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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 01:37 pm

Pudding to jog our New Orleans memory

Big EasyÂ’s chefs appeal to national conscience

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Untitled Document “We need Americans to come see us, meet us, and hear our stories.”
The impassioned plea comes from Frank Brigtsen, James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Brigtsen’s Restaurant in New Orleans. A native New Orleanian and protégé of culinary great Paul Prudhomme, Brigtsen recently stood before a group of volunteer chefs (myself included) who spent a week in his ravaged, oft-forgotten city. “All they know is what they see on the news. Our leaders do not represent us,” adds Brigtsen, who’s been running his own den of superior Creole and Acadian cuisine since 1986 — but he’s not letting the politicians or the media get in the way of his determination to get New Orleans back on its feet, which is why he keeps cooking. “Food is the greatest medium to share with people,” he declares — and then there is a pause: “Socially, emotionally, and spiritually.”
It’s been far from easy in the Big Easy for nearly two years, and, judging from my recent experiences working with various relief and rebuilding projects, easy is a long way off. In a city with this country’s deepest and richest culinary traditions, people are hungry, queuing up for three hot meals a day at disaster-relief sites. In a city known for its architecture, people are still living in FEMA trailers. In a city known for its sense of community, many neighborhoods are deserted, decimated, and destroyed. So why go, you might argue, if things are still so bad?
Because if we don’t, we will collectively wipe New Orleans from our hard drive, just as we’ve done with Africa. Here’s a recipe for Brigtsen’s bread pudding, one of the most traditional New Orleans desserts, to get a taste of what we’d be missing should collective amnesia set in.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

Chef Frank Brigtsen’s Banana Bread Pudding

Six whole eggs Three egg yolks 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon Two very ripe bananas (“black-spot”
   bananas), puréed 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/4 cup light brown sugar 1 cup granulated sugar 3 cups whole milk 1/2 can (or 10 tablespoons) sweetened    condensed milk 12 cups stale French bread, diced into half-inch    pieces (Note: Estimate two or three loaves. You    can improvise with any kind of white bread; stay    away from the sliced stuff in a bag.) 3/4 cup raisins Two ripe bananas (no black spots), very thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and yolks and whisk until frothy. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, puréed bananas, and vanilla. Whisk until fully blended. Add both sugars, and whisk until blended. Add milk and condensed milk, whisking again until completely integrated. Add diced bread to the egg/milk mixture. Mix well until bread has absorbed most of the custard mixture. Add raisins and sliced bananas and stir to combine. Pour pudding into a shallow baking pan and let sit for 30 minutes. Place pudding pan in a slightly larger pan and add about 1 inch of hot water to the large pan to create a bain-marie (water bath). Bake uncovered until the center of the pudding is no longer runny, about one hour. Serve alone or with ice cream, whipped cream, or caramel sauce. Makes eight to 12 servings.
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