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'Treme': Cameos by New York chefs, Southern writers and Tennessee bacon

May 10, 2010 |  9:17 am

With all the talk of music being a so-called "character" in HBO's "Treme," now might be a good time to shift to another creative discipline that the New Orleans series co-stars: food. There's a reason, it turns out, that creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer cast Kim Dickens as a struggling chef and not, say, a budding fashion designer or a lady mechanic.

To that end, we'd like an order of what chef Janette Desautel served the surprise four-top at her restaurant last night. As she and her assistant were turning tables during another busy night, one of her servers notified Chef Janette that a demanding foursome had just arrived without a reservation, recommended, she said, by John Besh.

Besh, if you're not down with your New Orleans cuisine, is the owner of the influential eatery August, and the name-drop of the real-life restaurateur arrived via four real-life super chefs, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. They were in town for a benefit, and in her typically straight-forward, confident way, she greeted them wryly: "Chefs, so nice of you to call ahead."

She seats them, returns to the kitchen and starts brainstorming what the hell she's going to serve them. Her assistant recommends a selection that she deems too East-Coast-centric. "We can't out New York a bunch of New York chefs," she decides, suggesting New Orleans food. "We low-ball them," she says, and proceeds to get busy cooking. The menu?

"We start with the sweet potato andouille soup," she says, "then we get the rabbit kidneys out of the freezer -- they're tiny and they're going to thaw fast. We skewer them with some lardons of the Benton's bacon, then we hit them with sweet breads and crawfish over grits." As an added bonus: braised lamb neck.

Her assistant looks her in the eyes: "You devious, devious woman," he says, smiling. "You are my chef forever."

The two cooks get to work crafting a meal featuring, among other ingredients listed, Allan Benton's legendary Tennessee bacon. It's a nice touch, this specificity, and indicates that "Treme" is paying as close attention to the ingredients in the food as it is in the musical offerings.

It's great to watch all this creativity going on in a television drama world that's obsessed with hospitals, high schools or crime scene investigations. In the span of an hour of "Treme," viewers were treated to: a straight, masculine man sewing  (Chief Lambreaux); an action scene involving Chef Janette and four superstar foodies; a cameo -- and potential star-turn, in my humble opinion -- from writer and NPR personality Roy Blount Jr., who praises blogger Creighton Bernette on his recently uploaded YouTube rant; and an argument about who the trombonist was in King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.

That last scene was part of another nice storyline in what to my mind was the best episode of the series so far. As the chefs are trying to figure out what to serve, trombonist Antoine Batiste is palling around across town with a Japanese jazz fan and benefactor who had flown in to help support hurting musicians by buying them new instruments. They're standing in a music store arguing about who the trombone player in King Oliver's band was. The fan says it was Kid Ory, but Antione says it was Honore Dutrey. The argument gets heated. Batiste, who grew up with this music, is dueling with a middle-aged Japanese man from the other side of the world who's as obsessed with New Orleans music as Batiste is, and they're arguing over, basically, ingredients inside a Creole stew.

It's good to know that the creators are as worried about the ingredients as the obsessives are. 

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Tom Colicchio, left, Eric Rispert, Wylie Dufresne and David Chang. Credit: Paul Schiraldi / HBO