Sunday, September 12, 2010. Gadding About With Big Chefs.

Written by Tom Fitzmorris September 20, 2010 17:18 in

Dining Diary

Sunday, September 12. Gadding About With Big Chefs. Beating The Drum For Local Seafood. A tide of name chefs from around the country is flooding into the city this weekend, for two separate events.

One of these is so exclusive that before I heard about it, all the tickets had been sold--at $2000 each. The draw: an unusual quartet of superstar chefs. Thomas Keller from The French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York. Daniel Boulud, of Daniel and other restaurants in New York. Jerome Bocuse, son of famed French chef Paul Bocuse. The host is Scott Boswell, who will have a dinner prepared by all these names this Tuesday at his flagship restaurant Stella! Only seventy people were admitted, with the money split between Bocuse d'Or (an international chef competition) and the Barrier Island Restoration and Development Society (BIRDS).

As I write this, I have been asked about this dinner by several readers and radio listeners. There was an article about it in the Sunday, September 19 newspaper. I guess it's newsworthy. But somehow a parallel comes to mind between this and a pair of Catholic rituals. One is Benediction, where the consecrated bread (the actual body of Christ, says the Church) is displayed and all who attend fall on their knees in worship. The other is the Eucharist, in which the faithful eat this bread. In the first, you just look on; in the second, you participate. The first is an old tradition from medieval times. A devout Catholic can live his whole life without once attending Benediction. But the Eucharist is the greatest of sacraments, and Catholics are required to partake of it at least annually, preferably weekly.

While I'm pretty sure I ought to worship God, I question whether awe is what chefs should inspire in me. Chefs are important in direct proportion to how good their food is. When one can only read about the food, something's missing. The deification of chefs is expanding, though, and as it does we drift away from the main point of the profession. It's about people eating.

The other chefs visiting town are not quite as famous as the ones above, but well enough known. They came at the invitation of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board, and for three days they'll tour the restaurants of the city, go out on shrimp boats, and visit partake in a colloquium about how they can get the word out that Louisiana seafood entirely safe, and as good as seafood gets. And that the fishermen down here would appreciate it if the folks up north (what isn't north of the Gulf?) ate more of our product.

The guest of honor was Cris Comerford, who is no less than the Executive Chef of the White House. She has served (literally) under both Bush II and Obama, so there's no political clash here. Other visitors of note were Rick Tramonto, formerly of Tru and other restaurants in Chicago; Jeff Tunks, owner and chef of several terrific restaurants in Washington. D.C.; and a half-dozen more.

Zea's shrimp.

I was asked to join in the opening night of this conclave. The program: a restaurant crawl. It started at the Windsor Court for drinks and a few appetizers. Then to Zea on St. Charles Avenue (the tuna stack and Asian shrimp were the stars there). Next, off to Ralph's on the Park, where fried oysters with aioli and seared tuna mini-steaks were avidly eaten around an ice sculpture saying "The Main Ingredient: Louisiana Seafood."

Soft shell.

Barbecue shrimp.

We wound up at Restaurant August, which deserves a paragraph all its own. All of Chef John Besh's restaurants pitched in to present a rich buffet of specialties, easily enough to make a meal. Redfish courtbouillon came over from Luke. Pork sliders arrived from American Sector. Soft-shell crab halves stuck in creamy grits (top, just above)with an herbal cream sauce from La Provence. Gnocchi with crabmeat from August. Barbecue shrimp (just above) from the Besh Steakhouse. And an insanely good, alcoholic tiramisu, served in a jar, from Domenica. Here also were the best wines of the night, finally shutting up a food writer from elsewhere who had bitched about the wines all night long.

MA and Chef Cris Comerford, the White House chef.

Mary Ann joined us along the way, driving herself around so as not to have to share some ratty old bus with other people. She asked me to take a picture of her talking with White House Chef Comerford, and to explain it by saying that she wanted the chef to pass along a few of her comments on politics to President Obama.