March 4

Whole Fish. New Arnaud's. Gerard Maras. Chef d'Ouevre. Chef Menteur. Vermont. Illegal Birds. Speck. Four Seasons. Happy Birthday, Lefty O'Doul. Orben's Food Wit.

Chef Gerard Maras was born today in 1952. Maras was the opening chef and tastemaker of Ralph's on the Park and the now-gone Table One. But he first came to our attention as chef at Mr. B's during its greatest years in the 1980s. Their matchless barbecue shrimp recipe is his. He's not currently cheffing, exactly; and his wife run a farm raising gourmet vegetables and herbs near Franklinton. Maras was one of the first local chefs to encourage local growers to raise better produce, and we have him to thank for the improvements in that market.

Days Until. . .

St. Patrick's Day 13
St. Joseph's Day 15
Easter 39

Our Historic Restaurants

Today in 1979, Archie Casbarian closed on his purchase of Arnaud's Restaurant from Arnaud Cazenave's daughter, Germaine Cazenave Wells. The old restaurant, once the city's finest restaurants, was in such a poor condition that it would take Casbarian most of the rest of the year to get it ready for reopening.

Our Celebrated Chefs

Chef Gerard Maras was born today in 1952. Maras was the opening chef and tastemaker of Ralph's on the Park and the now-gone Table One. But he first came to our attention as chef at Mr. B's during its greatest years in the 1980s. Their matchless barbecue shrimp recipe is his. He's not currently cheffing, exactly; and his wife run a farm raising gourmet vegetables and herbs near Franklinton. Maras was one of the first local chefs to encourage local growers to raise better produce, and we have him to thank for the improvements in that market. He occasionally teaches cooking classes at the New Orleans Cooking Experience.

Today's Flavors

It really ought to be put off until tomorrow, but this is National Whole Fish Day. The number of fish that come to the table still looking like a fish--with the head, tail, fins and everything in between still intact--is growing. For a long time, the only fish served whole was the West End-style whole flounder. Thank our Asian restaurants for making other large whole fish popular. Most people who enjoy fish that way first had it fried or steamed in a Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant. Whole fish fall into two categories. Some weigh a two or three pounds, and are presented at the table, usually for more than one person. The most common fish prepared that way in New Orleans are redfish, drumfish, red snapper, and Dover sole. The other category is fish designed to be served to one person, who will pull the fish apart as he eats. The most famous of these is the Gulf flounder, fried or broiled whole. The best whole fish of all is a whole pompano of about two pounds. Hardly anything needs to be done to it besides gutting. It can walk across the grill and onto the plate, becoming the most delicious of all fish dishes.It is also alleged to be Pound Cake Day. A pound cake is so called because it classically uses a pound each of flour, sugar, and eggs. Which is actually not a particularly good formulation. You also want to add a few things like vanilla and lemon peel.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Macaroni Lake stands at 8380 feet in the mountain fifty-five miles southeast of Butte, Montana, halfway to Yellowstone National Park. It's in a pristine wilderness called Beaverhead National Forest. Macaroni Lake is an isolated basin that catches and hold snowmelt, only overflowing its clear gravy in wet years. Just below it is Indian Creek, whose canyon through the mountains makes for spectacular hiking. If you neglected to pack in some pasta for lunch at Macaroni Creek, it's nine miles downhill to the Prospector Restaurant, in Sheridan.

Regional Flavors

Vermont became a state today in 1791, the first to be admitted after the original thirteen. Vermont is a rough, infertile place for farmers, dominated as it is by the Green Mountains that gave the state its name. Dairy farming is a big deal, creating excellent cheeses. Vermont's most famous food product, of course, is the syrup that comes from its sugar maples--even though most maple syrup comes from Canada.

Annals Of Game

Today in 1909, the Unites States banned interstate transport of game birds. That was the first of a variety of laws that make it impossible for restaurants and grocers to sell pheasants, ducks, geese, and other avians killed in the wild. To this day, every duck, quail, or squab you eat in a restaurant is farm-raised.

Edible Dictionary

concassee, French, n.--The meat of a tomato, with the seeds, pulp, and skin removed. It's usually chopped into cubes, the size being dependent on the use. The word comes from the French word concasser, which means to crush or chop. Although it almost always involved tomatoes, the word concassee can also be used to describe the same operation applied to other vegetables. Sometimes spelled concasse.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

One of the great mysteries of taste is why a fish that tastes "fishy" is considered undesirable by most people. This is like complaining that strawberries taste too strawberrylike.

Music To Dine By

This is the birthday in 1678 of Antonio Vivaldi, whose classical work The Four Seasons is almost certainly the most often-heard piece of classical music in restaurants. That's because everybody likes the first part of it. The second movement, while still a chef d'oeuvre, is less suitable as background. I once heard a restaurateur order that it be removed from the system for that reason. It seems to me that classical music is being played much less often in restaurants these days, giving way to smooth jazz (aaauugh!), sappy soft rock, or even grunge band music (somebody shoot me).

Music To Blow Out Candles By

The song most often heard in restaurants was published in sheet music form today in 1924. Happy Birthday To You--which evolved from a song called Good Morning To All--came under copyright protection in 1934. Public performances of the song still generate royalties for the Hill family, and will for another decade or so years. That's why chain restaurants have their own birthday songs instead of singing that one. Independent restaurants are a little too hard to persecute for celebrating their customer's birthdays by having waiters sing four lines of the ditty badly.

Food Namesakes

Early American racecar driver Buck Baker put his foot on the Big Gas Pedal today in 1919. . . Comedian John Candy had a fatal heart attack today in 1994. He was only 43. . . Folk singer Nancy Whiskey was born in Scotland today in 1935. . . Punk rocker Scott Sturgeon (stage name Stza--good luck pronouncing that) screamed for the first time today in 1976. . . Baseball pitcher Lefty O'Doul was born today in 1897. He founded a restaurant with his name on it in San Francisco; it's still there. But he has no connection with the non-alcoholic beer of the same name.

Words To Eat By

Robert Orben, one of the most quoted people in the world, was born today in 1927. He's still on the lecture circuit, still performs as a magician, and still writes funny speech material. He began writing gags for comedians, but his lines have such resonance that they're at least as popular among motivational speakers. He has quotable lines on every imaginable subject. Here are some about food:

"I always wondered why babies spend so much time sucking their thumbs. Then I tasted baby food."

"I understand the big food companies are developing a tearless onion. I think they can do it--after all, they've already given us tasteless bread."

"Remember the days when you let your child have some chocolate if he finished his cereal? Now, chocolate is one of the cereals."

"Old people shouldn't eat health food. They need all the preservatives they can get."

Words To Drink By

"Then trust me, there's nothing like drinking
So pleasant on this side the grave;
It keeps the unhappy from thinking,
And makes e'en the valiant more brave."
--Charles Dibdin, English writer, born today in 1745.

Food and The Law

The International Copyright Act was passed by Congress on this day in 1891, making it a little more remunerative to be a writer. However, you wouldn't believe how many of my recipes I find in web searches on sites unknown to me, using my exact words, but with no attribution. Recipes and dishes themselves are difficult to protect, which is why there is so much "borrowing" of dishes by restaurants from one another. But the words of a recipe can be copyright protected, and the best ones are.

Food on the Air

The microphone was invented today in 1877 by Emile Berliner. Its first use was for the telephone, whose usefulness was being held up by the lack of a compact instrument for picking up sound. It could be said that the microphone made possible all the other inventions that followed, from the phonograph to radio. Without it, I'd just be a writer, hustling to protect my copyrights, instead of talking with you on the radio three hours every day.

Music to Dine By

This is the birthday in 1678 of Antonio Vivaldi, whose classical work The Four Seasons is almost certainly the most often-heard piece of classical music in restaurants. That's because everybody likes the first part of it. The second movement, while still a masterwork, is less suitable as background. I once heard a restaurateur order that it be removed from the system for that reason. It seems to me that classical music is being played much less often in restaurants these days, giving way to smooth jazz (aaauugh!) and sappy rock.