Anthony Bourdain and the No Reservations crew delve deep into the heart of Cajun Country. But was the image of the Cajun people fairly portrayed?
And so it was. I waited with equal parts of trepidation and excitement for the season finale of No Reservations to air. “Would someone finally get it right?” I thought. Or would the viewers be subjected to the usual stereotypes that seemingly define Cajun people. The movie Southern Comfort came streaking across my mind. You know the one, where a group of National Guardsmen find themselves lost in the swamps of Louisiana and fighting for their lives with the local Cajuns, yeah those kinds of stereotypes. The same that images paint Cajuns as half civilized, swamp dwelling, illiterates who are locked in a time warp from the 1700’s.
Ok I guess I knew it wouldn’t be that bad, but I was still waiting for the show to portray Cajuns, once again, as a group of inbred, poorly educated, Neanderthals who just happen to know how to cook. It seems that I was worrying for nothing.
You see I’m a Cajun. Born that way you know? I know that the culture we have here is special. It is unique in that it is both simple and incredibly complex at the same time. While we usually don’t care too much about what the rest of the world thinks, we work tirelessly to preserve our culture. A show like No Reservations could either help or hurt that labor of love.
The scope of the episode
Tony and crew started the No Reservations episode in New Orleans, but quickly found themselves in and around Cajun Country, also called Acadiana. That is the part of Louisiana where the highest concentrations of Cajuns are found. Towns with names like Breaux Bridge (pronounced bro), PochéBridge (PO-shay), Lafayette (LAF-fi-yet), and Eunice (YOU-niss) were visited. Yes there is a lot of water down here and hence the need for many bridges. Each town found Tony searching for real, authentic Cajun food with a local guide in tow. The focus of the show seemed to concentrate on what people don’t know about Cajuns and their way of life. Crawfish boils, soul food, and a boucherie soon would transform preconceived notions about a people and their food. I think Tony was as taken by the people and stories, as he was with the food. To hear him compare the food he ate to that of El Bulli not only made me proud, but vindicated what I have known all of my life.
Enter Patrick Mould
One of Tony’s guides while in Acadiana was Chef Patrick Mould. Patrick is a mainstay in the Acadiana culture scene. Patrick understands the importance of preserving our way of life. During the No Reservations episode Patrick did, as always, a fantastic job of explaining the reasoning in the methods of cooking as well as the history behind them. Thank you once again Pat.
The biggest discovery
Most people associate Cajuns with the French culture. That is with good reason as Cajun people are descendants from France via Nova Scotia. But the food is uniquely American. As a matter of fact Cajun food is probably the most American food in America. The food we enjoy today as Cajuns is an amalgamation of several cultures. French, Spanish, African, and Native American influences can be easily seen in almost every dish. The typical and time honored French techniques are morphed into different methods of cooking which produce unimaginable results. Cajun food by definition is the great melting pot.
All of this came into being out of necessity. Life was hard for Cajun people when they arrived in Louisiana, very hard. Hard in a way that you reading this cannot possibly imagine. Food had to be starch heavy for energy, protein rich for strength, and cheap-dirt cheap. Consequently what used to be considered trash cuts of meat, along with the most prolific vegetables and grains found themselves in a pot slowly cooking into incredible deliciousness. Local fishes and crustaceans were plucked from their waters and cooked to supplement their diets as well.
The end result
There was one point which I was hoping to see corrected. Tony kept referring to a corn hash he was thoroughly enjoying. The dish is called Corn Macquechoux (mach-SHOO). A hash usually denotes potatoes. There are none in this dish. It is as delicious as it is simple.
As the ending credits rolled I found that the episode was entertaining, as always, educational, enlightening, and damned good. Tony showed you what we have known all along. That a pig, a pistol, some pots, fire, great music, and good ingredients are all that are needed for the time of your life. That a group of people joining together with the sole task of providing one of life’s necessities (nourishment) can transform that gathering into a celebration. No reason is needed, and certainly no reservations are taken.