first time I got invited to a crawfish boil. To me, it was a pivotal, food-related experience that, like no other, had endeared me to the locals and made me feel welcome and included.
Lately, I've had this undeniable urge to discover if that first crawfish boil (or the first you can remember anyhow) is as important to others, both locals and transplants alike, as it is to me. So, I thought it would be fun to interview folks from all walks of life to find out...what was your first crawfish boil like?
Beneath the shady trees in the empty courtyard behind the Maple Leaf, I met with Ryan Tramonte, a good friend and a good sport who was the first person willing to face my crawfish boil inquiry. Ryan is the General Manager of the French Art Network, a group that encompasses four prestigious art galleries; two in California and two right here in the historic French Quarter. He is well-known in the local art community and for his unique and hilarious art blogs on NewOrleans.Com.
In his mid-twenties, Ryan began developing food allergies that have severely limited his dining choices, something I considered a desperate tragedy, made exponentially worse since he lives in a city that is known internationally for it's cuisine. When I asked Ryan to share the last really excellent meal he's had in the city, his mouth slowly widened into a mischievous smile.
When I asked Ryan about his earliest crawfish memory, he candidly relayed that he had been to so many when he was younger that they all sort of blurred together. But he did distinctly recall when he and his parents would go "crawfishing" in the swamps on the side of the railroad tracks. His father taught him how to manage the line and how to use "melt" (beef pancreas) as bait. "There were flies stuck to it [melt] all the time," Ryan explained while cringing. "I had a real issue touching it, but then I had a real issue doing anything outside. My poor father didn't have a Louisiana outdoorsman for a son at all."
The oft-held crawfish boils, he went on to describe, ran one into the other where he and his parents would catch a sack or two of crawfish and bring them back home. They would boil them up with potatoes, corn, onions and garlic and they would all (aunts, cousins, parents, grandparents and sister) enjoy a big outside meal on a Friday or Saturday night in Tramonteville.
At last, I simply had to ask Ryan one more question...do you suck the heads? He tilted his head and smiled at me.
"It all depends.." he began.
"On the quality of the crawfish?" I asked.
"Oh, we're talking about crawfish?" he laughed.
Our laughter finally faded when Ryan looked at me and said, " Of course I suck the heads...why bother eating crawfish at all if you aren't willing to experience the entire process?"