Food Heals – “Hungry Town” by Tom Fitzmorris
In the case of New Orleans, food doesn’t hurt either.
Radio personality and food critic Tom Fitzmorris’ book “Hungry Town” is a sobering, heart-breaking, educational, and uplifting book about New Orleans as a mecca for great food, and how the restaurant scene that was nearly devastated by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina bounced back to life fueled by the understanding of the restaurateurs and patrons that food is a vital and important part of a city’s personality.
Fitzmorris, a noted writer, has long been a resident of New Orleans and is the go-to expert on the history of the city’s food and restaurant revolution. (If you’ve seen the post-Katrina “No Reservations” episode about the city, he’s the guy who has dinner at the empty restaurant with Anthony Bourdain, FYI.)
The book, part memoir and part history, begins by charting the rise of gourmet restaurants in New Orleans in the 80’s, as well as Fitzmorris’ career in food journalism and broadcasting, and introduces many of the characters that make this particular restaurant scene so special. (Yep, Emeril is discussed.) From there, he turns his attentions to Katrina and the devastating and horrifying effects that the massive hurricane left on the city. It’s sobering stuff, even years later. As a foodie, it’s particularly heartbreaking to read about the millions of dollars of wine that was destroyed in wine cellars during the flood.
However, New Orleans is a survivor. Fitzmorris began a list of restaurants that were re-opening in the wake of Katrina, and as the numbers rise the stories grow more touching. For example, a restaurant called Drago’s re-opened days after the hurricane, with a policy of giving food to anyone who came in – and wound up giving away “77,000 free meals.”
In addition to being a wonderful foodie memoir of life in New Orleans, Fitzmorris also includes a bunch of delicious-sounding recipes from the city’s heart. All of them sound delicious, and make me want to go all “Julie & Julia” on the book. Root Beer Glazed Ham? Red Beans and Rice? Seared Scallops with Artichokes? Cafe au Lait made with coffee and chickory? Yes, please.
Foodies, history buffs, and travelers will find this book particularly interesting. However, I think it’s a book that defies genres. It’s rather lovely, a portrait of a city of grandeur collapsing and rebuilding.
The city, to this day, has a long way to go. But, in the words of it’s mayor at the time of the Hurricane – “One Day at a Time.”