Beverly Hills has two sister cities: Cannes and Acapulco. Los Angeles has twenty five on six continents—from Athens, Greece to Yerevan, Armenia. West Hollywood? Nada. But after reading Peggy Sweeney McDonald’s new book “Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde,” it occurs to me that the answer is right under our noses—like the intoxicating smell of Creole cooking. New Orleans. West Hollywood and New Orleans are sisters under the skin already. Both cities are defined by a love of revelry, a passionate spirit of celebration, a live-and-let-live ethos, and the two best parades in the Western Hemisphere: Mardi Gras and West Hollywood Pride. And one way or another, all that merriment ends up beginning or ending with food. And stories. We eat, drink, and tell the tales of our lives, our loves, our hopes, and our dreams.
Sweeney McDonald has hit on the fabulous idea of putting that experience between the covers of a beautiful, glossy coffee table book – hence “Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde.” Actually, it feels weird to call it a coffee table book. It’s certainly visually sumptuous—courtesy of photographer Troy—but we rarely read coffee table books. We just think of them more as decorative objects d’art—and this is a book that deserves to be read. The whole project started as a series of theatrical dinners Sweeney McDonald put together in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, West Hollywood, and San Francisco, among other cities, celebrating the people and cuisine of Louisiana. An invited guest would share his or her favorite stories connected with food. The dinners are breezy, warm and fascinating. As is the book based on those stories and gatherings.
I laughed out loud reading elderly restaurant owner Leah Chase’s recounting of how she dressed down President Obama when he dared to add tabasco sauce to her gumbo. Then I tried Leah’s recipe for Shrimp Clemenceau—there are a number of recipes in the book—and I can’t wait to try the rest of them.
The title of the book is both metaphorical and literal. Anyone who has ever been to New Orleans, let alone lived there, knows Café Du Monde—the ubiquitous source for those fried bits of dough covered in powdered sugar called beignets that are the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s been open for a hundred and fifty years, barely closing even for the Civil War or Katrina, and it’s the kind of place that evokes connection and memory—feeding your sweet tooth along with your soul. We can all relate to that metaphor. But for the people of New Orleans it’s also a very real hub of community, gossip and home.
Who in West Hollywood doesn’t have a memory of something delicious happening at one of the Sunday Gospel Brunches at the House of Blues?
Sweeney McDonald is a Louisiana native but she lives out here, and has actually done events at the House of Blues—and is planning on more Du Monde evenings in West Hollywood when she’s done with her book tour.
Meanwhile, the book is racking up fans—from Rex Reed to Emeril Lagasse—and now me.
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