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Food Porn Friday: Physics, philosophy, and philo-wrapped shrimp

"Shrimp wearing a grass skirt," inspired by tiki culture, quantum physics and author Lafcadio Hearn

 

New Orleans, as we all know, is a city filled with characters. And the New Orleans food scene?  Doubly so.

I recently had the pleasure of writing about the new Mid-City restaurant Serendipity, during which I had a long and rather philosophical discussion with its chef and co-owner, Chris DeBarr, a self-described "old renegade hippy." Where these discussions typically keep to the restaurant, its food, and the chef's vision, it wasn't long before this one started taking pleasantly wacky turns onto contemplative conversational side roads.

Take, for example, DeBarr's description of one of his signature dishes, "shrimp wearing a grass skirt." It's an elegant, playful plate of food, and delicious to boot: huge Gulf shrimp peeled at the body (leaving the heads and tails intact), wrapped in a shredded philo dough called kataifi, then roasted with a traditional barbecue shrimp sauce and served with a coconut slaw.

"What's funny," said the chef, "is that people often think of it as 'coconut shrimp,' so I decided to be a little 'photonic' -- you know, how a photon can be either a particle or a wave? -- and mix some coconut into a slaw with some tiki roasted pineapple, to give it a little flair of exoticism.  So there's coconut in the dish because people often say that it looks like coconut shrimp, even though it's not. It's 'photonic,' because it's both barbecue shrimp and coconut shrimp at the same time.  A particle AND a wave."

Not to be outdone by using quantum physics to describe his cuisine, DeBarr continued by discussing his inspiration, the writings of author Lafcadio Hearn, who was famous for saying, "I'd rather live in New Orleans in a sack cloth and ashes than own the whole state of Ohio."  Hearn was of Greek heritage, so the chef decided that the dish deserved a Mediteranean nod. I made a note to read more of Hearn's writings about New Orleans during the late 19th century.

As the food and drinks continued to arrive, the genial chef furthered his discourse on the Big Easy. "We're pirates, privateers. Jean Lafitte defended this city. Those were the people who found their paradise here, and those are our neighbors and fellow New Orleanians.  Also, pirates like their contraband, and, from a culinary perspective, so do I.

"Everybody else might live in America," he mused, "but we live in New Orleans, a town filled with the freaks, the dreamers, the end-of-the-roaders who have nowhere else to go. This is where we're going to make our final stand. We're the northernmost banana republic in the world."

Ultimately, the meal was fantastic -- especially DeBarr's homage to the Hubig's pie, stuffed with a mascarpone bananas Foster filling -- but the more I reflect on that evening, the more I think about the words and philosophy of this renegade hippy chef, who is so clearly at home and enraptured with this city in a way that can only happen here.

"Photonic" shrimp dressed in edible hula skirts. Pirates and hippies. Bananas and tikis, hundred year-old literature and a privateer's paradise.

Lord, I love New Orleans.

Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore and a blog by the same name, has written for GourmetEdible BrooklynThe Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Catch his weekly food column for The Advocate here.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.