By Poppy Z. Brite
Small Beer Press
- Photo by Rick Olivier
- Poppy Z. Brite has steeped her fiction in New Orleans' restaurant world.
Former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert is a character in D*U*C*K, one of the two novellas Poppy Z. Brite combined to release as Second Line. But the story is dedicated to a different muse: Buddy Diliberto.
"I was a Buddy fan before I was a Saints fan," says Brite, whose home is decorated for the season with black and gold garlands and fleurs de lis. "He was such a wonderful, quintessential New Orleans character. I fell in love with his show."
Diliberto's radio show helped Brite reacclimate to her hometown when she returned in 1993. The peculiar vernacular of football, food and local culture bubble up in Brite's Liquor series, following the chef characters Rickey and G-Man from their teen years, when they started a personal relationship (The Value of X, included in Second Line), through running a top New Orleans restaurant.
Brite expected Liquor (2004) to be a one-off project, but she liked the characters and signed a deal with Random House to produce two subsequent novels, Prime (2005) and Soul Kitchen (2006). Second Line's two novellas were previously released separately as hardcover editions. Stories about restaurants are also spread throughout the story collections The Devil You Know (2003) and Antediluvian Tales (2007).
When Brite put aside her popular vampire stories, she wasn't looking to enter a new genre, partially because she only had plans for one novel, but also because, she says, the only food fiction on radar is a subgenre of mysteries set in the culinary world. (Brite says Crime Brulee, by a Texas writer but set in New Orleans, is her least favorite title).
"Liquor was the first time I had tried to write about the everyday New Orleans that we all see and know and hear, as opposed to the more glamorized stuff," she says. "I can remember Commander's Palace and Casamento's from when I was really young."
The stories go well beyond foodie tastes and delve into the restaurant world's committed and sometimes tortured souls.
"It always surprises me when people call (my stories) 'food porn,'" she says. "It's less about the food than the making of it. For people who work in kitchens their whole life, it is a life. It's more than a job."
Though Brite paid some dues working in short-order kitchens before her writing career took off, some inspiration comes from her husband, chef Chris DeBarr, a veteran of many local kitchens and proprietor of The Green Goddess. (One of its dishes is derived from a recipe — Calvados marinated figs stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in prosciutto — Brite created for Rickey.)
Brite has another Rickey and G-Man novel one-third of the way done, but she's spent much of the time since the levee failures gardening at her home.
"I grow vegetables and most of the herbs for The Green Goddess," she says. "Currently, that's my most creative pursuit."