Alisa Dishes on Food Culture

Alisa Plant, Acquisitions Editor

When I moved to south Louisiana from frozen New England about fifteen years ago, I was a food savage. I ate—who doesn’t?—but often dinner was a mixed salad topped with tuna eaten at my kitchen counter, on good days sauced with a dollop of Wishbone dressing. Fueling on the run did honor, I suppose, to the Puritans who made Connecticut home but hardly home-y. Sometimes I did cook, and I baked more often, but I had no idea what living in a food culture meant. Indeed, I was initially puzzled by Louisianans’ proclivity to talk endlessly about ingredients and dining on seemingly all occasions. I shrugged it off as a local idiosyncrasy and could not imagine ever being drawn into the food conversation. “Wait and see,” a friend—and native New Orleanian—predicted. “It’ll happen to you.” I was skeptical.

But how right he was. The days have long passed since I looked at a bottle of “Slap Ya Mama” hot pepper sauce and thought “Really?” Now I habitually recommend not simply restaurants, but specific dishes. You haven’t had the BBQ shrimp and grits at Roberto’s? A must. The Thai-chili chocolate chess pie at Boucherie, in New Orleans? Out of this world. I even have opinions about local sausages. Richard’s or Manda with your red beans? Depends on whether you want mild and creamy beans or a firmer texture and a sharper bite. And what about the awesome smoked Italian links from Ralph’s on Tiger Bend Road? Would they be heretical in jambalaya? You get the idea.

Now it seems only natural to expand my acquisitions at the Press to include food and foodways. What could be more fitting? I’m looking for good work on food in all its guises: the history of food and the culinary arts, contemporary takes on foodways (especially in Louisiana and the South), cookbooks, you name it. I want writing that will make you hungry, writing that explores the rich tradition of Louisiana cooking. I want our food and foodways books to enter the endless conversation about Louisiana’s daily art form.

Look next fall for Cynthia LeJeune Nobles’s The Delta Queen Cookbook: The History and Recipes of the Legendary Steamboat as the first of what I hope will be many diverse and exciting books about food!