long been acquainted. Intriguing rumors of post-Katrina changes to the grande old dame I’ve known for so long reached me in Austin, though, so we visited recently to dig a little deeper and found much to surprise and delight: a thriving local, sustainable food movement; creative food entrepreneurs; long time favorite spots holding fast to standards of quality and flavor; and sweet surprises for the culinary treasure hunters. We’re so in love with this city, we’ll have to go again soon — and I’d love for you to share your favorite New Orleans culinary spots in the comments!  Scroll all the way down for a recipe for strawberry & cream cheese-stuffed pain perdu inspired by the Ponchatoula strawberries and Creole cream cheese we found at the farmers market.

Grow Dat! Youth Farm

Nestled on a two acre corner of New Orleans’ beautiful City Park, alongside a bayou under spreading oaks and cypress trees, we discovered this incredible program creating meaningful and supportive job opportunities for inner city high school students through connections to food and agriculture.  At their urban farm, the folks at Grow Dat! are cultivating responsibility, community, and leadership skills along with almost 40,000 pounds of delicious, fresh food each year for their neighbors.


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Hollygrove Market

In the heart of Central City, Hollygrove Market & Farm offers weekly boxes of abundant produce from their own community gardens out front and other area farms and artisan food producers.  We stocked up on leafy greens, gorgeous colorful beets, freshly baked breads, fair trade coffee, local eggs, meats and cheeses and locally grown grits and rice.

Out front, we wandered through the community plots to discover rabbits, chickens, healthy compost piles and neighborhood kids planting seeds and learning where their food comes from, and left inspired by the deep sense of community rooted in this little spot.

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When I eat oysters in New Orleans, I eat them at Casamento’s, an almost century-old restaurant where I’m content to stand in line for however long it takes to inch my way to the oyster bar.

There, Mike Rogers will shuck me a dozen oysters, hands moving in a blur, and I’ll happily slurp them down as a prelude to crispy fried shrimp on house-baked “pan bread” and perhaps even more oysters, broiled with parmesan and garlic, eaten greedily with lemon and a shake of Tabasco on top.

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Crescent City Farmers Market

On Saturday morning, we wake up early to hit the farmers market downtown. There, fueled with hot chicory coffee, we load up on buttery pastries, flats of Ponchatoula strawberries, juicy citrus and just-caught Gulf shrimp and fish to cook later.

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When I picture heaven, it looks a lot like Lucullus.  In his gorgeous shop on Chartres St in the Vieux Carre, owner Patrick Dunne has amassed a museum-worthy treasure trove of culinary antiques for sale: 19th century Parisian bar glasses, 18th century English wooden bread bowls, drawers full of silver, piles of copper pots.

Patrick tells me stories of each piece’s provenance as I feel the weight in my hand of cooks and diners from centuries past and the food and culture that connects us.

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Kitchen Witch

You all know my little cookbook obsession, right?  Well, imagine how I swooned upon discovering Kitchen Witch Books on Toulouse — packed floor to ceiling with nothing but cookbooks, both new and vintage.  Owners Debbie Lindsey and Phillipe LaMancusa are kindred spirits — we could (did?) talk for hours about cooking, working the line and the front of the house, and named our favorite cookbooks and recipes reverently to one another in the hushed tones usually reserved for talking about spiritual subjects.

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Cleaver & Co.

Stylishly spartan and intriguingly minimal in a city known for excess, this locally-sourced, whole animal butcher shop establishes personal relationships with farmers within 200 miles of New Orleans, visits each farm, and sources the finest quality meats handcut by skilled butchers on site.  Did I like it?  Perhaps the cooler I brought home filled to bursting with boudin-stuffed chicken, handmade Andouille, house-smoked Canadian bacon and duck confit can best answer that question.

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Kitchen Inspirations: Strawberry & Cream Cheese Stuffed Pain Perdu

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In New Orleans, French toast is “pain perdu,” or “lost bread,” which speaks volumes about the city’s roots: American thrift, Creole inventiveness, and a romantic French sensibility that can make something decadent and indulgent even out of lowly stale bread. Our trip inspired me to dress up this brunch staple with Louisiana strawberry jam and Creole cream cheese.

Strawberry & Cream Cheese Stuffed Pain Perdu

serves 4

  • 8 thick slices of challah or other soft white bread
  • 1 jar strawberry jam or preserves (not jelly)
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese, cut into 8 cubes
  • 4 c milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • butter for frying
  • butter, powdered sugar, maple syrup to serveCut a pocket in each slice of bread and stuff with a cube of cream cheese and a spoonful of preserves. In a large baking dish, whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon until thoroughly combined. Place stuffed bread slices in mixture to soak for about five minutes, turning once or twice. Heat butter on a large griddle or skillet; remove each slice from soaking liquid, letting excess drain off, then fry over medium heat until golden and cooked through.

everything old is new again: salt & time butcher shop & salumeria

Remember when there were neighborhood butcher shops? Yeah, me neither. Back in the fabled past (when you could also get fresh milk delivered to your door every day), I’ve heard there were neighborhood shops where skilled artisans cut whole animals to order. These butchers knew the farmer who raised the animals, knew what their customers wanted, and could tell you how to cook a roast, a steak or a chop. If you were a regular, they might even save the choicest cuts just for you, trimmed just the way you like it. Now, everything old is new again, and Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler are bringing the neighborhood butcher shop back in East Austin with the newly opened Salt & Time. Since they opened the doors to their stylish, inviting space in February, I’ve found myself drifting in more than once a week to pick up handmade salumi, charcuterie and cold cuts, fresh chops and steaks for dinner, or to enjoy a quick bite for lunch. (Insider tip: Cuvee Coffee is served at the bar, and Salt & Time’s sandwiches, made on fresh Baked in Austin bread, are amazing — they’re adding salads, soups and desserts to the menu daily!)

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Tell your brand story in 5 words.

Ben: Neighborhood butcher, with a twist.

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What was your first job?

Ben: Bussing tables at my dad’s restaurant.

Bryan: My first job was working with my father as a painter in his business.  I was 12 or 13 years old.

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What gets you to work every morning?

Ben: A 1996 Nissan Pickup.

Bryan: Pride. Knowing that I have a role in the community and wanting to raise awareness about my craft.

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Where do you get culinary inspiration?

Ben: I love the blog Ideas in Food. We don’t do much of the modernist stuff, but I’m always getting ideas from them.

Bryan: Peers, colleagues, bloggers, food experimenters, even mistakes can lead to daily inspiration for me.  You can learn a lot just by being attentive and listening. You know, be all Zen about it—be quiet and take it all in.

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What other businesses do you come back to again & again?

Ben: I go to Home Slice a lot. I appreciate the fact that they’ve managed to maintain their quality as they’ve grown. East Side Kingsat the Grackle is another staple, it’s right around the corner from the shop. I’m blown away with Paul Qui and his team, they are doing awesome things, and I’m excited about what they have in store withQui.

Bryan: I support many local businesses and restaurants that support me, my business and vice versa. Eastside PiesFranklin BBQ,The Alamo Draft House Cinema,Blackstar Co-opWheatsville Co-op & many others.

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What’s in your fridge right now?

Ben: It’s pretty depressing in there right now.

Bryan: Local veggies, a door full of homemade preserves, a collection of various pickled veggies and condiments, a deli drawer full of meats and cheeses, beer and wine.  I could open up a shop in my kitchen.

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What flavors inspire taste memories for you?

Ben: Roast chicken and potatoes was one of my favorite childhood meals, and it’s one of my favorite comfort foods now.

Bryan: Every single time I order a hamburger (no cheese, mustard, no mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion), it takes me back to the very first hamburger I ever ate.  I was a vegetarian until I was around ten years old, and my mom snuck me off one time for my first burger.  My dad was a bit of a veggie Nazi.

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Tell us about your dream dinner party–you can invite six guests (real, imaginary, living, or dead) to dinner-what, who, & where?

Ben: My friends Maura and Chap invite all their friends over when they throw parties, and they leave it up to fate to decide who comes. While this makes it tough to plan the menu, I love the sentiment.  I’d keep the food simple, maybe roasted pork and root vegetables, and invite all my friends.

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It’s Wednesday night at 6:30.  What’s for dinner?

Ben: I’d be getting ready to close the shop and head home, so if I haven’t figured it out already, I’m probably grabbing a couple of pork chops out of the case.

Bryan: Handmade sausage (I know a guy), veggies and pasta.

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Kitchen Inspiration: Korean Steak Salad with Rice Noodles and Crunchy Vegetables

Salt & Time is known for their pork, handmade sausages, salumi, and charcuterie, but they also have an impressive selection of fresh beef, lamb, goat and chicken, all locally-sourced and expertly cut on site.

Steak & Marinade:

  • ¾  pound bavette steak (substitute flank or skirt steak if bavette not available)
  • 2 Tbs gochujong (Korean hot pepper paste)
  • 1 2” piece ginger, grated
  • 2 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbs soy sauce

Korean Vinaigrette:

  • 1 Tbs gochujong
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbs grapeseed or other neutral flavored oil
  • pinch brown sugar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbs soy sauce


  • ½ pound buckwheat ramen (substitute regular highest-quality ramen noodles or buckwheat soba), cooked to al dente, drained and rinsed under cold water
  • 1 bunch radishes, cut into julienne
  • 4 carrots, cut into julienne
  • ½ small red onion, slivered
  • ½ pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 5 oz mixed baby greens
  • 1 handful pea shoots or sunflower sprouts
  • toasted sesame seeds, for garnish


Stir marinade ingredients together and rub into steak. Marinate for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine ingredients for vinaigrette and set aside. Heat a cast-iron grill pan on the stove until smoking hot. Sear steak for 3-4 minutes per side (to medium rare), and set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Slice steak against the grain into paper thin slices, add to big bowl with salad, pour dressing over and toss everything together. Place in serving bowls and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

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kitchen inspiration: jeremy barnwell’s school lunch for grown ups

It’s not often that we get inspired by dishes in the school cafeteria, but Jeremy Barnwell’s school lunches are something else indeed. Not content to just shop for organic fruits and veggies at the farmers market, he grows an abundant garden just outside the school kitchen and harvests crunchy carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli for stir fries, and greens and herbs for salads. Food so fresh and delicious that kids clean their plates at school?  Now that’s smart.

We visit Jeremy in the cafeteria to hear what inspires him to feed close to 100 kids on a given day and leave with arms full of food from his garden for our own school lunch for grown ups.  Keep reading for the interview & recipe.

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What is your favorite cookbook?

Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

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Who is your culinary idol?

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Where do you get culinary inspiration?

Eating out a lot, nature, the farmer’s market, art, being in the garden.

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Tell us about your dream dinner party–you can invite six guests (real, imaginary, living, or dead) to dinner-what, who, & where?

It would be in Mexico, perhaps at a Mayan temple site. I would have Rene Redzepi and Magnus Nilsson cook for us. My dinner guests would be my wife Alison, Bill Hicks, Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Maharishi, Tina Fey, and Carl Jung.

What’s in your fridge right now?

Cheese, chicken liver mousse from Dai Due, Topo Chico, Real Ale Full Moon Pale Rye, veggies, herbs, and mushrooms from the farmer’s market, salumi from Salt & Time, soy sauce, sriracha, and fish sauce.

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What flavors inspire taste memories for you?

Breakfast foods and southern cooking. Venison and wild game. Anything you can hunt or catch yourself reminds me of my childhood. Pretty much anything you would find in a typical East Texas grandmother’s home.

What’s your favorite ingredient?

Salt, it can make or break a dish.

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It’s Wednesday night at 6:30. What’s for dinner?

A cheese and charcuterie plate and maybe an arugula salad from our garden. On Wednesdays, I cook lunch for two schools and then teach a cooking class to middle school students. After cooking and cleaning twice already, I’m out of energy to cook for a third time.

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Kitchen Inspirations: School Lunch for Grown Ups

Spring Greens with Chicken & Feta :: Vegetable Escabeche

For Salad:

3 c baby greens

1-2 c steamed or lightly sauteed spring vegetables (I used broccoli & snow peas)

1-2 spring onions, sliced

1 c cooked chicken (thinly sliced)

maldon or other coarse sea salt & freshly ground pepper

olive oil + red wine vinegar

1/4 c crumbled feta cheese

In a large bowl, combine greens, vegetables, and chicken.  Sprinkle with maldon salt and grind pepper over the top.  Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and toss to combine.  Place on serving plates and top with crumbled feta.  Serve with vegetable escabeche on the side.

For Vegetable Escabeche:

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets and blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunged into ice water, then drained

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces and blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, then plunged into ice water, then drained

1/2 small red onion, slivered

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 bay leaf

1/2 t EACH coriander seeds, brown mustard seeds, black peppercorns, white peppercorns

1/2 c olive oil

1 c white or apple cider vinegar

1 c water

Pack cauliflower, carrots, red onion, garlic and bay leaf into a wide-mouthed jar.  Measure spices into jar, then pour in olive oil.  Heat vinegar and water together in a saucepan to a simmer and pour over everything in the jar.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake contents.  Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes.  Keeps well for several weeks refrigerated.

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