Inside the Making of the 'Treme' Cookbook

December 2, 2013
by Leslie Kelly

The first of the final episodes of Treme debuted Sunday on HBO. Following a group of characters in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Treme hits the right notes when it comes to the food, music and grit that makes the Crescent City so special. Zagat recently interviewed Lolis Eric Elie, a story editor for the first three seasons and the author of the tasty cookbook called Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans.

Zagat: Was it challenging to write recipes for fictional characters?

Lolis Elie: My job on the show was to help create situations and story lines for those characters. The cookbook was an extension of that. Instead of scratching my head saying, "What kind of music would this guy play?" or "What sort of place would he go to?" I asked myself, "What kind of food would he cook? What would be his favorite restaurant? What would be his favorite dish at that place?" The other thing that made it less challenging is that I had a host of New Orleans cooks and chefs to help me create recipes. My mother, first and foremost, allowed me to publish some of her recipes under the names of our fictional characters. Some fixtures on the New Orleans food scene - Jackie Blanchard, Poppy Tooker, Sue Ceravolo, Paulette Rittenberg - also contributed their talents, sometimes anonymously, to the effort.

Zagat: We love the strong women on the show. It seems as if each of them bring a different cooking style to the mix. Is that pretty representative of New Orleans?

LE: The show had several goals. First and foremost, we wanted to tell good stories, entertaining stories. But we also wanted to reflect the range of people and perspectives that are the Crescent City. It's not all fine dining. It's not all Creole cooking. And it's not a bunch of women running around lamenting that they don't know nothing about birthing no babies.

Zagat: Speaking of those incredible women on the show, can you please ask the writers to come up with a scene where chef Janette, Miss LaDonna, Toni Bernette and Annie get together for a last supper?

LE: Last supper? That sounds ominous. We tried to put our characters together a lot, in part because the actors like working with each other. I think the closest we've come to honoring your request was the fundraiser for Gigi's at the end of season 3. We had Janette, Big Chief Lambreaux, Davis, LaDonna and a lot of our musicians there.

Zagat: Can you describe one of your favorite food scenes from the series?

LE: Enrico Brulard saying, "Listen to your fish" in season 2. It brings together all the precision and insanity of that character and of restaurant life.

Zagat: Who are some of the real-life chefs who've guest-starred? And did they contribute recipes to the book?

LE: Yes. Susan Spicer (Bayona) was the main force in this regard because she was a consultant on the show, helping us make Janette Desautel's trajectory realistic. Leah Chase (Dookie Chase's), David Chang, Donald Link (Cochon), John Besh (August), Eric Ripert, Emeril Lagasse, Wayne Baquet and Scott Boswell all appeared on the show and contributed recipes to the book.

Zagat: What are you up to these days?

LE: I've been traveling, promoting the book. There's a special dinner next Monday in Atlanta at Restaurant Eugene, and then I'll be in New York on December 13 talking about Food on the Screen with the series creator David Simon and still working on some dates in Brooklyn. Upcoming appearances are listed on my Facebook page

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