Ten years after one of the most devastating storms in America, Chef John Besh reflects on life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The renowned restaurateur, cookbook author, and television personality is a southern Louisiana native. He assisted in post-hurricane recovery efforts by providing his talents from the kitchen and feeding the survivors and responders in New Orleans. The aid began with cooking red bean and rice dishes and serving them in temporary kitchens. When rescue crews brought people in flooded areas to higher ground, Besh and his team brought red beans and rice to feed them.
“Cooking for people who were hungry changed the way I’ll think about food and serving people for the rest of my life,” he recently told ABC News. “I have been in combat in the Marine Corps, I thought I had seen bad things, but nothing like I saw just in the despair in people’s eyes,” he later added.
Besides serving food, Besh also established Chefs Move!, a culinary mentorship and scholarship program for inner city youth. He noticed that not everyone was benefiting from recovery efforts the same way, and wanted to help young people who had talent but couldn’t afford to go to culinary school.
In the segment, Besh also does a live cooking session, set in one of his New Orleans joints, Restaurant August. The dish is fittingly a simple red bean stew, with a side of Louisiana rice and grilled sausage. Viewers can find recipes like this one in his upcoming cookbook Besh Big Easy, a compilation of his favorite dishes from his family and around New Orleans, out Sept. 29.
Food played in important role in helping the city recover from the storm, acting as a “common thread” that linked people together, according to the chef. He notes that one of the factors that makes New Orleans cuisine special is its fusion of different cultures. Besh described it as a “cultural gumbo” with African roots and European influences that’s now seeing hints of Asian and South and Central American cooking.
The chef says he feels ambivalent toward the hurricane’s 10-year anniversary, as it brings back memories of both suffering and overcoming hardship. At this point he feels New Orleans is still a “tale of two cities,” and despite the progress, there’s still a lot to be done.
“I don’t want to celebrate or commemorate,” he said, “I just want to make tomorrow a better day.”
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