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Twelve days of Christmas gifts- Day 7- John Besh's My New Orleans

John Besh's My New Orleans
John Besh's My New OrleansPhoto Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing

Even though the official title of this book is John Besh's My New Orleans:The Cookbook, and in spite of its 200 recipes, it's much more than just a cookbook.

Mr. Besh dedicates his book not only to the people of New Orleans, but "to those who hold the city close to their hearts." It's a must add to the library of anyone who loves New Orleans, and I'm featuring it here because I know there are many here in this L.A. who love the other LA, and hold New Orleans close to thier hearts. I am one of them. It's been on my coffee table for over a year now, and never fails to attract attention. My New Orleans is chock full of beautiful present day and archival photographs of the city and its environs. If you aren't already in love with the city, this book just might do it for you.

Besh writes in his introduction that “after Katrina, being from New Orleans became the focus of my identity". It's clear that he felt the urgent call to preserve the culture of New Orleans, using what he knew best- food- as his window. There's a tension in the book between preserving a well ensconced traditional cuisine, and not only updating them for modern palates, but also to reflect how cultures and cities evolve. It's a dilemna that anyone serious culinarian who cooks a traditional cuisine will identify with. Besh also trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America, and apprenticed in Europe. All of these things contirbute to his modern reinterpretations of the classic ingredients and dishes, like Grilled Watermelon, Tomato and Goat Cheese Salad, with a knowing aside that where he grew up, "grown men did not eat grilled figs with baby greens and artisanal goats’ milk cheese.”

The book's contents are not organized in traditional cookbook “appetizer to dessert” order, but rather by ingredients, seasons and feast days (so appropriate for New Orleans)- some of those days meriting their own chapter- like Mardi Gras and Thanksgiving. Speaking of ingredients, the book is also full of sidebars with background notes on the glorious ingredients available to New Orleans cooks-i.e. Creole tomatoes, Ponchatoula strawberries, and mirlitons, and not least, speckled trout and Gulf oysters, especially poignant in this year of the BP oill spill.

So here's your chance to perhaps introduce someone on your list to a new love.

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