The Aristocrat of Sandwiches

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Photo by Justin Vogt

Suddenly it's New Orleans week on the site, between my romance with John Besh's book and Justin Vogt's romance with the po-boy, which includes a hunger-inducing slide show.

I've eaten my share of po-boys, always noting the contrast between the deep-fried batter (whatever you have, the deep-fried batter is what makes it good, I say heretically), the shredded iceberg lettuce, and the creamy sauce. The bread just holds it together, and is the kind of light, airy, mostly flavorless baguette that still has an honored place in France and abroad in the new world of levain and wild yeasts. It's really all crust as the crumb is so light--and the crust isn't too crackly and is generally a very light tan, in keeping with its deliberately subservient role.

I'd had plenty of Leidenheimer baguettes, the ones purists usually insist on because there are almost no contenders for traditional baguette, but have never seen the wooden slicing crib you'll see in the slide show--and certainly never tasted anything like the winner of the po-boy contest Vogt describes, a "Caminada" made by the Grand Isle restaurant,

with the East Asian flavors that have crept into southern Louisiana cuisine thanks in part to the region's vibrant Vietnamese community. The base consisted of a chili-garlic butter, in which the shrimp was cooked along with parsley, a bit of anchovy, and lime juice...Sandwiched between two slices of Leidenheimer bread, the Caminada was a flavor machine.

It's a sign of cultural renewal every tradition needs--and particularly in New Orleans, where traditions are at particular risk post-Katrina. Sandy Whann, the owner of Leidenheimer and a prime mover of the festival, talks about the sandwich's role in the community--in passing along the city itself:

"I worried that young kids who were susceptible to advertising from the big chains might migrate away from the po-boy shops in their own neighborhoods," he explained. "Going to those places teaches you to interact with other people from your community, and that ability is part of what brought this city back after Katrina."

As for what's being passed along, read the origins of the name. They're not what you think, and not what I thought either--and a sign of why a proud city needs to stay proud. Judging by Vogt's experience, it's doing just that. By eating, of course.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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