DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Sunday, November 6, 2017. Mary Ann is thrilled with her recent handiwork. The crippled dog Susie is walking up and down from the ground to the deck on the long, relaxed incline that the Marys conspired to build. Susie continues to be miraculous.

I was inspired by MA’s efforts that I bought a new, heavy duty set of pruning shears, with which I will clip the trails through the woods after a year of rampant growth. The wisteria is also getting out of control, so I went around the house snipping away at it. In doing so I encounter a leak coming from a pipe under the house. I didn’t have to think twice about this. I’ll have to get the plumber over to fix this. Thus is born one of the most maddening three-day ordeals in some time, as I wait for the plumber to come out and fix this. By the second day, our only source of water comes from a faucet on the side of the well pump outside, and we have no hot water at all. I ask permission of diary readers to let this story play out without my having to think about it anymore. The plumber would take care of it on Tuesday. I’ve not been so relieved in a long time.

Back on the dining front, the big meal of the day is the annual Men Can Cook competition that takes place every year at the St. Tammany Courthouse’s parking garage. I have been a judge of this for the past several years. The other judges come from a variety of food-writing media people, none of whom I had met before. I am flattered that all of them know me.

More important than any of that is that this event draws quite a crowd of people who come for the food and the Four Unplugged. The proceeds go to an organization that steps in to help abused and neglected children.

The competition itself is quite a big deal. Some thirty dishes were cooked up, then presented to us somber judges. We judged them on a scale of one to seven–not a spread that calculates that into my five-star system.

Remember this event for next year. (If you don’t, I’ll remind you of it here.) It’s different from most such festivals in that the food was almost without exception good to extraordinarily excellent. A mix of New Orleans and Mexican dishes was not only good to eat, but looked professional, too. And they all got the food out when it was still hot. I was very much impressed by it all. All the cooks were going out on a limb to make their food stand out.

After my judging duties, I wandered around with the rest of the crowd. One of the people I encountered was Gary Darling, who was one of The Taste Buds. That made him one of the creators of Semolina and Zea. And he had quite a career before that. Which is why I was taken aback when he told me that he had retired. He still owns a piece of the restaurant outfit, but isn’t in the day-to-day operation anymore.

But that was close enough for me to ask him what the deal was about Mizado, the hip Mexican restaurant that the Taste Buds devised a couple of years ago.

I broke my heart,” he says about Mizado. I am right with him in that feeling. “It had a lot of regular customers, and it was breaking even. But investors don’t always go along.”

If you didn’t get a chance to try Mizado, know that it was a delightful place with a big, bustling, noisy, colorful, and highly original menu. So what was the problem? Who ever knows? The only hope now is that some of the Mizado dishes might wind up on the menu at Zea. That tried-and-true bistro took over the Mizado space as of a few months ago, on I-10 at City Park Avenue. That brings one into potential contact with the traffic mess on Canal Boulevard and Metairie Road.

If Gary Darling is serious about retiring, (and I think he is), this brings to an end a long career as a cutting-edge chef. First place I met him was at the Enraged Chicken, an utterly unique restaurant in the Irish Channel in the 1970s. He spent a long time working with Al Copeland and Copeland’s. He had restaurants on the North Shore and elsewhere. He left his mark on the business in his many years at it.

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