In New Orleans earlier this month, scouting Summit locations, we met up with local friends for dinner at Acme Oyster House. When Melissa ordered red beans and rice (it was Sunday), our friends looked at her like she was nuts.
“Red beans and rice—that’s Monday’s dinner,” said Ray, shaking his head as he focused on his charbroiled oysters. We ordered the dish anyway. They were good, but Acme’s oysters (sourced from Galveston) were better. The next day at a meeting with our host committee, the history of red beans and rice was a suggested seminar topic. A couple days later, red beans were central to the Katrina evacuation story of our sales rep from the CVB, who headed north to Baton Rouge where she was bereft of her preferred brand of canned red beans. “I could never live outside New Orleans,” she said.
I picked up some lore when I bought the children’s book Today is Monday in Louisiana by Johnette Downing—on Mondays, laundry day, while the washing got done, red beans could simmer on the back burner until dinnertime.
Tradition is big in New Orleans, and the city’s attention to the past makes it a compelling place (among other things). But, say locals who sit on our Summit host committee, there’s an embrace of innovation that’s been rising since Katrina, and people have been creating new approaches to old problems.
Support of small, socially-minded entrepreneurs is big here. So are charter schools, two of which host an important program called the NOLA Edible Schoolyard. Farmer-chef connections, fostered by the Crescent City Farmers Market, are still in their infancy, though judging by the turnout of chefs at our host committee meeting, the desire to build a more farm-direct agriculture system is simmering.
We know the 2011 Summit would be exciting no matter where we held it, but New Orleans has just the right vibe. With the help of board member Stephen Stryjewski (whose restaurants we haunted while in town) and other community members from here, here, and here consulting on the program and events, we’re sure the vibe of this decadent old city in the midst of an exciting renewal will get into your blood like it has in ours (and certainly, it won’t be the only thing in your blood).
That Monday in Louisiana, we passed on rice and beans. They’re not on the menu at Feast, a new restaurant in the Warehouse District with a tight nose-to-tail program (warm pork fat on toast, anyone?) and a no-factory-raised-meat policy. Ever. Another tradition to foster!