Alan Richman gets a Sazerac rinse


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Alan Richman
  • Alan Richman
With all the shit-talking that was done about New Orleans (and New Orleanians) once the initial shock of Katrina and the federal floods receded, the tipping point was — fittingly — related to food. GQ critic Alan Richman came to town in 2006, as New Orleans and the restaurant industry were just beginning to recover, and dropped a deuce on the recovering city and its inhabitants. He compared the French Quarter to Tijuana, questioned what exactly was worth rebuilding or restoring, said roux was pretty much like cornstarch, added that most of the population was too drunk to care what they were eating, and, most infamously, opined, "Supposedly Creoles can be found in and around New Orleans. I have never met one and suspect they are a fairie folk, like leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race." When The New York Times did a story about the resulting furor, Richman was a dick about it unrepentant: “If people want to call themselves Creoles, fine,” he said. “I am now calling myself a tight end for the New York Giants.”

To the great credit of New Orleans food writers, they didn't stoop to his level of bitchery — instead, they challenged him to a fight. Poppy Tooker wanted to throw him in a back room with the Neville Brothers, while Times-Picayune food critic Brett Anderson wrote “Richman’s story is a weakling’s idea of what it means to be tough,” and pointed out there was a reason people weren't complaining about the service in New York restaurants in the months after 9/11. That made Richman snivel:

“I ordinarily wouldn’t care what’s said about me in the Times-Picayune, a third-rate newspaper that rose to the occasion after Katrina and has subsequently returned to being a third-rate newspaper. But the article hit me hard, not simply because it was unethical and hypocritical but also because it was a written by a person I had considered a colleague. He didn’t attack my story. He attacked me. I don’t care how tough you are, and I’m pretty tough journalistically, that hurts.”

The "third-rate newspaper" crack was cute coming from a man who writes about food for a magazine devoted to hair gels and manscaping. But anyway. All this is prelude to last night's episode of Treme, and a scene written by Anthony Bourdain, who at the time was a staunch defender of New Orleans, and vociferous in his contempt for Richman's little essay. In one scene, Janette — the New Orleans chef played by Kim Dickens, now working in New York — discovers that Richman is in her restaurant and proceeds to throw a Sazerac in his face (video at link).

It was fun and it was funny, but watching it made me uncomfortable, because Treme's insistence on authenticity meant Richman was playing himself, which just gave him the attention he was looking for in the first place. Certainly there are plenty of actors in Hollywood who could have been made up to look as unappealing as Richman; why not give one of them a break? Or maybe I just thought it was a waste of a good Sazerac. Watching him get clocked by a New Orleans chef would have been more satisfying.


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