|John Besh in Aspen, with fish; photo by Hernan F. Rodriguez|
Zagat: What was your reaction to the news that Brett Anderson was being laid off by the Times-Picayune?
John Besh: My first reaction was to the news that he was accepted as a Nieman fellow. When that was announced, I felt true gratitude to the Times-Picayune for allowing Brett to take a year off to pursue his education and profession. I was excited for him because he has done such a great job of articulating the food culture of New Orleans to the rest of the country in the wake of tragedies such as hurricane Katrina, hurricane Rita and the oil spills and everything else.
So it was a big shock to us when it came out that he would be laid off and not returning after the fellowship. But then there was this strange retraction… I still don’t know exactly what Brett Anderson is going to do. I just saw this misinformation come out, and then this retraction that he was welcome back. I don’t know what’s the truth.
Z: The last report was that Anderson was non-committal about coming back.
JB: I am not Brett but I think he has a wonderful opportunity that very few journalists have by furthering his studies and furthering his education in journalism. He needs to focus on that and go where that takes him. He has done a lot in New Orleans and has made a name for himself in the process and he needs to take it as he is taking it - in a noncommittal and wait-and-see fashion.
Z: Was does the whole fiasco say about the state of food culture in New Orleans?
JB: I don’t think a journalist defines our food culture. They articulate it and it is his responsibility to do so. But it does look like a fiasco, and in the wake of so many great changes coming about in New Orleans, it’s bad press. For me, it doesn’t reflect on all the progress made within our food community in New Orleans, especially since hurricane Katrina. Nor do I think that Brett was responsible for the rampant growth of progressive restaurateurs and the awakening of this renewal in our food community. I think it happened. He did an awesome job reporting on it. And the paper has done a poor job of managing this whole episode by treating Brett Anderson poorly.
We have the only indigenous urban cuisine left in America so I would like to see it treated with a little more professionalism but I don’t think a food journalist necessarily represents this cuisine. This culture is much more important than any chef, than any food trend, than any journalist. We are stewards of it while we have the stage.
ZB: What are some of the most exciting things happening in NOLA right now?
JB: Our foodways have never been more diverse. We have various urban farming projects. They are instituting the idea of farm-to-table within the various curriculums of New Orleans schools. A lot of young minorities are seeing a future in this business, which is great because for a long time that had been one thing that I was really worried about. I see all that happening.
I see young restaurateurs who are not afraid to take chances. I see people like Donald Link who grew from Herbsaint to Cochon to bringing back the butcher shop in New Orleans. Young people risking everything on their dream restaurant. I love that we are continuing to evolve. I love that the Vietnamese community have been, through Katrina, forced to immerse themselves within the NOLA culture in order to survive, so through that we have a lot of young Vietnamese chefs rising and opening these great little restaurants. It makes me feel we are on the right path.