The Food Almanac: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's World Vegetarian Day!
Staff Writer

Eric Hunt

Today is the thirty-second annual World Vegetarian Day, instituted by the North American Vegetarian Society.

Anniversaries Of Notable Restaurants
Today in 2001 was opening day for Restaurant August. Chef John Besh, recently departed from Artesia in Abita Springs, was looking around for a gig. August "Duke" Robin persuaded him to join him in opening a new restaurant on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Gravier, across the street from the Windsor Court Hotel. Besh hired a few key people from the Grill Room; he was himself was an alumni of that kitchen. The timing was terrible. Travel was still much depressed by the 9/11 disaster. But the restaurant took off anyway. Besh bought out Robin in 2005, just in time for another unfortunate event that depressed business. But he got the restaurant open right after the storm, serving red beans and rice and the like to those trying to keep a lid on things, until he could start cooking and serving on actual china with silverware. Restaurant August is, then and now, a contender for best restaurant in New Orleans.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Walt Disney World opened near Orlando, Florida today in 1971. Eleven years later, also on this date, Disney's EPCOT Center opened next door. A corporate dream come true, Disney World remakes the world according to its fantasies, and even controls the government of its lands. For the past fifteen years, the theme park and its adjuncts have continually raised the stakes in its restaurants, offering more than a few gourmet outlets. The city of Orlando also has seen a rapid rise in its number of serious restaurants. Emeril has two of them there.

Great Moments In The Recovery
This is the day in 2006 when Commander's Palace reopened after Katrina--and after many millions of dollars of repairs. In fixing what at first looked like minor damage, the Brennans found other, previously unknown problems that had to be addressed before the 126-year-old restaurant could reopen. Lally Brennan ruefully called it "a Pandora's box." 

Back open finally, Commander's went beyond getting back into the groove: it cut a brand new one. Chef Tory McPhail remained at the kitchen's helm, most of the staff was back, and the all-girl team of proprietors (Ti Martin, Lally Brennan, Ella Brennan, and Dottie Brennan) continued to run things in person. The reopening launched a new era for Commander's, which is now better than it has been in at least five years.

Food Calendar
As we begin a new month, we note that October is (according to various untraceable sources): Country Ham Month, National Apple Month, National Chili Month (the first week is also National Chili Week), National Cookie Month, National Dessert Month, National Pickled Peppers Month (so pick a peck of 'em), National Pork Month, National Pretzel Month, National Seafood Month, Vegetarian Awareness Month (yeah, yeah, we're aware of them--more in a moment), Sun Dried Tomatoes Month, Cook Book Month (hey! buy mine here), Gourmet Adventures Month, National Spinach Lovers Month, and Hunger Awareness Month. This is also supposed to be No Salt Week--but that is truly impossible to observe.

Today is the thirty-second annual World Vegetarian Day, instituted by the North American Vegetarian Society. It's a mellow organization that seems more interested in promoting the joys and healthfulness of vegetarianism than decrying the diets of omnivores. Here's their website. 

The ranks of vegetarians are growing. I can vouch for that, just based on the number of queries I get from people looking for vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Fortunately for them, the restaurant community has kept up with this demand. Most white-tablecloth restaurants around New Orleans carry vegetarian (and sometimes even vegan) entrees on their menus. Neighborhood cafes have been slower to do so, as have most chains. And that option is expanding. 

The first strategy for vegetarians who want to eat well in restaurants (in New Orleans, anyway) is to forget about vegetarian restaurants. The best of them have been just okay; most have been dreadful. Instead, go to good restaurants that buy fresh everything and have real chefs in the kitchen. Shop the menu for the ingredients of an appealing dish, and ask the chef to make it. Unless it's something really complicated, he probably will.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Vegetarian Creek is in the southeast quadrant of Kansas, flowing into the Neosho River. (Which flows into the Arkansas, a tributary of the Mississippi.) The creek runs only a few miles through large farm fields in a rolling terrain. The creek is so named because a vegetarian community was established nearby in 1856. It didn't last long, but the name stuck. The nearest restaurants are three miles away in Chanute. The one that sounds most likely to be vegetarian is The Grain Bin, 314 East Main Street.

Edible Dictionary
kale, n.--A green, leafy vegetable in the cabbage family. The leaves are an attractive pale green with a hint of blue, and are very thick, even at their edges. Part of that effect is because the leaves are curly. Kale is more often served nearly or completely raw as a plate garnish than for actual eating. It's not often eaten in that state, because of the thickness of the leaves and their bitterness. When cut into bite-size pieces and cooked slowly, however, kale becomes quite good. An underrated, underused vegetable. As cruciferous vegetables go, it's one of the most primitive, and is similar to what cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower evolved from.

Deft Dining Rule #781
To help change the world, when a single leaf of raw kale turns up on a plate in a restaurant, ask the server, "What do I do with this?" The answers are always interesting.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
To cook kale, slice out the central rib of the leaves and then cut the leaves into pieces the size of the pad of your thumb. Cook it slowly with chicken stock, olive oil, or butter, garlic or onions, crushed red pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice until it's tender. Then don't tell anybody what it is.

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Bavo, the patron saint of Ghent, Belgium. The cathedral named after him there is one of the most impressive in Europe, which is saying something. It's across the street from a restaurant whose name I can't recall, in an ancient city hall, where I went through a large bucket of mussels in wine and cream sauce for less than fifteen dollars. St. Bavo ought to be the patron saint of mussels.

Music To Dine By
Today is the birthday, in 1925, of mellow pianist Roger Williams. His music played for millions of hours on Muzak systems in restaurants over the years (I still hear it quite a bit). I will forever associate it school cafeteria eating. During my years at St. Rita's in Harahan, one of the nuns decided that Williams's music would be nice for the students to listen to instead of talking in the cafeteria. She played the same side of the same Roger Williams album every day. I came to like those songs--a funny thing for a kid of twelve.

Music To Lose A Recipe By
Today is the birthday (1930) of Richard Harris, the Irish actor who, although not really a singer, recorded the hit version of Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park, one of the strangest songs ever written. Someone left a cake out in the rain.

Food And Drink Namesakes
Today in 1975 Eric Morel, Puerto Rican boxer in the 1996 Olympics, entered the Big Ring. . . Actor George Peppard was born today in 1928. . . Jerry Martini, jazz and pop saxophonist, was born today in 1943. . . Rob Collard, a British racecar driver, crossed the Big Starting Line today in 1968.

Words To Eat By
"I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants."--A. Whitney Brown.

"I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens."--Isaac Bashevis Singer.

"I was a vegetarian until I started leaning toward the sunlight."--Rita Rudner.

"Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?"--Unknown.

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