SHAME on Alan Richman


Photo: A montage of some of New Orleans’ best culinary delights (Jason Perlow)

The food blogging and professional food writing community is afire (1) (2) (3) (4) in response to Alan Richman’s most recently published cruel, callous, ignorant, poorly researched and factually vacant piece of trash that presents his myopic and predjudicial view of New Orleans restaurants and food culture. Shame on Alan Richman for writing it, and shame on GQ for allowing such a terrible and badly written piece to go to print.

The total sum of Richman’s factual inaccuracies, ignorance and complete lack of research in his article are too numerous to mention.

If anyone wants easy proof to refute every single stupid point in his article, have a look at the New Orleans section of this web site, which has in-depth reviews and photos of the food at many of the city’s top eateries, plus podcasts with several of the city’s most prominent chefs:

Off The Broiler: New Orleans (click for index)

Certainly as a self-admitted and culturally biased and egotistical New Yorker who also believes his town is the center of the universe, I could also have said the same stupid things that Richman is saying. But the difference is I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans and Richman clearly has not.

For the past several years, my wife Rachel and I have been visiting the City of New Orleans, because we love the food and have such a strong emotional attachment to the city. We visited the city in 2003, we had a trip in 2005 (just 2 months prior to Katrina devastating the city) and most recently a trip in April of 2006, all of which is detailed here.

I think that while it is extremely important that we remember those lost to Katrina and the devastating effect it has has on the city of New Orleans, that we also rejoice in that New Orleans is rebuilding, and that New Orleans is still a great place to visit in terms of gastrotourism and that the food is still fantastic, and that you really should all be going down and spending your vacations and money there to help bring the city back.

Jason Perlow

Founder, eGullet.com

Blogger of Off The Broiler (http://www.offthebroiler.com)

26 Responses to SHAME on Alan Richman

  1. Bux says:

    It’s a shame Alan Richman’s article is no longer available online. I rather like him and his writing and would like to have a first hand reading of his report on New Orleans. I had the good fortune to have dinner with him years ago and found him to be affable and courteous with surprisingly little ego on display for the largely lay company at the table in one of New York’s best restaurants. This seems like a poor time to knock New Orleans and its restaurants or food traditions, so I’ll not say much more about my little experience dining in the big easy other than to note that years before Katrina, I found deep fat frying to be almost universally excellent wherever I went. Haute cuisine, fine cooking, wine service and service in general on the other hand, varied considerably, but didn’t match that to be expected in a world class dining town. Again, my experience in New Orleans was very limited, but I found fans of creole food closed to any discussion that was critical.

  2. Bux, looks like they put the article back.

  3. childofthestorm says:

    I never really understand when someone says “shame on X” – inevitably a schoolmarmish kneejerk reaction. Richman is a critic, one of the most acerbic ones on this side of the Atlantic. Is New Orleans somehow off-limits to criticism now? Should a discussion of New Orleans cuisine and casual food be uniformly positive, motivated by sympathy and a desire to help boost the local economy? Seems to me this thinking runs contrary to the whole function of criticism. Did every restaurant in Tribeca get a free pass from the critics a year after 9/11?

    You can quibble with the facts and opinions that Richman presents, but he has a right to express them. No shame there.

    Coincidentally, a friend was in New Orleans last week for a vacation, ate fried chicken every day, drank himself silly, and enjoyed himself immensely. People are coming back, will come back.

  4. E. Nassar says:

    You know Richman is on crack right after reading the very first sentence. New Orleans being so relatively close to Houston was for my wife and myself a perfect weekend getaway regularly. Why not San Antonio? Austin? Baton Rouge? The FOOD of course (history and all that jazz did not hurt either). We have not been since Katrina though.

  5. Childofthestorm:

    Well, originally I was going to go with “Alan Richman, you Ignorant Slut” but I thought better of it.

    I would agree that it would be a schoolmarmish, kneejerk reaction if half the professional food writing community — including some of his closest peers — already hadn’t taken him to task for the article’s HUGE factual errors and clear knowledge gaps that betray the piece.

  6. Bux says:

    I think Richman set the table with this statement: “I think people either take to the city or they do not.” He knows where he stands and was open about it. The criticisms of his article support my initial reaction. “I found fans of creole food closed to any discussion that was critical.”

    Brett Anderson’s response appears even less open minded than Alan Richman’s review. He spotted some critical errors, but he overlooked some better points and compassion while sinking to an attack bordering on personal when he says “Richman’s story is a weakling’s idea of what it means to be tough.” Anderson’s take on the “the ‘tough decision’ to spend ‘Iraq-magnitude money’ rebuilding New Orleans” twists Richman’s context and ignores his earlier comment about how we have no choice but to rescue the city.

    I am curious as to why Richman ever expected to find a race of Creoles. Creole is a culture that developed in the context of an active port city. It’s not a race and I don’t know if it was ever a homogenized culture. I suspect not. Clearly he’s unqualified to write the history of New Orleans, but I think he reported openly and honestly on the food he found. I’d not choose to shame him for not writing the public relations puff piece others would like to see, even though I’m not familiar with the restaurants and can neither support nor criticize his reactions and opinions of the food. I thought he was spot on about the bread however. I also enjoyed Commander’s Palace bread pudding souffle, but it was the only really positive aspect of an otherwise trying evening there. My apologies to those who are offended by my comments.

  7. doctorj says:

    Bux,
    Richman is a horrible, horrid excuse for a human being. Culinary review is one thing, but he attacked my hometown and her people in a time that we are fighting for our life, economically and in terms of protection from future storms.. Vile! You don’t have a clue about New Orleans or her culture either. Creoles are definitely a race, a culture, and a tomato to boot!

  8. “Creole is a culture that developed in the context of an active port city. It’s not a race and I don’t know if it was ever a homogenized culture.”

    Bux if you spend enough time in New Orleans you actually do get to meet some genuine Creoles. Leah Chase and Ray Nagin are two good examples, as is Bryant Gumbel. They aren’t a race per se, but they are definitely a distinct subset of African-American culture that distinguishes them from most regular Americans of African or mixed descent, with their own traditions, societal values and of course, dishes. Just like you cant say Jews are a race (and we aren’t) Creoles aren’t a race either — more of a culture, although there are definitely genetic characteristics among the Creoles in Louisiana because of how the different cultures mixed there. Its a complicated history and Richman way oversimplifies things, and in an insulting fashion.

  9. childofthestorm says:

    I’ve never been to New Orleans, and I’m not a huge fan of so-called “Cajun” food I’ve found in my travels (I’m from Montreal, and am certainly interested in the similarities between the cusine of New Orleans and that of my home province), so I’m ill-equipped to dissect factual errors, but the comments and debate I’ve read about Richman’s article score some points against his argument.

    But isn’t Richman’s piece just an example of the brave new world of food criticism? I mean, imagine if A.A. Gill had done it first. Stylistically, the trend is towards biting commentary and the injection of the writer’s persona into the discussion. I think that this style of criticsm has a place in the world of food. Factual errors, gaps in knowledge, they happen. I guess I’m just afraid of sacred cows, and the stifling of genuine discussion engendered by the need not to offend, or to “support”. Critics will sometimes be insulting – that’s their job. I don’t think that New Orleans should get a free pass.

    But hey, the uproar over this led me to your blog, and I’m loving it, so I guess I should book a trip to New Orleans soon and eat for myself.

  10. Richman’s article is drawing particular ire because of the utter carelessness and callousness in which it was written. Certainly it is possible to have critical views about restaurants in particular — nobody would be outraged if Richman had simply written that Galatoire’s or perhaps Brigtsen’s or other iconic New Orleans restaurant, or any number of them were not producing an expected quality of cuisine. However, to dismiss and condemn and insult an entire city and an entire food culture, to come right out and say New Orleans has no right to exist (which he does, very clearly) in such a callous manner is irresponsible and just plain nasty. Its not journalism at all.

    And if you’ve never been to New Orleans or eaten Creole or Cajun food in its native environment then you’ve never really experienced the cuisine. Thats like me saying I hate poutine and montreal bagels and Quebecois food even though I’ve never tried it there before — or that I think Montreal smoke meat is substandard because the only time I had a Canadian smoke meat was in Ottawa instead of at Schwartz’s. It just doesn’t hold water.

  11. E. Nassar says:

    Criticism should be just that. Criticism. It should not aim to offend, belittle or bash just for the sake of bashing. I actually re-read the article after Bux’s post, thinking maybe I was blinded by my “emotional” attachment to NOLA and it’s food. Maybe Richman meant well and did not mean to insult and I just missed it. Well, no that’s not true, Richman’s article is not what I would expect from a critic. It is mean spirited, aimed at the jugular, aimed to insult the city, it’s food, it’s culture, people and those who dare think it is a place worth visiting. Was he trying to be funny I guess? Criticism is fine. He does not like the food and thinks NOLA is not for him? Also fine and he can state that in so many ways. His article did little more than show what a bigoted ass he is. And for that to be published by GQ is not fine IMHO.

  12. Bux says:

    The response to Richman’s article from ost of its critics is too emotional to address intellectually and I have a harder time separating the offense taken at digs at the city from those about the food criticism.

    Doctorj says Creoles are a race. Jason says they’re not. Here’s a good definition of race: The descendants of a common ancestor; a family, tribe, people, or nation, believed or presumed to belong to the same stock; a lineage; a breed. From what I understand about creole heritage, it’s the opposite. It’s a blending of multiple cultures, not just from several nations, but from two or three continents. It’s an urban culture and a sophisticated and cosmopolitan culture. And it developed a dynamic cuisine, that leaned heavily on France, but incorporated influences from all the cultures that went into making creole culture. One of Richman’s points is that creole cooking today is static and moribund. Resting on its laurels would be another way to express that.

    As far as I can ascertain, Cajuns and Creoles are two separate and rather distinct groups although they both share ties to France and the French language. The Cajun home is in the countryside, but cities being what they are, New Oleans can claim Cajuns amongst its Creole population.

  13. It’s not really possible to establish a “Race” with history that only goes back to the 17th century, if you count the beginnings of the Creole culture when the French started its first trial settlements in the late 1600s and with the Spanish taking over in the 1760s, African and Caribbean “Crilollo” roots not withstanding, which I understand is a somewhat different but parallel evolved culture of mixed Spanish and African roots that you find on some of the Caribbean islands like Puerto Rico. I mean, it takes tens of thousands of years of intermarriage to create those kinds of common shared genetic markers for what we call “Races” today, such as Asian, Caucasian, African, Indo-European, whatever. And thousands to make a “sub-race”, like Korean or Japanese or Han Chinese, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or Eskimo/Aleut, although its debatable that even those are races, just sub-pools of the same one with similar local characteristics. Sort of like a Varietal in wine. Most Genetic scientists today will even tell you that the whole concept of Race in the first place is kind of stupid anyway, because 99.9 percent of all human DNA is the same. It’s that tiny fraction of a percent of markers that make up our distinguishing characteristics, much of which gets created by adapting to our surroundings, hence stuff like skin pigmentation.

    All this Race crap aside, as this is a food blog, the Creoles (and the Cajuns) are legitimate cultures with legitimate cuisines. You’d have to be particularly ignorant (as Richman has been) not to acknowledge this, or have not done any homework whatsoever.

  14. patti says:

    Originally, to be called Creole in New Orleans meant you were first generation born in the new world. It didn’t necessarily mean you were of mixed race, but it came to be identified that way. The definition has evolved considerably, and means different things to different people. It has also evolved differently in other parts of south Louisiana. In the Acadiana area, you might call yourself Creole if you are a French speaking black, no matter your actual lineage. There is no simple or single answer to the question, “What is a Creole?” Since this is a discussion about food, I will leave it at that.

  15. childofthestorm says:

    Um I freely admitted that I don’t know about the cusine…the gist of my comments have been more of a defense of Richman’s right as a critic to actually criticize things.

  16. doctorj says:

    Richman can give criticism of the cuisine all he wants. It makes no difference to us because we eat what we LIKE and the opinion of a New York critic doesn’t effect what we like. What I am irate about is his personal attack on the citizens (who, by the way, are my heroes for having lived a life of complete hardship for over a year) and a culture he obviously knows nothing about. He wants to kick a city and culture in the kidney when we are flat on our back and are fighting for our lives. We are beyond a year now and we are tired. Again, he is is horrid human being. This ia a matter of decency vs. indecency.

  17. doctorj says:

    Bux,
    New Orleans consists of white, black and creole. That is why I said a race. If you want to be technical I guess you could say creole is a subset of black, but to me they are different cultures. Creole means “home grown” and as previously stated people actually born in the colonies were creole. There is actually a hot debate. There are white creoles (of French and Spanish decent – in other words old line families) and black creoles. The black culture of New Orleans belongs to the post colonial era. History is alive in New Orleans. I never knew how much we were different from the rest of the US until Katrina. We have seen the face of the “ugly American”.

  18. Bux says:

    Doctorj, you keep losing me. You say there are whites, blacks and creoles in New Orleans. Then you say creole is a subset of black. Later you say there are white creoles and black creoles. You speak of the post colonial era as if Afro-Americans did not exist in New Orleans during its colonial period. I’m confused and it doesn’t help me accept the thought process that allows you to determine that Richman is a “horrid human being” or “a horrible, horrid excuse for a human being.” You are reacting emotionally to things a writer had to say in public and it’s unreasonable to expect others to share your emotions. You do your argument no service by contradicting yourself over again while accusing others of being clueless.

    As for race, which I’d really prefer not to discuss, my understanding is that creole is pretty much a raceless term. Creoles, as I understand it, can trace their lineage to ancestors from Europe or Africa or from both continents. The clearest comments in this thread seem to support this contention. Moreover, I believe Native Americans also made contributions to creole culture. I am more familiar with the culture of Puerto Rico than of New Orleans or Louisiana, but I found many similarities between San Juan and New Orleans. Rice and beans, humidity, architecture and, of course, the word creole or criolla are examples. San Juan has been around a lot longer than New Orleans and the terms “latino” and hispanic” have come to mean a race as there has been greater time for the descendants of three continents to blend their gene pools.

  19. doctorj says:

    Bux,
    There is an argument as to what creole means. A white creole is someone descended from french ancestry. They were appalled by the horrible uncouth Americans that invaded the city from upriver. They remained insular from them and look down their noses at them. That is how the term “neutral ground” came into being. The medium on Canal Street was the dividing line between the French and American neighborhoods. The creoles lived down river of it and the Americans lived up river from it. This term creole as it applies to whites is not in use much anymore though people that consider themselves this type of creole are VERY serious about it. I know a few. This term is quickly going out of use as the old families interbreed or die off.
    Black creole culture gets its ancestry from this same concept. The french had VERY lenient rules as to the mixing of races. New Orleans also had the largest population of free blackmen. Most were merchants and artisans When the city was bought by the US these lenient laws were changed to the strict separation of the races. As the rural way of life became harder after the Civil War ,more pure blacks moved into the city. The french mixed race creole remained insular from them and felt superior to them. I say creole may technically be a subset of black in the American term of race-if you have one drop of black blood you are black. In my local eyes, from my local perspective, creoles are not black. They are creoles. Jelly Roll Morton agrees with me. They are different entities, Today in the city there are blacks, whites, and creoles. WE ARE ALL NEW ORLEANIANS and have an insular outlook to the rest of the world. We eat what we like. we like REAL people no matter what their peculiarities are. Pretentiousness is laughed at. Outward show of money is uncouth and looked down on. We believe in enjoying life, because we know that we are here on this earth for a limited amount of time. Life is hard so we must take joy in what we can. We are passionate about our city and its culture. We are offended when outsiders put us down ,esp. when they are ignorant as to what they are talking about. Of course this is about emotion! If you don’t understand that, I feel sorry for you. It is called PASSION. And yes, Richman is a pretentious, rude American fop.

  20. Bux says:

    doctorj,

    If there’s one thing I understand about many of the reactions to Richman’s article, it’s that it’s about emotion. It’s been the point I’ve continued to make. Passion and emotion are not necessarily synonymous, nor need passion and emotion reduce a debate to ad hominem attacks, however.

    I’m beginning to understand why, in the face of changing self identities, Richman has trouble seeing who’s creole and who’s not. In all honesty, your informative comments on that subject actually allow me some insight to Richman’s views on one of his points I found unsympathetic.

  21. Brooks says:

    The issue isn’t whether he dug the food or not or whether he has the right/obligation to report on the food as he found it.

    The issue, to me and apparently to many others, is that he seemed to feel like it was important for him to report on issues that he clearly has little or no knowledge of. The piece, when the food criticism is taken out of it, is so full of half truths, no truths, and utter bullshit as to render the legitimate portions of the article moot.

    He had an axe to grind. Great. He ground it to a sharp edge and then chopped off his foot with it. And don’t think that he’s not reading all of the stuff being written about this and also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that he’s above it all and not responding-he is. He’s just lucky that the people that he has responded to with silly, childlike threats (you should see some of these letters-I have-they’re virtually covered in angry spittle) aren’t interested enough, or base enough, to respond to them in public. He’s lost his mind over this. It’s a serious whack in what seems to be an otherwise respectable, even admirable, career.

    We know, in fact we relish, that we aren’t like everyone, or even anyone, else. We are weird, idiosyncratic, and like what we like. We also like ourselves. We are resiliant, funny, giving, and, clearly, pretty bulletproof. When someone writes something like this-something so unfair and unbalanced (hey! he could get a job as the food critic for Fox News with those credentials) as to require the amount of response that this has gotten from around the country, we tend to circle the wagons and snipe away at the critic. Good for Brett. Good for Lolis. Good on everyone who had a pulpit and fired in return. Too bad for Richman. He’s clearly on his way out.

  22. mbeezers says:

    Look, as a New Orleans native and resident I would just like to point something out…the term “creole” has multiple meanings. Outside of New Orleans, many people use it when referring to people with a mixed African and European background. In New Orleans, however, it usually means someone of mixed French and Spanish descent (and it has been used this way since the influx of Spanish to the city–back in 1763). My own family descends from a French branch and a Spanish branch, therefore we’re considered Creoles.
    The cuisine also reflects that combination.

    If I were to be nice to Richman, I’d just tell him that most people outside of New Orleans don’t understand our culture, not because they’re ignorant but because it’s hard to break stereotypes (locals aren’t fans of Bourbon St, tourists are, and we don’t walk around acting like every day is Mardi Gras).

    But I won’t be nice. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on our food and I know that my point of view is severely skewed given that creole food and frequent trips to Galatoire’s are what I’ve grown up on. However, this article wasn’t about the food…it was an attack on our culture (we are not drunk all the time and since when was he an authority on the architecture of the French Quarter?).

    The tone of his article is exactly what George W. Bush’s report on BinLaden’s cuisine would be. Richman approached the city and its people as an enemy. I don’t know why–maybe he saw his pet oyster fried and slammed into a poboy as a child.

    No, New Orleans shouldn’t be off limits to critique. But that doesn’t mean he should write an article devoid of research and lambasting a culture of people who (to our knowledge) has never done anything to him.

  23. “There was one comment I heard a couple times that I took to heart. It always went something like this: “How could you?”

    My response: How I could I not? Is it really better that every story written about New Orleans take exactly the same point of view? I understand that the people who live there or have been displaced might want that, but I didn’t write my story for the pleasure of the people of New Orleans. I wrote it because the fate of New Orleans is a national issue, not a local issue, and it’s essential that different points of view be heard.” -Richman

  24. Crystal says:

    The article was not only disrespectful of New Orleans restaurants and food culture, but also to an entire ethnic group. He wrote “Supposedly, Creoles can be found in and around New Orleans. I have never met one and suspect they are a faerie folk, like leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race. The myth is that once, long ago, Creoles existed.” “The one dish that is faithfully replicated—gumbo—might be Cajun and it might be Creole, depending on whom you favor. I side with the Cajuns, who, unlike the Creoles, appear to be real.” I am 100% Creole and I come from a large family and have over 40 Creole first cousins. This article has offended Creoles across the country. He obviously did not bother to research what he was writing about. If he would have taken 5 min to google, he would have found the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center.

    http://www.nsula.edu/creole/default.asp

  25. Steve says:

    Native Houstonian here.. Ate at Uglesich’s (R.I.P.) & Dooky Chase in 2004. Also drove past Leidenheimer’s bakery on Simon Bolivar in Central City… Ate at Mandina’s in 2010. I lived outside Rome in 1980, have visited Honduras. Lived in San Francisco for 2 years. From my window, New Orleans is as close to a foreign country as anyplace which I know in the U.S.–in the GOOD sense. You sense from your entry into the state of Louisiana that everything is slightly different. The language, food, sensibilities, street names, Napoleonic law, etc. Isn’t that why we go to places, to experience a difference? San Antonio feels different, too, with a history that is also deeper than most U.S. places. I found a couple of places online in New York: a Monte’s Deli in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; and King Umberto’s in Elmont, Long Island. I plan to go there one day, just to try them out, on their own terms, not by Houston or California or Louisiana terms. Yeah, NOLA is great. But that ol’ “Brooklyneese on quaaludes”speech is dying out, or possibly is moving out to surrounding parishes (counties,. y’all!). See what I mean?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: