Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Seven Nations: Native Americans


Poverty Point

In order to discover the seven nations and their individual contributions to the table at Restaurant R’evolution, we must begin at the beginning: Native America. Native American culture in Louisiana has existed in the lower Mississippi River Valley for more than 4,000 years, in a place known as Poverty Point. At the time Ramses II was ruling Egypt, Moses was leading the Israelites from bondage and Rome had not yet been founded, Native Americans were living near present-day Delhi, Louisiana. Evidence suggests that they were a trade nation and conducted business throughout the Ouachita, Ozark and Appalachian mountains as well as the Great Lakes region. 

This nation built mounds around their town and pits suggest that there may have existed a municipal water system, fish ponds or farms where a fresh fish supply could exist. Excavations failed to reveal corn, beans or squash, so it's doubtful that these people were farmers. There was probably no need for agriculture because this part of Louisiana teemed with wild plants, game and fish providing a year-round harvest of food without cultivation. Perhaps the most fascinating Poverty Point discovery was the peoples’ ingenious use of in-ground ovens for cooking. Small clay cooking balls were molded from river mud into different shapes and sizes, each creating a different BTU output when heated in wood fires. Yes, they utilized hot rock cooking to prepare their meals.  
1720 Colonial Louisiana, Mississippi River
and Native American tribes

By the time Columbus discovered America in 1492, Native tribes such as the Atakapa, Caddo, Tunica, Natchez, Muskogean and Chitamacha tribes shared a common language. The Atakapa people were coastal, living from the Gulf of Mexico to the Bayou Teche. The Caddo people lived near present-day Shreveport; the Tunica near present-day Vicksburg; the others were scattered from Natchitoches to Lake St. Joseph and from Marksville to Alexandria and south.

Before agriculture, hunting and fishing were the natives’ primary food sources. Domesticated animals were unknown to them, and their relationship with wild game and seafood was almost sacred. After the kill, Native American hunters thanked their prey and even said prayers over the bounty. 

The communal hunt

Many believe Native Americans might have been the first wildlife conservationists. They thinned out sick animals, burned the forests to kill ticks and vermin, and one Choctaw chief even regulated deer hunting.The Natchez conducted communal hunts. Several hunters would surround a deer, driving it from side to side until it could be taken by the group. They would then field dress and dry the meat to reduce its weight for the voyage home. They were great butchers, cutting meat in long strips along the muscle, especially from the roast, ribs and shoulder, giving them a steady supply of different cuts of meat throughout the season. When an animal was harvested the meat, skeleton, brain, tongue, liver and heart were consumed. Bones were converted into tools, jewelry, fish hooks, needles and knives. Eventually, tanned hides were made into clothing. 

Catfish, choupique and
spoonbill catfish, as
illustrated by an early

In the swamps of Louisiana, Native Americans ate muskrats, beavers, opossums, wasps, beetles and lizards. Birds including wild turkeys, quail, ducks and geese were caught on river banks or in shallow water using nets designed to be thrown to capture the prey. Wounded birds were often used as decoys to attract other birds to the area. Near the shallow coastal waters and bays red fish, speckled trout, flounder and mullet were found. Under torch lights made from fat pine and dried cane, fish were speared at night. Fish were often poisoned using horse chestnuts or buckeyes, root of devil’s shoestring or green hickory nuts.  Oysters were abundant in lakes next to Lake Pontchartrain. The Natchez Indians travelled to the mouth of the Mississippi to gather oysters, which they preserved by smoking. They also sought brackish water clams and preferred them to oysters in many cases because of the ease of gathering and opening them. Crabs were available in both fresh and salt water, and refuse heaps show evidence of crawfish and shrimp consumption, as well as turtles, alligators and even snakes. 

An abundant supply of wild plant food may have delayed the acceptance of agriculture among many tribes here in the Bayou State. They used approximately 250 edible wild root plants such as ground nuts, wild sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and smilax. In Louisiana, the natives enjoyed an abundance of semi-tropical fruit including maypops, mayhaws, plums, wild grapes, persimmons, wild strawberries, blackberries and pawpaws. 

Sassafras leaves

Filé powder or pounded sassafras leaves, used to flavor Louisiana gumbo today, was an important ingredient to Louisiana’s indigenous people.  The stems, blooms, bark, leaves and roots of wild plants were used both nutritionally and medicinally.  As late as the 1930s a Houmas Indian medicine man identified 79 plant cures.  Herbalists carefully observed nature and noted that gathering medicinal herbs was critical to season and time of day.  Medicines were generally made into teas, though poultices were created for healing purposes as well. 

Eventually, Native American tribesmen became farmers and agriculture often influenced where they settled. They preferred to live in areas where rich, fertile soil and natural levees existed to prevent flooding. Corn, beans and squash, which came from Mexico, were staples among Native Americans here in Louisiana. 

Louisiana Native American women weaving cane baskets, 1923

Native Americans became excellent cooks, preparing food by boiling, broiling, roasting, baking and poaching. Small animals were cooked whole and meat was never eaten raw. Soups, porridges, mush and stews often were created using a multitude of ingredients. The Natchez were said to have had 42 ways to prepare corn. It was common for Native Americans to prepare special meals for important guests. Many early explorers, who recorded visits with native tribesmen in their journals, were served corn dishes with boiled turkey and roasted venison as well as smoked bear tongues and paws. 

The Native Americans were masters at sun-drying, salt-curing and smoking meats to infuse flavor. Wild woods such as persimmon, blackberry or the root of the sassafras tree were burned to impart unique smoked flavors to their fish and game. 

Native persimmons

strong Native American influence will permeate our menu at Restaurant R'evolution. Sassafras will dust the rims of our gumbo bowls and persimmon wood smoke will flavor duck breasts. The Native Americans had a theory: Watch what animals eat and prepare the game with like fruit and nuts for flavor. So naturally, wild fruits and berries will infuse our game sauces. I am certain that our homage to Louisiana’s Native Americans and their exquisite natural flavors will be endless.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Life on Mars

This afternoon I was driving from Donaldsonville to the airport, going over the Sunshine Bridge that spans the Mississippi River to go back to Chicago for Christmas, and it occurred to me. I may as well be living on Mars. That’s how foreign rural Louisiana feels to me. At this point, having lived here full-time for less than 6 weeks, it still really blows me away that I’m here.

Never having lived in rural America, much less in rural Louisiana, I keep asking myself “How on earth did I get here?” Driving through the burning sugar cane fields, the rich, sweet smell of burnt caramel hanging in the air, with beach refineries in the background is really trippy. I’m not in Kansas anymore. Going back to Chicago for three days of white Christmas is going to be a real culture shock. My ‘hood these days is Planet Bayou.

It’s very industrial, with these huge steel bridges and oil tankers and barges.Every morning I drive this huge curve, along the bank of the Mississippi and up onto the Sunshine Bridge, I have this huge vantage point across the river of the barges pulling up to the oil refineries. Tractor trailers packed with sugar cane are flying by. And at night the roads are really dangerous and black, with no street lights. And then when the sun comes up, you’re in the swamp, looking at alligators and frogs. That contrast is mind-blowing. “What am I doing here? I’m a city boy.”

Not to mention, when you’re used to waking up in Chicago and experiencing fall and winter, thinking root vegetables, which are in season in the Midwest, it’s bizarre to suddenly be in Louisiana, and all the roadside stands have strawberries being sold out of the backs of trucks and little tents. Where I live is a sportsman’s paradise, year-round. Right now it’s duck and venison season, and there are hunters in camouflage everywhere, tramping in and out of the woods. Crawfish is in season. It’s a different set of seasons entirely. And yet in my head I’m working on a menu that won’t launch until next summer. It’s this culinary tug-of-war all the time.

It’s about where you are and where you’re going.

Oh yeah, one more thing. The fried chicken out here is crazy good. Everywhere. Check out my lunch today, FROM A GAS STATION. Oh my god.

Happy holidays, everyone.

- Rick

The Seven Nations & Defining "Creole"

I sit here in my kitchen today deep in thought, sipping a cup of coffee. The task before me is to define the work that Rick and I are doing in New Orleans to create Restaurant R’evolution.  To be honest, our work was defined more than 300 years ago by the seven nations who arrived on Louisiana’s shores. So, our task should be simple: Respect the past while presenting a new and revolutionary style of Louisiana food to contemporary diners. Well, come to think of it, it’s not an easy task. But, as chefs with a love of cooking and a respect for raw and regional ingredients, I have faith that we will rise to the occasion.

The seven nations – the Native Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, English, Africans and Italians – were the most significant contributors in this impossible-to-replicate experiment that we call Cajun and Creole cuisine. Of course, Cajun and Creole cuisine was not created or invented; it was a process of evolution and adaptation, much like the process that Rick and I are engaged in now.

Indeed, numerous other cultures have arrived in this land fleeing famine, war and homeland hostilities while seeking opportunity, religious freedom, adventure and prosperity. They came from all nations, in great numbers and small. Some arrived from Ireland in 1803. Other Irishmen came between 1830 and 1860, fleeing the “Potato Famine.” Hungarians came and settled around Springfield and Albany in the 1890s, and brought with them a great culture including a version of their language that is still spoken today. Several thousand Croatians from the Dalmatian Coast arrived in the 18th century and began settling the Gulf Coast. Their fishing communities soon grew around Empire, Buras and Port Sulphur. The Vietnamese arrived after the Vietnam War. They were fishermen and farmers in the old country and took up those roles here, including boat building and net mending. Some of them opened fabulous Vietnamese grocery stores. Immigrants from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, China, Lebanon, Greece and even the Philippines migrated to this great Bayou State. All of these cultures and more joined the Native Americans who were here in the beginning. Needless to say, it was not long before these cultures intermarried.

A term was created to describe the children of the these intermarriages who were born on Louisiana soil: Creole. Few words in American English are as misunderstood or as frequently misused.

The term "Creole" is believed to have derived from the Latin word “creare” meaning “to create.”  Originating in the Western Hemisphere, the term “Creole” was used about 1590 by Father de Acosta, a Spanish priest, to distinguish newborn West Indies children from everyone else. Eventually, it was used to describe everything in Louisiana, from vegetables to furniture; even the state itself became known as the “Creole State.”

Numerous writers and historians over the years tried diligently to define "Creole." Today, with 300 years of their vision and expertise, we now know and can clearly debate that Creole is defined as anyone born on Louisiana soil from the intermarriage of the Europeans, Africans and Native Americans, who contributed significantly to the culture and cuisine of Louisiana. The key word here is “significantly.” Even though many important cultures still seek refuge on our rich shores today, it was the original seven nations that significantly impacted our way of life, language, food, customs, music and even the stories we tell, which by definition are considered Creole. 

And who were those significant cultures? They were the Native Americans, who shared their knowledge of this land with us; the French, who first claimed this land for colonization under “The Sun King,” Louis XIV; the Spanish, who first explored Louisiana and eventually received it as a gift from France; the Africans, who arrived on these shores against their will in slavery, but who contributed greatly to our culture and especially our cuisine; the Germans, who saved the city of New Orleans from starvation with their great knowledge of farming; the English, who arrived here from New England to settle the rolling hills of the Felicianas; and the Italians, the last of our Creoles, who came to work on the sugar plantations after the Civil War and became dock workers and strawberry farmers and ultimately, helped build Louisiana’s food empire. 

These are the mixtures; these are the Creoles.

- John

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gone Fishing

Last week was fish week in the Restaurant R’evolution test kitchen at Bittersweet Plantation, and for me, another week in what we’ve half-jokingly dubbed the “John Folse Cooking School.” As a chef who didn’t previously have a background in Cajun and Creole cooking, this menu development process has been an incredible learning opportunity for me, getting to cook side-by-side with the man who literally wrote the book (12 of them!) on that style of cuisine. To give you a little bit of insight into our menu development process for R’evolution, it’s really a three-step process for each section of the menu we look at.

Step One: John and I decide which of the classic Creole and Cajun dishes we want to do our riffs on. We’ll read and talk about the history of those dishes and which of the Seven Nations contributed to those dishes (more on the Seven Nations from John later this week). Then we’ll go into the kitchen together with our team of chefs for three days of intensive study and cooking, and John takes us through the classic preparations for those dishes from start to finish.

Step Two: I usually take a day or two to go away and marinate on it all. I think about the dishes we made, and I figure out how to interpret them through my palate and my culinary sensibilities to make them new, make them my own. I sketch out the dishes on paper, I think about how they’ll look and how they’ll be presented. I shop and prep in the kitchen to get ready for the last step.

Step Three: Tasting Day. We taste the reinterpreted dishes. We pass judgment. We decide what will make the cut for the menu and what we’ll table for the time being. We talk about plating and presentation. Then we work out the logistics of each recipe and the kitchen process and system for each dish. In all, it can take more than a week to iron out each part of the menu.

A Tale of Three Fish Stews...the first rendition.

For fish week, we examined and broke down the iconic fish dishes of New Orleans. We did about 12 different dishes on Wednesday, and then on Thursday we worked out the recipes and systems that go with the eight dishes we had approved. The most exciting dish that came out of the week, for me, was the Tale of Three Fish Stews. We looked at three of the seven nations – France, Italy and Spain – that are most famous for bouillabaisse and fish stews, and created three different takes on the dish through those culinary lenses. Bouillabaisse from France, a Ligurian fish stew from Italy and a Spanish “zarzuela.” Ultimately, rather than choose just one, we decided to create a trio of fish stews in a three-course tasting offering.

We had some fun playing around with surf and turf, pulling together things like red snapper and sugar cane-cured pork belly. We’re messing around with a version of shrimp and grits. A Creole dish with grouper. These are the kinds of things we’re cooking and getting inspired by. Not everything will wind up on the menu, but it’s all part of the journey.

Pontchartrain Blues crab boat

A Pontchartrain Blue crab

One of the coolest parts of fish week for me was getting to go out on the Gulf on shrimp and crab boats with some prospective purveyors, and watching these guys harvest these incredible Pontchartrain Blue crabs in their cages. The day that I was out there, I was actually touring with White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, and we had a private tour of the operation. It was fascinating to see how they sort through the crabs and stack them and pick them by hand. They were so fast. There were like ten tables with eight people around each table, and they’re packing all of this incredible blue crab meat into plastic containers and weighing it. Pretty amazing stuff.

Next week: meat. We’ll be doing tastings with purveyors at farms, slaughterhouses and butchers, deciding where we’ll be sourcing our meat.

- Rick

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the Beginning

Chef John Folse
Often in Louisiana, you’ll hear the phrase, “An American by birth, but Cajun by the grace of God!” No statement could be truer when describing the passion and excitement that those of us born in South Louisiana exude when sharing our culture and cuisine with visitors. This is indeed a special place; a place like no other. And, by the grace of God, I was born here, in a trapper’s cabin bound on one side by the Mississippi River levee and on the other by swamps and marshlands.

Louisiana fur trapper, early 1900s

Five generations of Folses ago, in 1720, Jean Gorg Fols, a shoemaker from Ramstein, Germany, in the Palatinate along with his wife, Julienne, walked west from the Rhine River to Orleans and then to Port Louis at L’Orient, France. It was at this port that they boarded the sailing ship Les Deux Freres on November 14 for their voyage to Louisiana. Of the 4,000 Germans who signed up as indentured servants under contract to John Law’s Company of the Indies, the Fols’ were two of just 1,000 who eventually made the voyage overseas. More than 3,000 perished while wintering at the port or returned to their homeland. After arriving here in Louisiana, they settled 25 miles upriver from New Orleans on the west bank at present-day Hahnville. 

Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana

Between 1755 and 1760 the first wave of Acadians were arriving on Louisiana’s shores from Nova Scotia. The Spanish government of Louisiana welcomed these bedraggled refugees and settled them upriver from the Germans in present-day St. James Parish. During this same period records show that, Antoine, a grandson of Johann Jacob Foltz, was born. We assume given the various languages and dialects in Louisiana that Jean Gorg Fols and Johann Jacob Foltz are one and the same. In less than 40 years, Antoine left the river and founded the new Folse settlement on “Lake of the Germans” or Lac Des Allemands. Vacherie Folse was founded. 

In the late 1800s, my grandfather Louisey Folse was born in the town of Vacherie. In 1914 he and my grandmother became the proud parents of my dad, Royley, on those same banks at Lac Des Allemands. 

I guess if one word were to describe my German heritage it would be “tenacity.” When I reflect on the perils my ancestors faced, their commitment to food, cultural preservation, faith, family and dedication to God, I am inspired to share their story nearly 300 years later. As we go through this blog journey together, I’ll tell their story and that of Louisiana’s seven founding culinary nations.

Unique Raw Ingredients -
Chef Folse holding an
alligator, one of the
exotic ingredients of
the Bayou State
 It was my love of Louisiana and passion for food that defined my mission in life: to share Louisiana’s culture and cuisine with the world. Naturally, when I met Rick Tramonto a decade or so ago it only took a moment for our conversation to move from “hello” and a handshake to boudin, oysters on the half shell, sautéed Louisiana frog legs and other exotic foods of the bayous. 

I remember precisely the day I met Rick. He caught my attention immediately as I observed him gracefully maneuvering through the dining room at TRU, his Chicago restaurant. I had met him before, but this was the night I came to know him and understood his passion. His love of the restaurant, its food and the guests was obvious. Each diner looked at him in awe as though the great Talleyrand, Carême or Escoffier were in their midst. I watched as he stopped long enough at each patron’s table to adore and be adored. It was a restaurant moment that we in the business all long for. Eventually, he made his way to my table and after greeting and meeting each of us with a gentle handshake and an attentive eye, I knew the rest of the evening would be magical. The artistic details, first-class service and overall ambiance of that first visit remains embedded in my mind today, although I experienced it many times afterward. 

Once we became friendly acquaintances, we grew in respect for each other and I came to learn of his journey from obscurity to the pinnacle of the culinary world. Although so many have begun a journey out of adversity, few have achieved the ultimate destination that Rick has. 

Chef Folse presents the
Distinguished Visiting Chef
award to Rick Tramonto
 It was a few years later that Rick agreed to accept the role of Distinguished Visiting Chef at the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University on the banks of Bayou Lafourche in Thibodaux, Louisiana. This was our first experience together through sugarcane fields and cypress trees. On this journey Rick and I shared our life stories, our heritage and our passion for food. It was here that we became great friends and confidants. Little did I know that a few years later, after our work together in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we’d become partners in a restaurant development company called Home on the Range. Little did I know that Rick would move to Louisiana and live within a mile of my house. Little did I know that after 33 years in the restaurant business my first endeavor into the New Orleans’ restaurant scene, Restaurant R’evolution, would be in the Royal Sonesta at the corner of Bienville and Bourbon with Rick Tramonto as my partner. Little did I know that I would share Louisiana’s rich culture and unique raw ingredients with Rick, introduce him to fishermen, farmers, trappers and oystermen and share the stovetop in a menu development kitchen with a man I considered one of the top chefs on the globe. 

Measuring Up - Chef Folse and Karl
Zimmerman check the length of the
alligator's tail for a sauce piquante
Processing alligator meat at Riceland
Crawfish, Eunice, LA
But, that’s exactly what happened.  I realized that if we were to open Restaurant R’evolution successfully in the heart of one of the greatest food cities in the world, we needed to be totally joined at the hip and head, sharing the same philosophy, technique and Louisiana passion. We agreed to spend as much time in fisherman’s boots and hunting gear as we did in the kitchen, and thus began Rick’s crash course in Louisiana’s unique raw ingredients. This journey will continue in the coming months, as we explore what makes a gumbo a gumbo, a Cajun roux different from any other and the “trinity” a necessity in every cast iron pot. 

Chefs Rick Tramonto, Donald Link,
Matt Murphy and John Folse enjoy
the spoils of their frogging trip to
Henderson Swamp
 Over the next few months, Rick and I will share our story of building a restaurant where people come to experience what can be found in no other location in the world.  We’ll take you on the boudin trail; you’ll join us in Henderson Swamp to pull bullfrogs from the water with our bare hands; you’ll see us stop the car to pull an alligator from the roadway, but more importantly, you’ll be here with us as two chefs come together as one to create a true R’evolution in South Louisiana. You won’t want to miss this journey.

- John

Monday, December 13, 2010

Two Storms

As I write this, I’m sitting in my office at my home in Chicago, waiting to catch a 2:00 p.m. flight. I flew in on Thursday night, after driving from my new house in Gonzales, Louisiana (about an hour outside of New Orleans), to the airport. It was about 68 degrees when I left. I didn’t even wear a jacket. Imagine my surprise when I got in to Chicago at 8:30 and was greeted by a frigid snowstorm. Welcome back to Chicago! I’m freezing my ass off. Thank goodness Eileen brought me a jacket.

After almost a month away from my family, all we wanted to do was cook together, watch the Bears game and enjoy being together as the blizzard went on (and on) outside. Having lived in Louisiana for nearly a month, I kind of miss this, but I know I’m going back, although a little late since my flight is delayed.

Sitting here, looking outside at the wind whipping the snow around, I can’t help but think of another storm in another city. The storm that cemented my resolve to work with Chef John Folse. I’m talking about Katrina. I remember sitting with Eileen at our dining room table in Vernon Hills, and watching that monster storm unfold. All I kept thinking was, “I have to call John. I have to find John.” So I tracked him down and he told me, “Yeah, it’s up for grabs, man.” And he said he just needed me there, needed me to come and help. I got on the next plane.

At this point, I had known John for nearly 10 years, had seen him periodically when he came to Chicago, so there was this ongoing relationship. He would always pop into Trio or Tru, and he was always a great supporter of me as a young chef. When we first got close was when he started his Bittersweet Dairy operation, and he started doing cheese competitions. We did a cheese dinner at Tru with five cheesemakers, five wine makers and five chefs. I was  paired up with John, and that was really the first time we got to spend three days together, hanging out one-on-one, cooking together, and we just hit it off. He’s so easy to hang out with. At the end of that dinner he invited me to come to Louisiana to see his world. So a few months later, I went, and I was blown away.

John’s “Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine”(THE definitive book on the subject, which is now in its ninth printing) was just coming out, and he invited me do a book signing with him at a local Barnes & Noble. My Tru cookbook was just coming out, so I said why not? I had no idea what was coming. We pulled up to this store, and it was like utter mayhem. 300 or 400 people in line. It was like Julia Child was there. He had his staff at White Oak Plantation catering it, passing food. I was like, “Oh my god, this guy is like a folk legend. He’s like the Emeril or Julia Child who nobody knows about where I come from. What is going on here?” So we walk in, and we sat there for three hours and signed books. Let me tell you, it was daunting. I was coming from a city where I had established myself pretty well over the years. Here, nobody knew who I was. And meanwhile, John sold 30 books for every one I sold. It was the first time I ever realized how major this guy was. Everybody knew him. He was like an ambassador for not only the state of Louisiana, but the whole region. People drove in from as far away as Mississippi and Texas to meet him.

Three years passed after that visit, and we stayed in touch. And then Katrina hit, and I went back to Louisiana. John offered to take care of the security clearances with the government. He was contracted to feed people by the levees and in St. Bernard’s parish. I couldn’t picture what I was walking into. I had never been to a war zone, so I couldn’t get my arms around it. But through my eyes, seeing it first-hand was like being in an evacuated military situation. There were people seeking refuge, people on IV needles lying in the halls of the airport. It was just incomprehensible. And sure enough, I find John out front with a police escort, and we drive down in to the city in this convoy. 

John had these mobile kitchens set up, and for about a week we just cooked for all these refugees and rescue workers. They’d come in after pulling bodies out of houses and they’d eat and do some counseling, and we’d pray with them, and they’d go right back out. Then we moved our operations out into the suburbs – Baton Rouge and those places where the Mississippi River borders, where churches and convents were overflowing with people seeking refuge from the cities. We were making boxes of simple things like crayons and juice boxes for kids, bottled water and backpacks. It was incredible to see all of the companies that were donating stuff  -- Kmart, Wal-mart, Target, Sysco, Starbucks.

Fast forward another week, and I’m about to head back to Chicago. John and I were driving back to the airport, and we stopped on the Sunshine Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River. We’re watching Hurricane Rita come in. And our conversation took a deeper turn. We talked about our faith and this feeling like the apocalypse was coming, with all of these traumatic things happening in the world. It was like being on the top of a mountain, complete alone. Imagine being the only two people standing in the middle of an expressway, with not a car in sight. And it’s just quiet. All you can see in the distance is black skies. That’s the day we decided we needed to work together. That day and that moment started something. John will tell you more. He’s from there. He can paint the picture of the sugar cane fields and the oil refineries all around us as we talked, so you’ll see it all as clear as day, like I do.

So now, more than five years later, I’ve moved to Gonzales, Louisiana. John and I are working on our first restaurant together, Restaurant R’evolution. As soon as I land in New Orleans, I’ll go back home, then head into meetings all day tomorrow with John and our team at Bittersweet Plantation. We’re reviewing the final kitchen drawings (more on that later), and tomorrow is all about getting them finalized and approved, so bids can go out and demolition can start. Last week we tasted pastas for the new menu. The rest of this week is all about formulating and tasting the fish dishes. We’re on our way.

- Rick