Young and Hungry

David Guas Gets Sweet on His Native New Orleans


This weekend, I spent a bit of time with David Guas' debut cookbook, DamGoodSweet, in which the former pastry chef for Passion Food Hospitality recreates many of his favorite treats from New Orleans where he grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward, that area devastated by Katrina.

The book, just released yesterday, almost cries with nostalgia and delight for the New Orleans of Guas' youth. In that way, it reminds me of a passage that Patric Kuh wrote in his great book, The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, about the glowing, photo-realistic prose of Elizabeth David's post-World War II Mediterranean cookbooks:

"One can only really paint such a vivid picture from a distance," wrote Kuh. "David was writing this not looking out at anything resembling her subject but in a London that was still under the constraints of food rationing and very much carried the scars of war. Many parts of the city had not changed much from the description Muriel Spark gives of London in the opening of her novel The Girls of Slender Means. A city where the streets 'were lined with buildings in bad repair or in no repair at all, bomb-sites piled high with stony rubble, houses like giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity...' In this landscape, to write about Levantine fishing ports one has known, the eating habits of Burgundian bargemen, or the color of freshly landed fish in Italian markets is a form of escape."

In DamGoodSweet, Guas reverses those polarities and considers the cakes and breads and beignets of his hometown from the perspective of someone who didn't have to live with the damage wrought by Katrina. It's a cookbook that, in between the recollections and recipes, mixes romance for a New Orleans that no longer exists and maybe even regret for the author's inability to help his hometown in her time of need.

"After Katrina, I sort of felt a little helpless in the sense I was still pulling long hours," Guas tells Y&H about that hectic period in the fall of 2005 when Acadiana had just opened. "I couldn’t just drop everything and go down and assist."

It's a guilt, perhaps, compounded by the fact that Guas still had family living in New Orleans at the time of Katrina. In a sense, DamGoodSweet is Guas' attempt to repay his debt to a great city, maybe even alleviate any residual guilt. I'd dare say that he's paid his hometown back in full with this amazing little cookbook, co-written by journalist Raquel Pelzel.

Guas will be making the media rounds soon to promote the book. He'll appear on the Today Show on Nov. 11 and the following day on Martha Stewart Living's Everyday Food on Sirius radio. The local media will likely go nuts over it, too, including your very own Y&H, who will have more to say on this subject later.