New Orleans is a pretty one-of-a-kind place to dine out. It’s the only American city to have its own cuisine (Cajun, Creole) and, unlike a lot of popular dining locales, restaurants have been built into the fabric of NOLA society since the city’s inception.
“People have always come to New Orleans to eat,” says Shannon Derkacht of Sylvain. “It’s a way of life here for locals to eat out. There is this built-in group of food enthusiasts.” She adds that because of this, while cities like New York are defined by the finance industry and Los Angeles is defined by the film industry, New Orleans has long been defined by its food business—in fact, though this is much disputed, New Orleans claims to be home to the first restaurant in America, Antoine’s.
The centrality of the food industry is also evident in the fact that when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2009, restaurants were some of the first businesses to bounce back—and since then, the number of places to eat in the city has grown exponentially. In the long run, according to Kelly Fields, chef/partner of Willa Jean, Katrina made the industry stronger, better, and more innovative, and brought chefs closer together.
“The community here in New Orleans is one that I have not experienced in any other city in America,” she says. “We are all in it together. If one place succeeds, we all succeed. We’ve been to hell and back because of Katrina, and we’re all still taking one step in front of the other to make our dreams come true.”
Because food permeates every aspect of New Orleans life, John Michael Rowland, General Manager at Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar, says that working in the restaurant industry really does feel like you are servicing the very heart of the culture. “People visit for the food and the culture that surrounds food,” he says. “Everywhere you go—whether it’s a restaurant or even a music festival, people are always talking about food.” [Read more…]