My first husband and I drove through New Orleans in 1974, moving from Florida to the Land of Enchantment. We searched the French Quarter for lunch and stopped at a well-lit, noisy place. What I remember most was the shrimp étoufée—a spicy, tomatoey stew dished over a generous pile of rice. It was terrific, though I had no basis for comparison, being a novice in the world of Louisiana cooking. That was long before Katrina, Rita and BP heaped their misfortunes on the Gulf. Despite the challenges of rebuilding, the city maintains a robust attitude when it comes to living well—especially when it comes to food.
Oil, fear and disappointment rise to the surface
When the sun sets in Grand Isle, La., it casts a fiery glow around the marshland. It sinks slowly, igniting long, wispy clouds. Orange light stretches along Louisiana Highway 1. The large amounts of oil stuck to the rims of the area’s thousands of marshes turn green stalks of grass into yellow kindling. Despite the abundant fuel, the ocean swallows the blood-red disc and begins to reflect the cool night sky.