Graham Comes To The Table
● By Robert Frey
By Amanda Jean Elliot
Acadiana Table has had the sort of rise in popularity that comes when a foodie of several talents enters the fray. George Graham doesn’t just know food. He knows cooking, writing, design and perhaps most importantly … the man knows Acadiana. He spins a tale as juicy as the dishes he’s concocting with a fresh blend of the new and the beloved old of our culinary roots.
His bio puts it best: “He is a food writer who is curious about his subject and passionate about his craft.”
Graham’s new book is more than a series of interesting recipes. Graham, who can cook as well as he writes and photographs, has brought us a 320-page homage to the unique culture and dishes of Acadiana. “Acadiana Table: Cajun and Creole Home Cooking from the Heart of Louisiana” was published by Harvard Common Press is now in bookstores.
We caught up with Graham as his signing tour begins to learn how the man born into a restaurant family (and a former restaurateur himself) launched a blog just three years ago that has already snagged serious attention.
Acadiana Table: George Graham’s Stories of Louisiana Cooking and Cajun/Creole Culture has been a finalist for Best Food Blog: Regional Cuisine in Saveur magazine’s 2014 Best Food Blog Awards and also for Best Food Blog in the 2015 IACP Digital Media Awards – a remarkable record for such a young blog. Graham was also a finalist for television’s Food Network Challenge.
Tell us how you got into the culinary world?
How did you go from casual lover of cooking and food to pursuing this in a big way?
In 2013, I began writing my food blog Acadiana Table. I set out exploring the region’s restaurants and honky-tonks, lunchrooms and dives, steam tables and smokehouses. Along the way, I began devouring its panéed, fricasséed and étoufféed best; its fried, smothered, stuffed, grilled and smoked delicacies; its cracklins, crawfish and crabs; its po’boys, pig and potent potions. Writing the stories gave me an up close and personal view of our food culture that is peppered with amazing stories of talented people and unique products the rest of the world has yet to sample.
So truth be told, I never made a conscious decision to write a cookbook, but looking back, I can now see it was destined. My culinary path was lined with signposts, and what began with a love of eating, and then cooking, quickly turned into recipe development, writing, photography and blogging—all with a focus on food. The cookbook was inevitable.
What was the process like to publish this book?
The book “Acadiana Table: Cajun and Creole Home Cooking from the Heart of Louisiana” took two years to write and another year to produce. With the help of my literary agency in New York, I was able to attract the attention of Harvard Common Press, a national publisher that specializes in cookbooks. So, what does a Boston-based publisher know about crawfish étouffée or gumbo? Not much. But they do understand the tastes of a culinary world that is hungry for a book that makes the Cajun and Creole genre of cooking accessible to home cooks.
The real credit for this book goes to the hard-working people who make our foodways so rich with colorful stories, time-honored traditions and cultural significance. The growers, chefs, butchers, bakers and boudinmakers have all contributed in some way to my writing this book. It is their stories and skills that I write about, not mine.
What can we look forward to in the new book?
My aim is to be mindful of culinary tradition and respectful of the rich heritage of cooks who came before me. That said, I want to turn Cajun cooking on its ear and push the limits beyond tried-and-true to new-and-nuanced interpretations of classics. If you follow my blog, you’ll recognize a few of the dishes among the 125 recipes in the cookbook. But you’ll also discover lots of never-before-seen stories, photographs and recipes that will get your culinary juices flowing.
What is your favorite part?
Buying this cookbook for the recipes is only part of the fun. Reading the recipe tips, ingredient explanations, head notes and stories accompanying the recipes is what makes this an enjoyable read. They are written to be a treasure map of sorts; a guide to the faces and places, the methods and madness, the sources and shared secrets of our beloved Cajun and Creole culture.
What was the most challenging part of the process?
Walking the line between writing about our culinary heritage with historical accuracy, and at the same time being innovative in the kitchen. You see, here in Louisiana, there is a prevailing attitude among culinary preservationists that authenticity trumps innovation. Anyone who dares to challenge the long-held methods of our beloved Cajun and Creole cuisine is ridiculed and called out. While I do hold dear the tenets and long-held beliefs of our culture, I still explore the boundaries with new ideas. While I write with pride about traditional roux making, I still open a jar on occasion. To me, new ways don’t replace old beliefs, but rather they build on them.
My point is this: For food culture to stay relevant, it must evolve. For a genre of cooking to maintain its momentum, it must embrace new ideas that build on its foundation. For Cajun and Creole culinary culture to reach new generations, it must be open to new attitudes that add to its rich heritage. Preserving the past is noble. Building on that past is the key to saving it.
What makes the “Acadiana” table different than any other table in the country or the world for that matter?
Here in Acadiana, we approach food with passion and we love to sit around the kitchen table and talk about it. And through this book, I want the world to share in that discussion. It’s an ongoing conversation about a subject—Cajun and Creole food—that is misunderstood by many and loved by many more. And this book is a deep dive into our mysterious foodway with every tasty bite a discovery and the sole reason to dig deeper into the story of our fascinating culinary world.