This cookbook is more than just a how-to guide for cooking.
Besh is very concerned by his surroundings, whether it is people, the city of New Orleans or the environment. He uses produce from local farmers and fishermen for all of his restaurants: August, La Provence, Lüke, Domenica, Besh Steak, and The American Sector. That practice supports the local economy, cuts the carbon footprint, and guarantees more organically-grown vegetables. He even has his own vegetable garden in the back of La Provence restaurant, located a few miles away from the city in Lacombe. A native of southern Louisiana, he is consumed with putting the city and the state back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina (traces are still visible after five years) and the oil spill.
Besh’s book, My New Orleans: The Cookbook, is the perfect illustration of his love and passion for his roots. Seven years in the making, the seven-pound, 350-page book is more than a usual cookbook. It is full of stories, and split up by what the local culture calls for instead of typical cookbook chapters. Here again, Besh is helping by giving a portion of the proceeds to Café Reconcile, a New Orleans non-profit organization dedicated to providing training and skills to at-risk youngsters so they can find jobs in the hospitality and restaurant industries.
More and more, cookbooks are going above and beyond the traditional format of a simple collection of recipes. Often, stories and anecdotes, along with fascinating imagery, accompany the lists of ingredients and instructions that explain each chef’s personal journey through the food they love to make, while teaching others how to do it, too. Such is the case with John Besh’s tome My New Orleans: The Cookbook, which features 200 recipes among personal stories of his childhood, family and friends, and an exploration of the unique food history of the city in which he grew up.
Don’t expect to find Besh’s recipes separated into the average “Appetizers,” “Entrées” and “Sides” or “Meat,” “Poultry” and “Vegetables” sections. My New Orleans: The Cookbook is a mixed bag of categories, from entire chapters dedicated to “Crawfish & Rice” and “Strawberries & Citrus” to others entitled “Mardi Gras” and “Shrimp Season.”
In more than 350 pages, it includes recipes for traditional New Orleans dishes, such as seafood gumbo, crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, crab bisque, beignets, watermelon pickles and fried oysters, as well as Besh’s own contemporary dishes. In the “Shrimp Season” section, he provides original dishes, such as “Besh Barbecue Shrimp” and “Hot and Spicy Lemongrass Shrimp Soup,” while “The Urban Farm” contains vegetarian delights, such as “Cornmeal-Fried Okra” and “Silver Queen Corn, Orzo and Crab Macque Choux.”
From the mastermind behind culinary destinations such as Restaurant August, Lüke, Besh Steak and La Provence, one may expect to get a cookbook containing lists of complicated procedures and formulas, but quite the opposite is true. Along with his generous amounts of cooking advice, Besh has included mouthwatering photography and informative sidebars that highlight certain ingredients to aid the at-home chef in creating delicious, down-home dishes.