RESTAURATOR: Eat local + Sautéed shrimps with garlic
NEW ORLEANS— Every day of my life I wear a little button on my shirt, jacket, or waistcoat — sometimes all three — that says, “Eat local.”
It is a professional philosophy and an outward statement of personal conviction. I have dozens of Eat Local pins. They stay on my jackets and suits that don’t go through a regular single wear wash cycle. If I attend a funeral I take the button off a jacket, but if not, whether I’m in a t-shirt or shirt, I always wear an Eat Local button. This is who I am and what I believe.
I believe in it so much that I painted an 18 foot high “Eat Local” mural all over the back wall of one of our restaurants.
When I opened the first restaurant in 1987, I didn’t worry about people eating locally. At that time, there were only a few full service restaurants open in my hometown of Hattiesburg. Most of them were independent local restaurants. There were several fast food chains, but for full service restaurants, none of the national corporate restaurant chains had arrived yet.
I opened at the edge of 40th Avenue, which at the time was the city limit. In the early 1990s, as people began to move west into closed housing estates, huge strip centers sprang up and national restaurant chains began to appear along the main hallway. commercial.
There is a world of difference between the concepts of local restaurants and national chains. Restaurant chains are cookie-cutter concepts developed by a corporate team of designers and executives in a distant city, most of whom have never visited – and will never visit – that town or small town. specifically. The chain restaurant at the freeway exit in my hometown looks, feels and tastes exactly the same as the chain restaurant just off the freeway exit in the nearby town, and the next, and the next, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and all intermediate points.
We are becoming a nation of homogeneous, characterless cookie cutter concepts that serve food at the lowest common denominator level because they have national purchasing power and must respond to shareholders at an annual meeting in New York, Chicago or Dallas. Most laugh at the locally sourced ingredients from farmers and fishermen in the backyards of the towns they are in. National chains are like retailing seed packets. It’s like someone hovers over an interstate exchange near the newer part of town and throws a bunch of corporate chain seeds, and the same stores that are growing in other towns get together and start. to sprout there.
There is nothing original about it. There is nothing specific about this city and its people, unless there are a few photos on the wall awkwardly trying to convey the local color.
At one time, in the not so distant past, all we had in local towns was independent and locally owned cafes and restaurants. They were owned by people who lived in our neighborhoods and exploited by even more people who lived in our neighborhoods. They assumed the character and personality of the town or city in which they were located.
Hardly anyone opens a local cafe these days. It’s sad. The diners of the community have disappeared and we hardly noticed it. We’ve all been drawn to the brilliant themed restaurants with national advertising and studio photography that bears no resemblance to the result that ends up at the table. We have become a seed company that wants the next hot national channel to come to town. When it does, you realize that it lacks the charm and character of local places. But, without access to the capital available for national chains, local restaurants are starting to shut down.
National restaurant chains don’t make a city better and more livable. Independent restaurants owned by local owners do this almost every time.
I’m not talking about fast food franchises. While I’m not a big fan of fast food, there are quite a few that belong to friends of mine who are local. The larger kitchen / chef community would totally disagree with the following statement, but I stand by it. Fast food franchises (especially those that are locally owned) play a role in the makeup of a city. They are affordable and accessible to those who cannot dine in a full service restaurant. And a few of them are pretty good. I have a few friends who own fast food franchises, and I consider them small business owners as well.
It is the full-service national chains that I believe have invaded our culture and robbed many cities of their character and identity.
I am writing this column in New Orleans. My Eat Local button is on the dresser in my bedroom. I always take it off when I come here because it’s redundant. New Orleans is a city that revolves around and celebrates independent, locally owned restaurants. Of course, there are fast food chains and a few national full-service corporate restaurant chains in the suburbs. But what makes New Orleans one of America’s great food towns (# 1 in my book) are the independent, locally owned restaurants – from the corner bar that serves oysters on the half. shell, to the pillars of gastronomy that lasted more than a century.
Before Covid, the parish of Orléans had more than 1,200 catering establishments, or one for every 325 inhabitants. I don’t have the exact number, but if I had to guess, I would estimate that at least 90-95% of New Orleans dining establishments are independent businesses locally owned and run by entrepreneurs who have taken the lead. big risks to open and operate in this very competitive city. The bottom line is that these independent establishments are a big part of what gives New Orleans its character.
No corporate event planners sell their convention attendees in New Orleans, as it is full of the same restaurant chains that can be found in Cleveland, Minneapolis, and Orlando. No. People dream of going to New Orleans for the food and culture. In my experience, the better the food and culture of a place, the more interesting the character.
And character matters, not only in people, but in cities and towns. The next time you decide to dine out, please support your local restaurants and businesses. More than ever, eat local. Buy local. Live local. It matters.
A native of Hattiesburg, Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author. He wrote a column in a weekly newspaper for over 20 years.
Fried Shrimp With Garlic
Yield: 8-10 servings
This recipe uses a store-bought Italian dressing. This dressing is the only way I ate a salad when I was a kid. This is the only app that I use it these days. Purists will scoff, but purists can also whip up a tangy dressing and replace it with store-bought dressing.
• 2 pounds of 21-25 shrimp, peeled and deveined
• 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon of Creole seasoning
• ½ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
• 3 tablespoons of olive oil
• 1 ½ tablespoons garlic, minced
• ¼ cup of white wine
• ½ cup of chicken broth
• 1 cup Wishbone Italian Dressing
• ¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
• 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
1. Season the shrimp with salt, Creole seasoning and black pepper.
2. Place the olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Heat the oil until it starts to smoke. Carefully place the shrimp in the steaming hot pan. Let the shrimp cook without moving them for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and stir the shrimp. Cook for another 3 minutes. Add the white wine and let reduce almost completely. Add the chicken broth and Italian dressing and cook until the sauce begins to simmer. Cook for another 3 minutes in the simmering sauce. Add the butter cubes and mix the butter into the simmering sauce.
4. Remove the shrimp from the heat and stir in the parsley. Serve immediately with plenty of toasted French bread for soaking.