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Dining Under the Rising Sun

Galatoire's French Creole recipes, most of which were handed down orally, haven't changed much, says executive chef Brian Landry. The restaurant's famous dishes, like shrimp remoulade, remain as much of a hit for guests like rock band U2 as they did for Harpo Marx.

"New Orleans is a melting pot of so many different cultures that it's so much fun to experiment and do different things," says Martin, who customizes dishes for guests like crescent oyster with crystal butter. "When I cook, it comes from my heart."

Martin's biggest influence was his grandmother, whom he made scrambled eggs with when he was a child. The eggs, like most of the food he grew up with, came from local farmers or his family's own backyard.

Like Martin's grandmother, most New Orleans chefs make it a priority to build good rapport with local purveyors. "When I was a kid, farmer's markets were huge," says Martin. Now due to the markets' waning popularity, chefs have to look elsewhere.

"You build relationships with small farmers and seafood purveyors," says Martin, and "get the superior product that they specialize in." So if you're eating a dish topped with strawberries, chances are they're from Mrs. Linda, who Martin says grows the freshest Louisiana strawberries. As a rule, if it's not in season and fresh, they don't serve it.

Weathering the Storm

Ralph's continued to uphold its slogan "For locals, by locals," throughout the hardship of the past two years. With very little wind or water damage, the restaurant opened two weeks after Katrina and served as inspiration as well as a meeting place for local customers and other restaurateurs.

Galatoire's was also lucky to have retained 80% of its staff, which Landry attributes to the excellent working atmosphere.

But "Katrina was the biggest catastrophe in U.S. history," says Martin, and although the restaurant industry is coming back, it's not as fast as expected. Ralph's is doing a lot of weddings and parties, but a big part of its clientele is just not there anymore. The New Orleans Jazz Fest is one of the busiest times for the restaurant, as the event is held in the park across the street.

Still, not enough positive press about New Orleans in general and understaffing remain the two biggest problems for New Orleans' restaurants. But the fact that people like Debi Trichel make an annual dining pilgrimage to the unique city proves that despite hardship, New Orleans' outstanding culinary reputation remains unsullied.

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