Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Willie Mae's

Finally, nearly two years after it flooded to the rafters, Willie Mae's is back up and running.

Perhaps some of you may recall my mentioning this place in my 'Food Porn' post from about a year back. 92 year old Willie Mae has been running this place as either a bar or a restaurant for half a century. After it was destroyed in the Federal Flood of '05, a consortium of foodies and fellow restaurant owners banded together to raise money to get Willie Mae and her place back on their feet. I'm told that the central A/C unit they installed in the joint is worth more than the whole structure was formerly.
As I said before, I'm not going to tell you where it is. Having a winner of the prestigious James Beard Award (Willie Mae won in 2005, a few months before Katrina) cooking in my ghetto neighborhood is an asset I'd like to keep close to the vest. However I will tell you this much. It's only a couple of blocks from the still-unre-opened Dookie Chase's on Orleans Avenue, across the street from the also un-re-opened Lafitte Housing Projects. Just start walking in expanding circles from Dookie's and you'll find it soon enough.
This is not a fancy place we're talking about here (front-of-house staff consists of Miss Willie's great-granddaughters and immediate family, and unoccupied tables sometimes double as daycare centers). The food is not fancy either. My wife Darlene and I both opted for the fish of the day (which was Talapia) and our lunch companion, Tulane jazz history professor John Joyce Jr., went for the 900 pound gorilla on the menu, Willie Mae's award winning fried chicken. What Darlene and I got was basically a piece of battered fish, and a side (in our case, string beans, but mustard and collard greens were also available). Simple stuff, but very, very well prepared. The fish was fried in a spiced, corn meal batter, and was so ungreasy you could have eaten it with your fingers wearing white gloves. J.J.'s fried chicken was so good, he wouldn't share. Really. I mean he was ready to fight us off with a table knife if necessary.
Simple food. Good ingredients. Superlative preparation. It never ceases to amaze me how hard that is to find, especially in North America. When I think of all the bloated, tasteless, greasy shit I've had inflicted on me (and often for more than the ten bucks an entre goes for at Willie Mae's) it just blows my mind.
Hurricanes. Shootings. Corrupt politics. I'm okay with all of it if I can get food like this just a few blocks from my house.

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