• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

New Orleans Five Years Later: Cajun cooking

August 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
First Hurricane Katrina, then the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It's been one devastating blow after another for New Orleans. But one thing the city refuses to give up on is food. Post-oil spill, is that famous Cajun cooking safe to eat?Food is an enormous part of the culture in the unique city. The first question a tourist will ask is "Where do I eat?"

It's not surprising that since Hurricane Katrina, the city has really leaned on its restaurants for its revival. But there is tremendous worry that the oil spill will unravel that progress.

There is nothing subtle about New Orleans. Everything that draws people to the city is bold and vibrant.

And leading the way, at least when it comes to the economy, is the food. The restaurants are what every tourist wants to indulge in and one of the main reasons why this city is getting back on its feet.

"We took this city, we put it on our back and we carried it through the recovery," said Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago's Restaurant.

Cvitanovich is the owner of Drago's Restaurant and the chairman of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

"Everybody around the country that came here enjoyed it, they bought in, and that's what picked up this city and took it to the next level," said Cvitanovich.

Even though New Orleans has only 78 percent of its pre-Katrina population, it has more restaurants now than before the storm.

So what is it about the food here that makes it such an experience?

For the answer I headed to one of the most popular radio shows in town, The Food Show With Tom Fitzmorris. For three hours a day he talks about nothing but New Orleans food.

"It's at the heart of our culture. If you were to go to Italy or France you would see the parallel," said Fitzmorris. "We were doing food in a very heartfelt, gutsy way 150 years ago, long before the gourmet movement in the rest of the country. It's part of our local culture which really is different from most of the rest of America."

"You have French elements, you have very obviously African elements, you have Caribbean elements, Spanish elements, Italian, German," said novelist Tom Piazza, author of "Why New Orleans Matters."

Piazza says food has a deep meaning in the city.

"The restaurants of New Orleans are not simply places to dine and have fun, they have a rich resonance for the people here," said Piazza. "When you gather for a meal in New Orleans there's something sacramental about it almost."

But there is a very dark side to this story: the Gulf oil spill.

A majority of the Cajun cuisine -- fish, oysters, shrimp -- comes from the Gulf of Mexico.

A growing number of people no longer trust that Gulf seafood is safe, even though governmental testing says it is.

"I assure you if one test had come back positive with oil on it everybody in the world would have known about it," said Cvitanovich. "Our seafood is safe to eat."

Shrimper Peter Gerica just got back from the first shrimping run of season. He said his shrimp are pretty, white and most importantly, clean.

"I even had one rig that got hung up on the bottom where I had difficulty picking it up," said Gerica. "It was full of mud but there was no oil in the mud so, looks good."

Even President Obama sat down in front of cameras two weeks ago and dined on Gulf seafood, making an emphatic statement that so far is not convincing Americans.

Nationwide surveys show one third to more than one half of Americans will not eat Gulf seafood. Is this a bump in the road or something far worse? Folks here desperately hope Americans will get over the fear, visit the region, and give them a chance.

"The single most important way anybody can help New Orleans right now is to come down here, enjoy our food, have a ball, go back home and tell everybody," said Cvitanovich.


Load Comments