It has been nearly five months since the city of New Orleans was devastated by flooding, following the passage of Hurricane Katrina. But residents are returning and bringing back some of the city's favorite pastimes, such as playing music and eating the famous local Creole cooking. One radio personality is doing his part by keeping a list of restaurants that have re-opened. VOA's Greg Flakus has more in this report about a daily radio program dedicated to food.
Every Monday through Friday, people in New Orleans can tune in and call in to radio station WSMB for three hours of talk about food with host Tom Fitzmorris.
On the phone with a caller:
Caller: "We have been there to Giovanni's many, many times and we plan to keep going back."
Host: "Well, nice hearing from you. Thank you for calling us.
Caller: 'Alrighty, then.'
Host: "See ya. This is the food show on 1350 WSMB, I'm Tom Fitzmorris. Hey, by the way, all this stuff, like the list of restaurants that are open is on my Web site, which is NOMENU.com."
On his web site, Tom Fitzmorris keeps tabs on local eateries that have re-opened. His slogan is "Bringing Back New Orleans, One Restaurant at a Time."
He says the idea came about during the darkest time for the city, just days after the hurricane, when he, along with thousands of others, had to evacuate.
"I got an email from one of my readers of my daily Internet newsletter and he asked if I could give him a list of restaurants that are opened now. And I thought what kind of idiot is this? The city is in chaos. The entire area is officially evacuated, you are not even supposed to be here and he is asking about restaurants?"
Then a number of restaurants contacted him to let him know they were open.
"So I thought, 'Let me make the list,' and I came up with 21 restaurants. This was when most of the city was officially closed. So I just kept this list going and I have continued to revise it every day and, as of today, we have 440 places and they keep coming at the rate, lately, of three, four, or five restaurants a day."
Now, area chefs and restaurant owners are frequent guests on "The Food Show."
Sometimes they even bring their own gumbo to share with anyone who stops by.
But the "Food Show" is not confined to the upscale, culinary stars of the city.
Listeners often share information about their favorite local bars, cafes and neighborhood stores that make sandwiches like the Po-boy, which use french bread and are often made with shrimp or oysters.
"That is one of the strengths of New Orleans is that everybody here is an eater. Everybody here… it is a big, big deal. So we can get away with a show like this."
Tom Fitzmorris has been "getting away" with his call-in radio show about restaurants, cooking and all things food related for more than 17 years, something that he says could only happen in New Orleans.
"There are shows like this in other cities but they only do them once a week and usually for an hour or so. How we have been able to get away with doing it for three hours a day, five days a week in drive time yet, for 17 years, well, heck, I am glad of it."
Fitzmorris says his show draws on food traditions here in New Orleans that date back centuries.
"We have our own culinary style. I think this is the only place in America that has an indigenous style of cooking that is as old as this. They were identifying Creole cooking 150 years ago as a full-fledged cuisine that had a way of treating just about everything you could think of."
Tom Fitzmorris says around a third of the city's pre-Katrina eateries are now open again, but he assures potential visitors that good food is easy to find.
"If they are coming to town and they want to spend some time here, they ask me, 'Are the restaurants open? Is there any place for me to eat?' And the answer is yes, for anybody who comes here, you are not even going to be slightly lacking in places to go."
And visitors are welcome to offer their opinions on dining experiences in New Orleans by calling in to "The Food Show."