This past Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting Ray Cannata, the pastor of a small Presbyterian Church in New Orleans. When he moved to post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005, he had 18 members at his church; today he has nearly 200 members. In addition to building a strong community within his church, Ray has recruited volunteers from across the country to rebuild nearly 500 homes in New Orleans. He has made an indelible mark in both the spiritual community of New Orleans and the physical makeup of the Big Easy.
When Ray moved to New Orleans, he learned about the city in the best (and only) way possible: through its food and music. The two often go hand in hand, especially along Frenchmen Street and throughout Treme.
Ray is lucky to remember nearly the exact moment that he fell in love with New Orleans, and realized that he could never leave. He was at Maple Leaf Bar, listening to Rebirth (an epic brass band in New Orleans), when it hit him: the realization that he wanted to die in New Orleans at a ripe old age. I can imagine how Rebirth might have this effect on people. If you have never heard them play inside Maple Leaf, you need to make the trip uptown. This Tuesday (and every Tuesday thereafter).
After living in New Orleans for a significant amount of time, and after eating at many of New Orleans top restaurants and eateries, Ray began to think the unthinkable: what if he ate at all of New Orleans’ non-chain restaurants? When Ray officially started his quest, there were 610 restaurants on the list. However, this number does not stay static, but rather mimics the death and life cycles of New Orleans’ restaurants. On average, two eateries open up per week in New Orleans. He is currently starring in a film by Michael Dunaway called The Man Who Ate New Orleans. I can’t wait to see the film when it comes out! Ray’s final restaurant meal will be at John Besh’s place, and the event has been aptly named “The Last Supper.” On September 11, 2011, chefs from across New Orleans, as well as any passionate foodies will join Ray in celebrating his monumental feat.
When I met Ray last week, he had eaten at just under 700 restaurants in New Orleans. After meeting at Croissant D’Or earlier that morning, we decided to get proper lunch at Jackson Brewery, a new tourist-trap restaurant on Decatur Street. I had never eaten catfish before, so I felt inclined to try the catfish po’boy. In all honesty, I could not even tell that it was catfish! I don’t remember much about the food a Jackson Brewery. The interior of the restaurant had excellent views of the river, and might be a good place to have drinks with friends one evening. Would I eat there again? Not when there are so many great restaurants just a few blocks away!
Overall, I feel so lucky to have met Ray. He may not have been born in New Orleans, but he is definitely a New Orleanina through and through. He has such passion for the city, a great knowledge of its history, and an understanding of its people. Good luck on the rest of your culinary adventure, Ray!