My conversation with author Michael Murphy first took place on July 24, 2014. Once his first book, EAT DAT was published, and I published the following interview, we talked quite often. We both had a Detroit connection – I think his parents were from the Motor City before moving away. Murphy sadly passed away at the age of 63 in October 2017. He worked as VP of Random House and Putnam and as a publisher at William Morrow. He loved New Orleans and loved to talk about the city and the food.
“There’s an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.” – John Goodman
This is a quote that a lot of out-of-towners like to recite when they try to explain their love of New Orleans to someone who has never been there. And Goodman should know, he was born and raised in St. Louis but now calls the Garden District his home.
Author Michael Murphy has recited that quote also. He grew up in the Mid-West and worked in New York in the publishing industry for 30 years. While working at a publishing firm, he made his first trip to New Orleans in 1983 for a business trip. “I knew I was ‘home’ and came here once or twice a year, every year until I finally got to move here in 2009,” he said.
Since his very first trip to New Orleans, he’s been dining in the restaurants, eating at the food carts, and mixing it up with the chefs, waiters, streetcar operators, and any local that would talk food with him. If you ever ask anyone in New Orleans about food, they’ll have stories for you, debate the best spots, and not only tell you where their favorite restaurant is, but who their favorite waiter or waitress is.
With Michael’s book, EAT DAT, he focuses on the unique food culture of New Orleans with a story-filled guide book that “spins tales of the city’s food lore, such as the controversial history of gumbo and the Shakespearean drama of restaurateur Owen Brennan and his heirs.” It’s not just geared for the out-of-towner that’s visiting NOLA for the first time, but it’s for all those interested in the vibrant food scene if you live there or not.
EAT DAT, which highlights 250 places to eat, will help guide you away from the tourist traps and help you find some of the best restaurants in the different neighborhoods around the city. It offers some great stories from New Orleanians and an excellent historical guide to the city. It’s definitely a book you want to have on you the next time you’re planning on being in New Orleans.
Murphy may not have been born and raised in the Crescent City, but when that chromosome connected after that first visit, New Orleans became a passion for him – and it shows in this book.
Where’s your favorite place to order red beans and rice?
My house. Seriously. In the appendix of my book, EAT DAT, I asked a number of New Orleans food experts; people like Poppy Tooker, Lolis Eric Elie, Sara Roahen, Ian McNulty, etc, to list which restaurants served the best gumbo. Rather than choosing Dooky Chase or the Gumbo Shop, about half the judges responded “My House.” I now get it. I’d put my red beans & rice up against any for taste.
Now, for atmosphere, it doesn’t get any better than the Columns Hotel’s FREE red beans & rice on their front veranda on a Monday night.
If you make your own, what do you put in it, anything different or unique?
I tried dried beans… once. I tried Zatarain’s red beans & rice in a box….once. This is the one area where I disagree with Ignatius P. Reilly’s assertion, “Canned food is a perversion. I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul.”
BLUE RUNNER’s Creole Cream Style Red Beans (in a can) simply makes the best end results. Sometimes, I’ll toss in a can of Trappey’s black beans into the mix to add some flavors. And always, always, always Crystal’s Hot Sauce will be used to season.
What do you serve with your red beans?
Usually pork sausage (into the pan). Occasionally duck sausage (into the pan). Sometimes sour cream (on top). And most often cornbread (to the side) for sopping. And always, always, always Crystal’s Hot Sauce will be used to season.
Do you only eat red beans and rice on Mondays?
I only eat King Cake during Mardi Gras Season. I only eat Elmer’s Gold Brick chocolate eggs on Easter. And I only eat red beans & rice on a Monday night. To do otherwise seems morally lax.
What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m three chapters into my second book of the DAT-Rilogy. FEAR DAT, about our voodoo, vampires, graveyards, & ghosts is the book I’m writing now. Anne Rice has agreed to contribute to the book. That will help A LOT.
EAT DAT, about New Orleans’ food culture came out in February 2014. It’s already into its 3rd printing, so either it’s selling or my publisher is hand stitching extra books one copy at a time. The Huffington Post listed EAT DAT as the #1 “Essential” book to read before coming to New Orleans.
And, HEAR DAT, about our music scene, will complete the series in 2016.
Michael Murphy’s Dat Collection
If you would like more information on Michael Murphy’s books or would like to order a copy, you can follow the links to Amazon.
- Eat Dat by Michael Murphy (2014) Celebrates both New Orleans’s food and its people.
- Fear Dat by Michael Murphy (2015) Detailed histories of bizarre burials, ghastly murders, and the greatest concentration of haunted places in America.
- Hear Dat by Michael Murphy (2016) Features in-depth recommendations for the greatest venues, the best musicians, and the must-see festivals around New Orleans.
Countryman Press, which is an imprint of W. W. Norton & Company, continued the DAT collection after Murphy finished the original trilogy. Drink Dat is a new volume – with a foreword by Murphy – and All Dat is like a “Best of” edition of the original set of books.
- Drink Dat by Elizabeth Pearce (2017) Pearce takes us on a tour of the city’s many unforgettable drinking spots.
- All Dat by Michael Murphy (2017) In addition to selected material from Murphy’s Eat Dat, Fear Dat, and Hear Dat, brand new chapters explore shopping, creeping around, fitting in, and celebrating―for natives and travelers alike.
* Disclosure: The Amazon links are affiliate links. If you purchase a book through the link, I will receive a small commission – no extra charge to you. Thank you!
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Eric Olsson is the food blogger of RedBeansAndEric.com. He publishes new recipes and interviews weekly. He has developed recipes and written articles for the famous Camellia brand in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has been mentioned in Louisiana Cookin‘ magazine and has had recipes featured in Taste of Home magazine – with his Creole Turkey recipe being runner up in their annual Thanksgiving recipe contest. He lives outside of Detroit, Michigan, with his wife and four children.