Tennessee Williams has been unfairly relegated to the role of the gay fop mincing about the page and the hallways of community theaters and high school productions, his words marred by harried and forced Southern accents that sound more like the victim of a head injury than persons of Delta birth. Like Oscar Wilde, his counterpart from an ocean and century apart, Williams is often and simply marginalized. Whether this is due to dumb luck or the sexual orientation that acted as a metaphor in their works, neither man’s talent is studied in schools as seriously as someone like his contemporary, Carson McCullers.
Enter writer Troy Gilbert, chef Greg Picolo of New Orleans’ Bistro at Maison deVille and Dr. W. Kenneth Holditch. Gilbert and Picolo collaborated to write Dinner with Tennesee Williams
, and Holditch, a prominent scholar of Williams out of the University of New Orleans, brought his wealth of knowledge to the table. Part remembrance, part literary analysis and part cookbook, it examines the life of Williams and just how important the bacchic pleasures of food and drink were to the man Williams was and the writer he remains.
According to preeminent modern theater critic John Quinn, “[Williams’] gift was an ear for the poetic quality of the English language set to the lilt of the Delta dialect.” Long before it was common, Williams phonetically captured the cadences of his characters: “He ate like a hawss,” as Big Mama said of Big Daddy with pride and awe in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, showing not only how Williams envisioned his work aloud, but the nearly alarming seriousness by which good health is measured. Williams had a tremendous focus on food in his work, and Gilbert makes that connection clear.
Williams had a table at Galatoire’s Restaurant off Bourbon Street (you can make a reservation for it still today, since he’s not using it), the city where he felt the most at ease. Although he drifted around the world during his life, eventually dying in New York City and being buried in St. Louis, it was New Orleans where Williams set most of his plays and which provided inspiration to him across the globe. Williams came to New Orleans for the first time to live in 1938 at a boarding house located at 722 Toulouse St. after a previous life as a Mississippi boy. Just across this street today, at 733 Toulouse, stands The Bistro at Maison de Ville, and in it chef Greg Picolo cultivated the recipes in this book.
With every cookbook there will be a few misses, this being no exception. This is a cookbook for someone who loves Williams (or at the very least American Southern Gothic writing) and has done more than a scrambled egg or two. Inspired by The Glass Menagerie
, Amanda’s Smoked Salmon Loaf with Poached Eggs, Frisée and Remoulade Blanc Topped with Toffika Caviar comes to mind. Toffika caviar isn’t readily found just anywhere, and wasabi caviar even less so, but its inspiration is legitimate and great fun to read about.
On the other end of the spectrum is a recipe inspired by Summer and Smoke
: Brussels Sprouts with Honey, Peaches and Creole Mustard. Those who cringe at sprout talk maybe haven’t had them done correctly. Brussels sprouts are sweet, tiny mini-cabbages that have all the meaty green without the stink of cooked cabbage and are surprisingly easy to prepare.
If salmon loaf seems too complicated and brussels sprouts too severe a change, Dinner with Tennessee Williams
has a wonderful recipe for tamales. Williams mentioned them in that Big Sleazy staple, A Streetcar Named Desire
, when the woeful, mentally fragile Blanche DuBois is startled by the yelling of a tamale vendor in the street. Picolo’s recipe is easy to manage, and tamales freeze beautifully, easily and best warmed up in any rice cooker. It’s a very traditional recipe, even calling for a dash of cocoa powder, which is common in central Mexico.
The next recipe we’re trying at home, however, is Big Daddy’s Braised Double-Cut Pork Chops with Coca-Cola, Bourbon, Molasses and Granny Smith Apples. Using sodas in baking and cooking is a truly Southern thing, but throw in the bourbon and molasses and you may as well don a linen suit and have a corncob pipe at the ready. For this recipe I urge you to find “real” Coke — what is often referred to as “Mexican Coke.” It’s made with real sugar and not the sticky concoction of high fructose corn syrup. With the bourbon, as with cooking with any liquor, the rule of thumb is don’t cook with anything you wouldn’t drink, so keep that in mind.
Big Daddy’s Braised Double-Cut Pork Chops with Coca-Cola, Bourbon, Molasses, and Granny Smith Apples
6 double-cut pork chops
Salt and pepper
2 cups flour, seasoned
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 cups bourbon
4 cups Coca-Cola
2 cups apple juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Steen’s Molasses
2 teaspoons Tabasco or Crystal Hot Sauce
2 cups demi-glace
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup beef stock, if necessary
5 Granny Smith apples, cored and quarteredSeason chops with salt and pepper and then dust in seasoned flour. Sear chops in hot oil in an ovenproof pan until they turn a light brown, about 2 minutes on each side, and remove to a plate. Carefully pour off excess oil from the pan and then add the onion and saute for 2 minutes. Return the chops to the pan and deglaze with the bourbon, allowing the pot liquor to reduce by two-thirds.
Add Coca-Cola, apple juice, garlic, soy sauce, molasses, Tabasco, demi-glace, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper. While cooking, take a brush and baste the chops every 5 minutes or so. Braise in an oven, uncovered, at 450 degrees F for 8 minutes. If needed, add stock or water if the “pot liquor” reduces too quickly. Reduce heat and cook at 350-400 degrees F for 20 minutes; turn the chops. Cook for an additional 20 minutes and then turn again. Add apples and cook an additional 20 to 40 minutes, until the meat is almost falling off the bone. Serve.
History in the Making
Romero and company celebrate our musical roots and future
On the closing night of Festival International, 5:45 p.m. on the main stage at Parc International, several of South Louisiana’s finest musicians and musical statesmen are grouping together for the first time. Roddie Romero and bandmate Eric Adcock, organizers of The Louisiana Experience, will be joined by Sonny Landreth, Corey Ledet, Cedric Watson, Marc Broussard, Johnnie Allen, Belton Richard, Lil’ Buck Senegal, Chris Segura, Anna Laura Edmiston, Chris Stafford, Rex Moroux and others for a once-in-a-lifetime show. Roddie, as great a dude as he is a musician, filled us in on the finer points.
The Ind: It’s obvious why you chose who you did for the lineup — they’re all fantastic musicians. How did you get everyone together and how long has this taken to create? Was this just your idea or were you working with someone to put this show together?
Roddie: Well, this idea was sparked from a live show that we did last year about this time. Members of the Duhks and Chic Gamine (longtime friends) were passing through town and wanted to put together a show. What an amazing night! Members of Festival turned out and immediately booked the band. The idea for an all-star event was a collaboration between Festival, myself and Eric Adcock (co-producer). Being it was the 25th anniversary, a tribute to South Louisiana music was born.
The Ind: What do you think an all-star performance like this will show tourists and other acts from outside our area? What do you hope comes across?
Roddie: The purpose of this show is to pay homage to our amazing melange of South Louisiana music that has influenced the world.
The Ind: How vital is Festival International to the spirit of Acadiana? In what ways does it help our musical community to see acts from around the world?
Roddie: I think that Festival International is an amazing venue for a show like this because not only do people come from around the world to perform but they come to find new and exciting music. How lucky is Acadiana to be able to experience this?
The Ind: I’ve always wanted to ask: Is it weird having a law named in your honor? (The Roddie Romero Law enables underage performers to play at night in venues that serve alcohol as long as a guardian is present.)
Roddie: Never a weird thing to have a law named after you. Great conversation piece.
The Ind: Does it surprise you even a little that so many young musicians have started playing Cajun or zydeco and are sticking with it? (So many don’t come back to that style until they are older.)
Roddie: Not too long ago (20 years) I was one of a few that was playing Cajun or zydeco music. I think that it’s vital to pass on these traditions in order to move forward. Learn how to can figs!