(this piece was originally published 8/24/2011)
The Martin Brothers in New Orleans may have created the po-boy, but Vincent Rosetti, who knew the Martin brothers and had a Biloxi Point Cadet restaurant called Rosetti’s, took credit for the “pressed po-boy.” Julian Brunt, author and editor of The Biloxi Seafood Cookbook, describes the Biloxi po-boy as almost always pressed by a machine resembling a small laundry press. Rosetti’s was also home to a the Van Cleave Special, a sandwich composed of oblong crab cakes and cheese on French bread or po-boy bread, that has outlived the restaurant (and one of the many recipes in Brunt’s book).
In a cookbook publishing world where so many books scream, “me, me, me,” Brunt’s stands out as one that is not about ego. Claire Menck recently described a narrative in which “food implied a sort of relentless love for place, people, and self” and she could have been talking about Brunt’s book. The book, published by the Biloxi Maritime and Seafood Museum (proceeds go to construction of the museum, which has been operating in a temporary space after its building was destroyed in Katrina), is a tribute to the people – Croatians, Vietnamese, Cajuns, among others – that influenced the food and seafood industry of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Biloxi Seafood Cookbook contains almost 150 shrimp, oyster, fish, and crab recipes, and is seasoned with a good dose of history. “The recipes are blended with tales of Biloxi’s history, as the two could hardly be separated and a good tale always makes a good meal even better,” says Brunt.
The book also exhibits a deep amount of care for the reader. Brunt means for you to cook with this book and structures it, tagging recipes by level of difficulty and explaining cooking methods, so that you feel more competent as a cook. In one part, he describes recipes suggestions, rather than a rules. He suggests that you play with the recipes and deviate from them. This reminded me of the title of a children’s art book published by MOMA, Make Art. Make Mistakes. Wouldn’t more people cook if they weren’t so afraid to mess up?
The Biloxi Seafood Cookbook is an excellent compilation of the dishes and history that flavor the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is a little like having a friend with cooking knowledge and some really good stories in the kitchen with you.