New Orleans, LA - As one of America's culinary capitals, New Orleans has always been a magnet for food-lovers and the nation's top food - makers.
Bellevue's Lisa Barbato had been working on Orcas Island when she decided to try her luck in the Crescent City.
"I always wanted to come to New Orleans and learn how to make gumbo and jambalaya for nine months and that was 13 years ago, " laughs Barbato.
With the critically-praised Rivista Lisa and husband Chris have the neighborhood cafe she's always dreamed of
"I love it, " she says. "I still feel like it's 'Pretend bakery' like I'm still playing bakery."
Chris is Chef de Cuisine at Commander's Palace--the 100 year old Creole restaurant whose alumni include Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Ferndale native Tory McPhail has been Executive Chef since 2002 but he was -ironically- back home when we visited.
"I think the food here is a lot more creative than it was 10-12 years ago, " says Chris Barbato. "I think the primary thing - the biggest thing with it--is it's a chef driven restaurant."
Commander's Place is truly one of the classic New Orleans restaurants but when it comes to Louisiana cuisine-especially gumbo--everybody's got their favorites, including my foodie friend Nina Camacho who says of the millions of really good gumbos, her favorite is Chef Ron's Gumbo Stop in Metarie.
It may look like a hole in the wall, out in the suburbs, but Chef Ron's packing them in with his old fashioned gumbos.
"You can really tell when love is put in the dish, " says Camacho. "Especially in New Orleans.You can tell if it's a good restaurant because they put their heart and soul into the food.
I got a bowl of Seafood gumbo and experienced an explosion of good flavours
Nina isn't just a foodie. She's helping John Burns turn this old schoolhouse into a food hub that will bring affordable, fresh food tounder-served communities while doubling as a tourist attraction
"It will be exactly like what you might experience at Pikes Place in Seattle, " says Burns. "You know we may not throw a salmon here but we would definitely throw you a crawfish."
Would you know what to do with a crawfish? Amy Sins can teach you in the informal classes she teaches at Langlois Culinary Crossroads. For $99 her students will learn to cook gumbo, jambalaya and dessert.
"You know you're putting your love in the pot and I think that is why they're so great, " says Sins, "because you know someone's momma has perfected the art and has taught them and they've taught the next generation so it truly is an authentic New Orleans experience."
The truly authentic New Orleans experience is undergoing a revolution.
"The stigma of New Orleans is that it's a city of a thousand restaurants and only one menu, " says Chef Phillip Lopez. At Square Root he cooks up ten surprise dishes right in front of diners who pay up to $150 each for the experience
"So this is a little picnic on a plate, " says Lopez to some lucky customers."You have some country fried chicken. There are some fermented mustard seeds. A little picked fried okra and right on top is a fried chicken cotton candy"
That's right, chicken flavored cotton candy.
"Cooking is an art form and it's very important for the guests to experience that, " says Lopez "And so this is an opportunity for us to break down those barriers and really you're sitting in the kitchen and you get to experience everything from start to finish."
And that's just a taste of what's happening in New Orleans, where there are more restaurants today than before Katrina.
Here are the websites of the some of the places Saint visited .