My name is Ian McNulty and I write about restaurants for a living. It probably comes as no big surprise that a job description like this brings with it a great deal of pleasure.
It's true, of course. But the longer I pursue this line of work, especially here in New Orleans, the more clear it becomes that the real pleasure of the job extends beyond all the delicious food at the table.
The story of New Orleans food is a tale told with the garlic and cayenne of a seafood boil, the crunch and crumb of po-boy loaves, the gush of fat oysters and the burnished hue of a dark roux. But it goes beyond flavors.
Working this beat means talking with New Orleanians about their ideas and their ambitions, their cravings and obsessions, their discoveries, their memories and their family stories, all of it through the lens of food.
It means spending time with people who contribute to the character and personality of a food culture that is living, growing and changing, and it means learning from people who make New Orleans a truly great food city, not just a city with many great restaurants.
Again this year, I was fortunate to make many new acquaintances, and I had the chance to get to know others better. Each deepened my appreciation for the many subcultures in this city’s famous food scene, for the new ideas and energy invigorating it, for the tenacity required make it on the business side and for the rewards that this calling can bring beyond the bottom line.
It was the one about the po-boy shops around town that rallied for one of their own, supporting the Uptown shop Guy’s po-boys with a homegrown fundraiser after a calamity. It’s the way the return of an old landmark, the Pontchartrain Hotel and its restaurants within, opened the floodgates for evocative memories of the different angles of New Orleans life that once intersected here.
It was seeing Ella Brennan and Leah Chase together, and watching how two restaurant legends who are normally the recipients of honors were instead now honoring each other, and then thinking about who might rise from the next generation to fill their roles.
It was exploring how the holidays can take us back to different places, and different chapters of our own lives, with food as the trigger and the anchor.
New Orleans food culture shows in how we relate to each other and express ourselves through food, how we share the experience of living in this one-of-a-kind place and how we celebrate our blessings.
This is the time of year for gratitude and reflection, and when I think back on a year of food stories I believe I’m most grateful for the way they’ve helped me answer a nagging question.
What makes New Orleans such a great food town? Well, just look down at your plate, then look in the mirror. New Orleans, it’s you.