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New Orleans Food: A Mindful Message from The Man Who Ate New Orleans

If you love New Orleans food then you will love this story.

There’s a saying that either you hate New Orleans or you love it, and if you love it it will love you back. There is a pastor of a local church on Carrollton Avenue who moved to the city after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild a church community. He decided that the best way to get to know the city was to dive into the local cuisine.

New Orleans Food: A Mindful Message from The Man Who Ate New Orleans

new orleans food ray cannata the man who ate new orleans

Pastor Ray Cannata, star of the documentary The Man Who Ate New Orleans, with his family in the French Quarter. Photo courtesy Redeemer Presbyterian Church

The cuisine is a great way to get to know a culture inside and out. And since New Orleans is world famous for its cuisine what better way to get to know than to dive into its restaurants. So that’s what Pastor Ray Cannata did. He made a commitment that he would eat at every restaurant in the city. And he would be able to share his experiences and the lessons he learned with his congregation.

What he accomplished is pretty remarkable. It’s something no one has ever accomplished in the city’s 300 year history. I can say that I probably have eaten at a small fraction of all the restaurants in New Orleans. I guess I’m just not that adventurous. But here’s a guy who is and they made a documentary about it which was aired recently on the local PBS station WYES.

An article in the Huffington Post relates:

To keep the number of dining establishments from becoming too daunting, it was necessary to impose certain criteria. First, he decided to confine his self-imposed challenge to Orleans Parish. He excluded national chains. He declared that every eatery on the list had to have more chairs at tables than at the bar. Finally, a meal doesn’t count if he eats alone, Cannata said with a laugh, because “that’s just binging.”

The total number of New Orleans restaurants is a moving target, of course. Weekly, some open and some close. “To be honest,” he said, “I may have missed one or two.” But Cannata has been as thorough as possible. Needless to say, his can be an expensive hobby, so he sticks to lunches when possible.

The portions in New Orleans, Cannata has found, are customarily large. He theorizes that, in the Crescent City, serving size is based on lavish hospitality, not profit.

Too much high-calorie hospitality could be a waistline hazard, of course, so Cannata always leaves a bite or two behind. Though he initially gained weight as he checked restaurants off his list, he’s since dropped the extra pounds by abstaining from soft drinks and giving up his car.

I saw the 90 minute film and was struck by the heart and spirit of the guy who has adopted New Orleans as his home. A lot of folks who visit say that for the first time in their lives they feel they’ve come home, even though they were born somewhere else.

new orleans food the man who ate new orleans leah chase

The Man Who Ate New Orleans with famous New Orleans chef Leah Chase.

There are a lot of things about New Orleans, minus of course crime and political corruption, that strikes the visitor as the way a city should be. An easy pace of living, friendly walkable neighborhoods with beautiful cozy homes, a cuisine second to none and a rich culture that’s always evolving and thriving with one foot firmly planted in the past and the other in the dynamic present. More than anything else New Orleans is about the people.

Pastor Cannata gets it. So he came up with the Seven Cardinal Virtues of New Orleans:
1. Community
2. Generosity
3. Openness to Outsiders
4. Celebration
5. Resiliency
6. Diversity
7. Tradition

No one has spelled it out what New Orleans is all about so succinctly. Sometimes it takes a transplant to get a feel for it for we natives are always swimming in it and don’t have the ready facility to take it apart as someone who’s not from here does. In a series of posts to follow I will be covering each of the Cardinal Virtues of New Orleans from my viewpoint. Just click on one of the links above to take you to read my article about each one.

So congrats are in order for Pastor Cannata for what he has accomplished. We need more people in the city like him. Not only has he done a lot for the uniqueness of New Orleans food but for the uniqueness of New Orleans culture as well.

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Posted in Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Restaurants.

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