There seems to be an Irresistible temptation for restaurateurs outside Louisiana to offer their own versions of New Orleans and Cajun cuisine. There are a few rare exceptions, but the results are often disastrous for several reasons.
- Some of the chefs don’t seem to know the difference between New Orleans’ Creole cuisine and rural South Louisiana Cajun cooking.
- To many, the secret to all Louisiana cooking is to overpower it with hot pepper. Texas cooks uses more hot peppers than Louisiana.
- Some prepare the food without the essential ingredients, such as fresh (not frozen) seafood and vegetables.
- Some restaurants, including some inside the New Orleans area, simply don’t have the kitchen talent and experience needed to produce good Creole or Cajun food.
Some of the restaurants outside New Orleans would do better by forgetting Louisiana and sticking to their own good local dishes. Chances are, their local customers may not have a taste for Creole or Cajun (especially if the dishes are not done well). Also, most Orleanians have learned to stay away from so- called New Orleans dishes 300 miles or more away from the French Quarter.
Here are some recent reports on restaurants outside south Louisiana that have tried to market New Orleans and Cajun dishes.
According to Carrington Fox in the Nashville Scene, one Tennessee restaurant tried gumbo without okra, as well as crawfish etouffee’ that was “disappointingly blasé” and sometimes without crawfish. “The unlucky dinner portion was little more than a mild vegetable-and-rice stew,” Fox wrote.
UNO Chicago Grill issued a news release promoting its “brand new Cajun and Creole flavors, starting with “Chicken Sausage Gumbo, a thick soup filled with chunks of chicken, smoked andouille sausage, okra, bell pepper, celery, onion and rice.” The title should be “chicken and sausage gumbo” instead of chicken sausage. And Cajun cooks seldom call their gumbo “a thick soup.”
Few Orleanians would look for “voodoo bones” outside a cemetery (if there), but UNO Chicago is also promoting “Voodoo Bones with Bourbon BBQ Sauce, a staple in the South. The dish features slow-roasted, tender New Orleans seasoned ribs served with UNO’s own sweet and smoky Maker’s Mark® bourbon BBQ sauce.”
Lesley Chesterman, Gazette Fine Dining
Some readers might think Montreal’s French culture would give it an inside track to Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine, but food critic Lesley Chesterman of the Montreal Gazette has doubts. Chesterman’s review of Montreal’s “La Louisiane cuisine Cajun and Creole” includes these comments:
- The gumbo “ is more like a stew. It also tastes more floury than I would like, and the pieces of chicken and sausage are few and far between. Thumbs down.”
- The blackened Arctic char (Canada’s answer to blackened redfish?) is “ more light brown than black, the fish has a good crust seasoned with an appealing spice blend. Sadly, it’s more flaky than succulent. A few minutes less cooking time and it would have been perfect. “
- The “red snapper with jerk seasonings is a complete miss. Coated in a flaccid batter, the fish is just plain dull.”
- “The Creole shrimp also leaves me scratching my head. I expect shrimp simmered in a tomato-based spicy sauce, but I’m served grilled shrimp served atop a slick of the sauce alongside some stewed tomatoes and cooked red pepper. Sorry, but that’s not Creole shrimp.”
Like many other would-be Creole/Cajun restaurants, La Louisiane does better with its desserts than its entrees. Chesterman wrote: “What’s not to like” about Bananas Foster. And La Louisiane’s bread pudding is not only generous in portion, but moist, custdardy and delicious.”