The Austin Chronicle

Lazy, Hazy Daze of Summer Reading

Reviewed by Mick Vann, May 29, 2009, Food

Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found From the Times-Picayune of New Orleans

edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walk­er
Chronicle Books, 400 pp., $24.95 (paper)

Marcel Bienvenu writes the "Cooking Cre­ole" column in New Orleans' Times-Picay­une, and Judy Walker is the newspaper's food editor. They've collaborated before, but this cookbook was really written by the readers and the citizens of New Orleans. After Hur­ri­cane Katri­na devastated the city, tens of thousands of residents lost their treasured collections of keepsake family recipes, washed away in the floods or soaked for weeks in fetid water.

In October 2005 the paper started a new column called "Exchange Alley," based on a reader's request, and it was an immediate success. For each reader requesting a missing recipe, there would be dozens of chefs and amateur cooks responding. Over several years, the Picayune had compiled thousands of recipes and, in a sense, had been instrumental in restoring the culinary legacy of America's most food-oriented city.

With Cooking Up a Storm, Bienvenu and Walker have compiled 250 of New Orleans' best authentic recipes, covering both simple and more complex dishes in every category. It's hard to imagine recipes that have been tested more often than these. Many of them feature descriptions of the history of the dish, with fascinating historical backstories. It would be a stretch to say that the editors have saved the cuisine of a city with a single book, but after reading and cooking from Cooking Up a Storm, it really isn't that hard to believe. – M.V.

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