Liz Williams is president and director of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (Riverwalk, 500 Port of Orleans Place, 504-569-0405; www.southernfood.org). She's also an attorney and the author of The A-Z Encyclopedia of Food Controversies and the Law and, most recently, New Orleans: A Food Biography, which explores the roots and development of New Orleans cuisine. On Sunday, March 10, she will give a talk during a special dinner at Dijon (1379 Annunciation St., 504-522-4712; www.dijonnola.com) in which historic dishes related to the book will be served. The four-course meal costs $90 ($120 with wine pairings) and begins at 6 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made through www.southernfood.org.
What was the impetus for your latest book?
Williams: Through the startup of the museum, the question of how the cuisine of Louisiana developed kept coming up. But I couldn't find anything substantial that went beyond the story that all these ethnic groups got together in this place called Louisiana and, abracadabra, we had a cuisine. Well, that was happening everywhere. There were ethnic groups mixing in lands of abundance, but today not all of those places have cuisines that are distinctive like ours.
So what stands out to you that made the difference here?
W: I was struck by how close our ties were to France, and especially to Paris, really up until World War I. Haute cuisine in France was under development during this time, and people here decided that since they were French they would have their own cuisine too. New Orleans lagged behind, and the city was definitely becoming Americanized in the 19th centuryj, but nonetheless we were still predominantly French in all these attitudes, and food and cuisine were big parts of it.
You've written extensively about food and law. What interests you about their intersection?
W: It's all so convoluted. People talk about the tax code, but food policy is every bit as insane if not more so. We encourage free markets and choice and marketing and it's all great, and then we try to control people and their choices with policies and programs and taxes. We're always looking for silver bullets that will solve everything, but there's a lot of just banging our heads against the wall. — IAN MCNULTY