Carpe Diem or Fish of the Day

04:00 October 11, 2015
By: Phil LaMancusa

Two peanuts were walking down the street; one was a salted.

Sure, some jokes fall flat; but consider: Where would we be without our sense of humor? We’d be living in the doldrums, eh? (FYI, there is a place named Doldrums in the Netherlands, and it looks pretty darn sweet to me.) There’s an old wiseguy saying that goes: “You have power over anything that you can laugh at.” Well, my life is kinda laughable, certainly my money is funny and undoubtedly some of my situations border on the comedic. However, as I live and breathe, sometimes I believe that it isn’t me that deserves a hearty chortle; the whole damn world is so freakin’ hilarious, it’ll bring tears to your eyes! And just when you think things can’t become more hilarious, they charge right ahead into the zip code that we know as the riotously bizarre. I know I’m amazed, well beyond mere humor, by life’s absurdities and I’m sure you are as well—or you should be.

Nowhere are things as fun and ridiculous as in our eating rituals and feeding places; from restaurants to roach coaches, the whirling faces and hands of dervishes ply us with sustenance, sensory surprises and stimulations. Where else can scenes of mayhem, madness, murder, depravity and butchery slake gluttony from the greedy to the genteel? That we learn from an early age to appreciate and expect sating goes without saying, and it’s many a parent who’ll be heard telling a little monster child to “eat this, you’ll feel better” (the basic amuse-bouche). Family meals that become legend in our advancing years have us seeking comfort food, while visions of pampered royalty send us to the white tablecloth establishments. Nutritional music soothing the savage breast.

We’re entering what we call our “holiday season” in New Orleans. It stretches from Labor Day to the thirty-second of May, and, Honey, we’re gonna feed the world! I swear, this time of year, New Orleans must be a vortex of food products that gravitate to the heart of Dixie: flocks (birds), herds (cattle), gaggles (geese), schools (fishes), congregations (alligators), badings (ducks), chalcogens (crawfish), beds (oysters), droves (pigs), posses (turkeys), bales (turtles) and routs (snails). Not to mention trainloads of root vegetables and the vegetables we root for (rutabaga, anyone?); mountains of onions, garlic, peppers and celery; a mélange of sweetmeats for the sweet; a glut of seasonal fruits and oceans of liquids, both adult and non. The head spins, the senses reel, the finances are stretched. Butter. Sugar. Coffee. Rice. Dairy. Cheeses Christ!!!

Cookouts, barbecues and boils, vats of gumbo, wagon trains of lunch trucks, dinners at families and friends, snacks, street food, festivals, farmers markets, po-boys, Fiorella’s meatballs, grocery store food and café au lait with beignets to pass a good time. Food, glorious food! Let’s hear it for the Muffuletta!

Food with music (bar food), Happy Hour food, takeout food and an All That Jazz sandwich from Verde Mart. Po-boys at Parkway, Ya Ka Mein at the Orange House, Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers, potluck at Pal’s, Game Day eats at Liuzza’s by the Track (bring a dish), breakfast at Betsy’s Pancake House and a slice of pizza anywhere, just to keep your hand in. And the Lord said, “Get thee to Mandina’s for some red gravy, you Bacciagalupe!

New Orleans for me is a food addiction; riverside, lakeside, downtown and uptown, I am addicted to New Orleans. Mid-City (Namese), Orleans Avenue (fried chicken at the filling station), ride out to Dom Phong (mystery sandwiches), take the high road to Chalmette for a flick (supersize popcorn), kick-start your day at the Pagoda Cafe—this city is steaming, teeming, careening with passion, pride and power. And it all comes with food. New Orleans is appeticious! I am so addicted to food, I’ll probably pick out the caterer for my funeral before I die.

Every year at this time, the hiring begins: dishwashers, busboys, waiters (who is it that started calling them “servers”?), prep cooks, grill monsters, sauté dancers, pastry princesses, manic chefs, persnickety managers, personable bartenders, cute hosts, sommeliers and maître d’s. This time of year, the veteran old-schoolers are testing the newbie’s reflexes, responses and resilience. Aching feet, raw nerves, meltdowns, tears, frustrations and fits of temper reign. Quirky mindsets are essential, no prisoners taken, nicotine crucial to mental stability. 

In a well-run feedery, the eating area will hum—and in the back they’ll be pullin’ knives on each other! With a white tablecloth comes eighteenth-century Russian nobility élan, while the kitchen is waging Armageddon. Good results come from pride, training, competition, the desire to excel and management that is as ruthless as Tamerlane. 

Of course, the hospitality game is not for those who don’t strut and fret their hour on stage and then not sit back with an amnesia enhancer to rekindle their humor, get comfortably numb and laugh at the vagaries of life. I know, because I’ve spent decades doing just that: shot at and missed, sh*t at and hit—and when it’s over…a cold PBR, a Lucky Strike and silly service cynicism among cohorts. 

So, to the culinary class of 2016, I salute you! During your shifts you’ll wonder if it ever will get better than this, and afterward you’ll relax and realize that, no, it doesn’t. 

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