Ian McNulty

Producer

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat. 

Ian is also a staff writer for the daily newspaper the New Orleans Advocate, covering the culture, personality and trends behind the city’s famous dining scene.

He is the author of two books - “Louisiana Rambles: Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland,” a travel narrative about south Louisiana culture, and “A Season of Night: New Orleans Life After Katrina,” an account of the first months in the city after Hurricane Katrina.

He has been a contributor to WWNO since 2009.

The name Creole tomato can turn heads in the market place this time of year.
Ian McNulty

When does summer start? Consult the calendar and you’ll see it’s still a month away. But in New Orleans the seasons aren’t necessarily tied to the conventions of solstice and equinox.

For me, the New Orleans summer always begins immediately after Jazz Fest, and it’s not the changing weather alone that marks the shift.

It’s the feeling that the long New Orleans train of one big celebration after the next has reached the station, and it’s time to hop off for a bit.

If you’re a vegetarian in New Orleans you’ve probably learned to ask questions before digging in and you know to never take the name of a dish at face value. 

This is a town, after all, where the key ingredient in traditional vegetable soup is beef. And it’s widely accepted here that when the cook tells you your beans were made with love, she means made with pork. 

Boiled seafood is a tradition in Louisiana with many of its own rituals.
Ian McNulty / WWNO

Making a good run at a crawfish boil is a two-fisted effort that might even require some juggling. There's the twisting, pinching and peeling, the sorting and rummaging for sides and the concurrent demands of beverage management. 

That also makes the crawfish boil one of the increasingly rare aspects of modern life that remains cell phone free.

Photo by Ian McNulty - The gumbo at Dunbar's Creole Cuisine is loaded with meat and seafood.
Ian McNulty

No two bowls of gumbo should be exactly the same. Heck, even when they’re served from the same pot the precise mixture of seafood and meat and seasoning may differ from bowl to bowl, based on the luck of the ladle.  This is certainly the case with Creole gumbo, a down-home style sometimes described as kitchen sink.

And yet, even for the endless gumbo variations out there, sometimes an overarching house style for a particular gumbo can speak to you in a voice you may recognize even years after your last taste. 

That’s just how food memories are wired, and that was my experience recently over a bowl of gumbo at Dunbar's Creole Cuisine. 

A fried shrimp po-boy from Avery's on Tulane.
Ian McNulty

We talk about it with our best friends and with perfect strangers. We rant about it online and we dream about it at night. It's a natural fixation when we’re hungry, yet we still talk about it when our mouths are full.

    It's the food of New Orleans, compelling, often uniting, frequently divisive and never boring, at least not if you’re doing it right. May it always be at the ends of our forks and on the tips of our tongues.

The bakery counter at Breads on Oak, a modern New Orleans bakery on Oak Street.
Ian McNulty

From the most basic ingredients, bakers create wonders. It’s that pastry that makes up for getting up early, the cakes that become centerpieces of our celebrations, the anytime indulgences that get us through the day and, it’s even the unadorned loaves that are so tempting we have to tear off a piece before the bread ever makes it home. It all starts with age-old essentials, and the transformative potential of skill and craft.

In New Orleans these days, though, bakers are transforming more than just their ingredients.

Each year at Hogs for the Cause, cook-off teams compete and raise money. The teams have developed a culture that extends year round.
Photo courtesy of Hogs for the Cause

For one weekend, the charity cook-off Hogs for the Cause transforms a big outdoor spread in New Orleans into something like a Southern-style never-never land.

The fried seafood boat at Morton's Seafood in Madisonville.
Ian McNulty

The seafood boat is not a po-boy, and it’s different from a seafood platter. It belongs to its own niche. It flies brazenly in the face of modern low-carb diets, but survives at a handful of eateries. It can kindle cravings in those with a nostalgic bent, and maybe event those who enjoy a little spectacle with their supper.

Matassa's Market dates back to the 1920s in the French Quarter, and it has changed to adjust to an evolving marketplace.
Ian McNulty

Conjure the image of the small neighborhood grocery and I bet the picture in your mind looks pretty appealing – something hands on and small scale, with character and personality between the register and the grocery aisles.

As a business plan, though, maybe the classic neighborhood market these days looks like a flourish of old-fashioned retail romanticism.

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