Proving the point that Louisiana expats pine for the food culture they left behind (a theme in the intro chapter of Hungry for Louisiana), I’m doing an interview series featuring transplants nationwide who still miss the food, drink and culinary rituals of the Bayou State. Here are thoughts from my friend Suz Redfearn, an accomplished freelance journalist who left Louisiana for Washington, D.C., in 1998. Comments from her appear in the book.
Suz’s decision to leave was a good one. It led to an era of contributing to major media outlets and to meeting her future husband, Marty Kady, now a managing editor at Politico, and starting a family. But, as she says, leaving Louisiana hurt. Her friends missed her, too. When she still lived here, she and I had a satisfying habit of firing emails back and forth during boring day jobs as a way to exercise our writing (the smart-ass kind), and eating out during the week like only childless singles can.
In leaving, she felt the classic paradox shared by so many Louisiana expats: Yes, sometimes you have to leave for opportunities, but you say goodbye to irreplaceable sense of belonging. Recently, I asked her to share with me a few thoughts on this subject.
MHR: What was your food routine as a young person in New Orleans?
SR: My routine was to spend all my extra money, and then some, going out to eat. I’d sometimes stay in and cook one of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s dishes, like red beans or Cajun shepherd’s pie (those are still about the only things I know how to cook — thanks, Chef Paul!). But mostly I went out, acting on word of mouth about the newest places worth trying, and always doubling back to hit my tried and true comfort spots, like Liuzza’s, Mandina’s, Coop’s. My credit card debt soared when I lived in New Orleans. It was worth it, even with the huge interest.
MHR: Then you moved to Baton Rouge for a few years, and after that, moved to D.C. What was it like to leave Louisiana?
SR: It hurt, and I stayed filled with active, throbbing longing for it for years. When Mardi Gras time came around, and I was up in D.C., I had to go into denial and pretend it wasn’t happening to be able to deal with it emotionally. Jazz Fest, too. I really miss Louisiana, and New Orleans specifically. It’s like a crazy old eccentric aunt you want to be around as much as you can, moving into her guest house if she’ll let you. Someday we’ll move back there. We will.
MHR: What do you still miss, food wise?
SR: I miss the rhythm of seeing red beans and rice on all the menus on Mondays. I miss crawfish being in so many dishes. I miss crawfish boils. I miss the sauces that were so deep, they seemed to have been boiling in a cauldron since the Middle Ages. I miss po’boy bread. I miss the white pepper after burn in your throat. I miss all the conversations that start with, “So what did you eat last night?” I miss being able to walk into just any old dive and have an amazing meal. In New Orleans, that’s how life is and it’s not a surprise. But in other cities, no, definitely not. And that took a long time for me to get used to. I was resentful. I’m still resentful. I’ll be back.