THE ICON: Warren Leruth
THE LEGACY: LeRuth’s, the restaurant for which Warren Leruth became famous, opened in 1965 in an unprepossessing Victorian cottage in Gretna, just down the street from a public housing complex. Up to that point, the typical New Orleans restaurant was largely a tradition-bound thing, arguably to a fault. The innovative Leruth — both chef and food scientist — would change that by carefully, mindfully tinkering with traditional recipes. Importantly, however, he never lost sight of what made the region’s native dishes so special to begin with. Among his innovations: oyster-artichoke soup and sauteed soft-shell crab with lump crab meat. In writing Leruth’s obituary in 2001, Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson described Leruth as “a traditionalist at heart … more interested in reinvigorating local cuisine than reinventing it.” In so doing, Leruth would stake out a place at the leading edge of what would become a New Orleans culinary renaissance, one that held firm to the past but made room for local chefs to evolve and explore exciting new tastes.
THE ARTIST: Jeremy Paten
THE INSPIRATION: “My purpose was always to refine and purify true New Orleans cooking. Some chefs are so revved up, always worrying about what to do next. They’re caught in a triple-high-speed squirrel cage, racing around at the price of Louisiana cooking. Now they can access Southwest, Northern California, Pacific Rim, Chinese, and that can be great, but some of this stuff crosses over into cuckoo world. I still come from the school of people who eat with their palates, not their eyes.” — Warren Leruth, in a 1995 Times-Picayune interview