Thursday, September 16, 2010

The crawfish boil chronicles: Lorin Gaudin

If I had to name one person who drastically intensified my passion for food in the last decade, it'd have to be my good friend Lorin Gaudin. Known locally as the "Food Goddess," Lorin has been writing and talking about food in New Orleans for over 12 years and knows more about the industry than anyone I have ever met.  A couple of weeks ago, she invited me into her beautiful home (a gorgeous Victorian Side Hall Cottage) and agreed to help me with my crawfish boil crusade.

Born at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Lorin developed a definite sense of independence and self sustainability due to a mostly absentee mother who divorced and re-married many times, moving her and her sister from town to town to town. During the course of her childhood, Lorin attended 13 different schools before she graduated high school.  She's lived in cities like Manhattan, Scarsdale, White Plains, and Los Angeles.

She still vividly recalls living for a year in a small fishing village in Portugal when she was only 5-years-old. She was often left with a maid that spoke only Portuguese, so much so that Lorin learned it fluently and it was her 3-year-old sister's first language.  " I can still feel the dirt on my feet, taste the fresh sardines and remember swimming in the ocean," she recalls dreamily.

Although she was bopping around quite a bit, she did spend four years (from 5th to 9th grade) in Bel Air, California where she and her sister would often take the bus all the way out to Westwood to enjoy food from Taco Bell or their favorite falafel stand.  At one point during her stint in Southern California, Lorin was actually interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine because she was the only female water polo player in the Los Angeles area, a sport she loved so dearly that she lettered in it.

Although she obviously excelled in some areas, Lorin claims she was a "complete freak" in high school and didn't really get along well with her classmates.  She was particularly proud to tell me that she was always a champion of the underdog. "At 12 I wanted to be the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice...that ship sailed," she laughed, "but I am justice person...and when I think that something is wrong, I stand up and say it.  I say it with a lot of soul, a lot of passion and a lot of integrity."

After graduating from Latin School of Chicago, a "hoity-toity," prestigious high school, Lorin chose to apply to Tulane University in New Orleans.

When I asked if it was college, then, that finally brought her here, Lorin replied "Oh no, what brought me to New Orleans was actually a soul call." Apparently, when she was only 13, a friend's father who had gone to Tulane law school, talked about the city all the time. "Whether I went to college or not, my plan was always to come to New Orleans."

Although Lorin first applied to Tulane, she found it wasn't for her and instead submitted her application to Loyola. Like most students, she spent her college years bouncing around trying out majors like psychology and anthropology, "All a disaster..." she says. Because of her indecision, she had to buckle down and take some extra-full class loads and her counselor said her only two choices (if she wanted to graduate on time) were English or theater. She chose theater with no regrets and many of her classmates are still close to her today. "I thought my education at Loyola was absolute genius and  I loved every minute of it."

Because Lorin, like me, is so enamored of the local food scene, I was curious what she first ate when she finally made it here at 16-years-old. As it turns out, her introduction to New Orleans cuisine was only what I can describe as my wildest food fantasy.

Hopping a streetcar from the campus, Lorin headed to the Quarter alone, dined on crawfish and Dixie beer from the Desire Oyster Bar, was delighted by her first Banana's Foster made for her by Chef Mike Roussel himself at Brennan's and then enjoyed Coquille St. Jacques and a Cafe Brulot at Arnaud's all in the same day! Not only did she eat some of the finest cuisine in New Orleans (not to mention meeting an incredibly famous local chef), she didn't pay a dime! Not one of those establishments would accept payment from her and their responses to her shock were passed off with a wave, a smile and a "Welcome to New Orleans."

She mentioned later that the only item she payed for that day was an egg roll she got from the Takee Outee, which she also thoroughly enjoyed. With an adventure like that, how could she not become a food writer?

Although Lorin's experiences have taken her to the finest restaurants in the Greater New Orleans area, none hold a candle to the crawfish boils and parties at her husband Andre's parents' house in Bay St. Louis, MS.   Together for 27 years, Lorin and Andre would visit Mississippi every year for a huge crawfish boil on Good Friday...of all days to have a party.  Smiling broadly as she recalled the yearly festivities, Lorin waxed poetic about her mother-in-law Janis who was a "Queen," a strong, matriarchal figure whom Lorin not only admired, but loved with all her heart.

These parties were epic, hundreds of people would attend and revel in the "fun, music, dancing and debauchery" that would begin in the early afternoon and last all night long. Hundreds of pounds of crawfish and tons of booze made this a celebration no one would easily forget. One year, Janis asked Lorin to bring a dip and (unknowingly) she arrived with a meat dip!  They teased her mercilessly (she'll always be the "Yankee"), but they ate the dip anyway.

Tears that were standing in Lorin's eyes gave way and spilled down her cheeks as she remembered the magnanimous Janis.  "She had huge hands, my husband has the same giant hands." she said, her voice shaking. "Remy (her son) has those hands too." Her mother-in-law "never missed a beat" and always dressed to season with "giant fingernails" that were painted to match. Janis succumbed to a severe health condition only two years ago and the pain was still too fresh.

Unfortunately, the beautiful home in Bay St. Louis was destroyed during Katrina, but Lorin and her family have begun their own crawfish boil tradition.  Every year on St. Patty's Day, the Gaudin house is filled with revelers (the parade route makes almost a circle around her house) drinking, running out to catch beads and returning to get their fill of some delicious, spicy crawfish.

When I asked if she sucked the heads, Lorin's eyes widened as she said "Absolutely! I am one of those people that not only do I suck the head, I stick my pinky finger inside and pull it out and if that doesn't do it, I open the shell and lick the inside."

2 comments:

Lorin Gaudin said...

Dear Kim - thanks so much for the lovely recounting of my New Orleans story! Love you.

Lorin

Kimberly Ranjbar said...

You're my hero...how could I not? Love you too!