I’ve lived in New Orleans for roughly eight years – save a year and a half stint in New York before I was helplessly lassoed back by unflinching homesickness – and no matter how many times I walk the French Quarter streets, I’m utterly enamored. The sense of beauty and history seeping out of every sidewalk crack is all consuming, and I’m consistently rendered starry eyed.
With that said, we’d be remiss not to make a French Quarter-themed podcast, so that’s exactly what you’ll find here. In this episode of GoNOLA Radio, Sunpie Barnes takes us through some of the best food, music and fun to discover in the New Orleans neighborhood, all of which is a National Historic Landmark.
New Orleans Food Goddess Lorin Gaudin speaks to the new guard of the famed Galatoire’s restaurant on Bourbon Street. Chef Michael Sichel gushes over his talented cohorts, the classic New Orleans dishes he gets to recreate and New Orleans’ unique upscale-style dining. New Orleans All the Way Live host George Ingmire chats with Matt Lemmler, a seasoned musician who is in the French Quarter quite frequently, playing regular gigs at the Bombay Club. Finally, overall New Orleans culture guru Mikko talks ghosts and ghouls with the owner of the French Quarter Haunted History Tours, one of the most exciting and thrilling attractions in New Orleans.
GoNOLA Radio is a free New Orleans podcast hosted by Sunpie Barnes, Lorin Gaudin, George Ingmire and Mikko about the food, music and culture of the Crescent City. Subscribe to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or download to your mobile device on Stitcher. GoNOLA Radio features music by Cale Pellick.
Sunpie: Welcome to GoNOLA Radio. My name is Sunpie Barnes and I will be your host of hosts as we explore New Orleans to learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage, food and music. We bring you experts. The real-deal experts who will talk with you about the people who make New Orleans such a wonderful place to live and visit. It’s GoNOLA Radio.
There’s nothing like the New Orleans French Quarter, or the Vieux Carre as it’s also known. From Bourbon Street to Jackson Square, to the French Market, the French Quarter embodies the history and spirit of New Orleans. This week our noble hosts speak to people who make the magic happen in our national historical landmark.
It doesn’t get more New Orleans than a Friday lunch or a Sunday
Brunch at Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street. New Orleans food goddess Lorin
Gaudin talks to the new chef of the fine dining restaurant about cooking
classic New Orleans dishes and bringing new tricks to the table.
Lorin Gaudin: The food of the French Quarter can be defined by many
dishes. Elegant eggs, bananas foster, gumbo ya ya, barbecued shrimp,
oysters Rockefeller and bienville, burgers and baked potatoes, enfilades, po’boys, e’touffee and all those glorious edibles that compose New Orleans culinary canon.
In what other American city can you dine in a restaurant, centuries
old, feasting and sipping cocktails from lunch all the way through dinner,
lingering and laughing. An experience that’s unparalleled.
Today we step into the tiled wall dining room of Galatoire’s to talk
with executive chef, Michael Sichel, who brings his classic heart and
modern spirit to the deliciousness of this Grande Dame restaurant. Welcome
Michael: Thank you Lorin.
Lorin: Thanks for being with me.
Michael: It’s wonderful.
Lorin: This is beautiful. It’s magical to sit in the dining room at
Galatoire’s and the food here is just incredible. The menu I think is
embodied by traditional dishes, things like crabmeat maison, remoulade,
pompano en papillote, meuniere Amandine, all those things, even the pomme de terre souffle, or souffle potatoes as you guys call them here. So many dishes important to this restaurant. How much fun are you having making those dishes and keeping that love alive?
Michael: Well, as you know, Galatoire’s is extremely successful and so
many people come and join us every day, so just to keep up their energy and
their excitement for the food, to supply them with local fresh product is
my energy every day. It’s been successful so far since I’ve been under the
helm, and I’m enjoying it immensely.
Lorin: It’s beautiful. You took me on a quick kitchen tour and I met a
bunch of the staff and there are people that have been working here for
well over 30 – 40 years. Everyone with a smile on their face. How do you
manage to keep that level of energy? It’s just incredible.
Michael: We preach all the time, “they come for us” so we’re very proud about what we do here. We know who we are and we just bring it every day. We know the customers come here for us and we’re very proud.
Lorin: Well it was so much fun to go into the walk-in. It was very
cold and icy and to see all the beautiful vegetables and everything so neat
and tidy. I’m kind of a neat and tidy kitchen freak, so you’ve really
appealed to that side of me. We were laughing because you noticed some of
the fish bins were empty because, every day…
Michael: Fresh product.
Lorin: Thank you.
Michael: Yeah, we’re focusing on Louisiana fresh product and every
single day we’re bringing the fresh product. We butcher it then we put it
on your table after we cook it.
Lorin: Incredible. I also got to see the gentleman who makes the
souffle potatoes. Tell us his name and what goes on back there. That was
like potato heaven.
Michael: Yeah, Rocky’s been here for 23 years and thank God he’s still
here. He does a great job for us. We sell so many souffle potatoes that if
it wasn’t with his background and his knowledge of making them perfect
every day, we’d fail.
Lorin: Yeah, because it pretty much I think I’ve said it before, the
world’s most elegant French fry. What is the process? for those who may not
know what a souffle potato is.
Michael: Giving away our secrets, no, but it’s quite easy though. It
starts with a really good russet potato, and it cannot be high in sugar, is
what we found out. Sometimes you get into it and you realize the potatoes
are high in sugar and you don’t get that beautiful color we’re looking for,
so then we start all over again. We work with cottonseed oil, which is a
local product and we bring them up to temperature at about 350 degrees, and
we let them chill for a second, and re-blast them again at 400 degrees to
get that puff on them.
Lorin: It’s incredible.
Michael: And they’re sexy, as you see. We’ve got piles and piles of them
Lorin: They are mega sexy.
Michael: …are. I love them, I love them.
Lorin: And the best part for me is that it’s like the best mayonnaise,
the best dip. That bearnaise. It’s heaven on earth.
Michael: It makes everyone happy. Everyone says whoever created
bearnaise was brilliant because it can go on anything and people smile when
they have it.
Lorin: So tell people what distinguishes bearnaise from other yummy
[aeoili] or egg based sauces and beautiful sauces.
Michael: Bearnaise is tarragon and it’s a beautiful, it has a nice
aromatic to it, has a nice flavor, a sweetness to it. It’s folded into a
hollandaise, a thickened egg base with clarified butter.
Lorin: It is indeed. I love that little bare hint of that licorice
that comes from tarragon.
Michael: Nice touch.
Lorin: It’s gorgeous, and when you get those hot fluffy potatoes and
they well, it renders me speechless to be honest with you.
Michael: I agree, as you said, pouffy.
Lorin: Yeah, pouffy.
Michael: Everyone is an individual too. If you look at them they all
have their own life to them. It’s really mean that though, each has it’s
own life, everyone has it’s own shape, everyone has it’s own ability of
puffing up. We do fail every once in a while but then we put them aside and
the staff gets to enjoy them.
Lorin: That was fantastic, that was my little breakfast this morning
with you. I thought it was amazing. Also, I know that recently you added a
dish, obviously you haven’t been here as long as this restaurant’s open and
you’re really keeping alive those beautiful traditional dishes. But you
recently added a classic dish Michael Sichel style bouillabaisse. Tell me
Michael: Well, we follow tradition here and as we know 106 years of what
they do, we do very well. So we just focused on the quality and we’re
focusing on good flavors and the bouillabaisse is just an enriched saffron
broth with a local Louisiana product, shellfish, fish, could be drum, could
Lorin: Whatever’s coming in the door
Michael: Whatever’s coming in.
Lorin: …and is beautiful that day.
Michael: Exactly and what I’ll do is I’ll top it with a little bit of a
potato rouille and some croutons. It’s traditional, it’s from the south of
the Mediterranean and we just love what it does. Especially this time of
year. It’s warm for the soul.
Lorin: This whole restaurant I think is warm for the soul.
Michael: I agree.
Lorin: I think it’s fantastic. So the last thing I want to get out of
you is how important are the grande dame restaurants and of course focusing
on Galatoire’s since that’s where you are, to the food culture of the
French Quarter. We may not all be able to afford to come to eat at
Galatoire’s but this really is a reflection of the way we eat here in New
Orleans, it’s magnificent. How important do you think this is to the food
culture of the French Quarter?
Michael: I find it amazing that history exists daily. It’s just
beautiful to be able to bring something forward but at the same time, not
change it. I just love presenting the food as simple as it could be, but
with the heart and soul of the modern day mentality. It’s timeless in here,
you can sense it. We’re here before the storm, which is going to be the
business when it gets busy and everyone’s welcome at any expense.
You can come in just for an appetizer, or just a cocktail, enjoy the
bar. Feel the vibe of Galatoire’s, it’s timeless. The people that sit in
these chairs have been here for years and years and there’s not excuses.
they come to Galatoire’s because they know what it expects. They’ve been
here with their parents and their grandparents. I’m impressed. I’ve been
here a short time but I get it. I love it and I’m here to win it.
Lorin: You just took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to
say Michael Sichel, you get it. You get this place, it’s so incredible for
someone who’s not native New Orleanian to come in and really grab hold the
way you have. It’s just outstanding and congratulations on all the great
stuff you do here.
Michael: Thank you. I have to give all my credit to my team, sincerely I
am only as good as my team and my team is strong. They’ve been committed to
me, they’ve been committed to this house for a long time. I’m learning from
Lorin: That’s fantastic, that’s why of course, as we feast ourselves
around the city we say, “Ciao New Orleans.” Thanks for joining me Michael
Michael: You’re welcome Lorin.
Sunpie: The Bombay Club is the French Quarter’s own romantic getaway.
There’s food, music and libations, every night of the week at this chic
George Ingmire talks to one of the Bombay Club’s house musicians,
Matt Lemmler about his Stevie Wonder arrangements, writing orchestra music
and his own New Orleans mentors.
George Ingmire: Just give the listener a little background on your
experiences coming up in New Orleans and what led you to music.
Matt Lemmler: I got into music because my dad was a professional
musician, I have a brother Michael Lemmler who’s a professional musician
and so I’m from a family of musicians. I got into music because of my dad
and his three sons, my older brother Richard, we all played piano and we
just thought and everybody played music, just like us.
Grew up, went to Holy Cross High School and went to Loyola University, started working with the Dukes of Dixieland, Connie Jones Trio, worked with them for a couple years. Moved to New York, went to Manhattan School of Music got my graduate degree, moved back to New Orleans, worked with [Pete Fountain].
Went on the road with Phantom of the Opera and Broadway Musical.
Lived here until Katrina. Was hired at the University of New Orleans full
time piano professor.
George: I recall a recording where you made a special point to pay your
respects to the musicians who have either taken you under their wing or
maybe just inspired you and I’m curious as to why you made a special point
to do that. Maybe you could talk a little bit about the place of that
mentoring and also just the tradition of music being something far more
profound than just taking lessons. It’s about encounters.
Matt: Yeah, music is passed on by an oral tradition and so my mentors have
always been musicians that I’ve admired but also worked with. Some of them
actually sat in a classroom, or I actually went to their house to study
music, but most of the time it was on the bandstand or go and listen to
them and things like that and so I did a CD entitled “The Music of New
Orleans” right after Katrina and it’s all tunes that I learned in New
Orleans and I re-arranged them too into a different format but dedicated
each songs to most all of my mentors like Ellis Marsalis and George French,
Bob French, and most of them are living.
But there are some others, like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton that have passed but still their history is still alive through recordings and things like that, so musicians are able to learn from that. There’s some great musicians from New Orleans that have come from New Orleans and are still in New Orleans and I felt it was to pay my respects and say thanks.
George: What’s the process that you go through to take a piece of music
that people are very familiar with and give it something that is uniquely
Matt: I’ve been studying, arranging and composing since I was in High
School and I’ve been fascinated by the way jazz musicians take original
compositions or popular compositions and transform them. I’ve always had a
desire and want to do that.
I did a CD based on all of Stevie Wonder’s music, called “Portraits
of Wonder” with Brian Blade on drums and did that kind of treatment where I
took all of Stevie Wonder’s music and rearranged it to put it in a jazz
format and kept the melodies the same and the lyrics the same but changed
everything underneath. I’ve always been fascinated by textures in sounds
and so that’s what I’ve gotten into for the last 15 or 20 years, is taking
popular songs, or songs people know and trying to change them up and make
I don’t really know how it comes about it just comes about and so I
started doing that with the Beatles’ songs and I orchestrate for orchestras
and big bands and arrange for all different size ensembles and stuff, but
lately, since I started singing I started doing arrangements for myself
now, for solo piano and voice. So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last
couple of years.
Sunpie: New Orleans is a haunted town full of voodoo and ghost stories.
One of the most fun ways to learn about New Orleans’ ghouls is to go on a
haunted history tour. Mikko speaks with the owner of French Quarter Tours
about the New Orleans fascination with paranormal activity.
Mikko: New Orleans has always had a very intimate relationship with
death. With the yellow fever epidemics and civil war and the rough
conditions and we celebrate the All Saints days, the day that we go out to
the cemeteries. Our cemeteries themselves are tourist attractions. We even
have a football team here, if you think about it, the Saints, are named
after dead people.
Hello everyone, I’m Mikko and I’m not going to be talking the sadness
of death today. What we’re going to be talking about is with the man,
Sidney Smith who is the owner/operator of Haunted History Tours who’s been
operating in the French Quarter of New Orleans for 17 years and Sidney,
Sidney: Thank you.
Mikko: And you have a business where you deal with ghosts and deal
with this interesting relationship New Orleans has with the ultimate
destiny of all people. So, what is your experience of working in the
Quarter with these ghosts.
Sidney: Well, New Orleans is considered to be the most haunted city in
the country so it’s only fair to say that Haunted History Tours does its
As you mentioned we’ve had a heavy concentration of death that’s
taken place in a small area over a relatively short period of time. We’re a
city filled with tragic events. More people have actually died here than
have ever lived here. The earliest French settlers were warned by the
Indians not to build a city here, that the area was cursed.
We’ve had to deal with everything from cannibals to yellow fever. The
people who populated the area originally dealt with quicksand, alligators,
snakes. The murder rate was high. We’ve had two major catastrophic fires in
the late 1700s that destroyed the city of and much of its population. We’ve
had 27 yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s.
It is said that violent death and strong emotion contribute to
hauntings and ghostly activity and quite frankly we’ve had no shortage of
it. A lot of people say, “Rest in peace” but, what if you can’t?
Mikko: Sidney, you’re bumming me out.
Sidney: What if you can’t rest in peace.
Mikko: Okay, so you have literally hundreds of people come to
you, thousands probably a year, that you bring them out at night and you
show them fascinating architectural gems of buildings and talk about
what’s going on spiritually in there.
Sidney: That’s right. We talk about everything. We talk about ghostly
activity, hauntings. We talk about voodoo, we visit the cemeteries during
the day, we talk about vampires. There’s a lot, Haunted History Tours is
not strictly focusing on ghosts and dead people. The voodoo tour is a very
academic tour and voodoo history in New Orleans. How voodoo got here, where
it’s at today, the origins of voodoo, how it’s practiced. It’s a very, very
interesting tour, it has nothing to do with ghosts.
The ghost tour that we do, it’s not a Halloween spook house. It’s a
very historically accurate tour as well. It just deals with the paranormal.
We don’t have people jumping out trying to scare you along the way. In fact
if that type of thing happens it’s the real thing, you’re being mugged and you need to run.
The tour is actually a fun, interesting, about a two hour adventure
into the French Quarter. It takes people to several different locations,
connected with actual documented hauntings based on paranormal
Mikko: What do think is the attraction for people to come. I mean are
people uncomfortable on this tour? Are they having fun? What is your
Sidney: Well, you know, everybody loves a ghost story, and that’s what
we’re doing. We’re telling ghost stories. But they are very real ghost
stories. These are not made up stories. You know, the most famous one of
all is the LaLaurie house, on Royal Street at the corner of Governor
Nicholls. You can Google that story, that’s been around since 1834. It’s a
very famous story, it’s very real, it’s a very factual story and the tour
guides bring it to life.
It’s basically street theater that we’re doing. It’s the tour guides
are what make any tour company better than another. And our tour guides
just happen to be phenomenal. They’re great storytellers, they have acting
ability, they make the stories come alive.
That’s what fascinates the people. They come to the tour, a lot of
the times they’ll say “Am I going to see a ghost?” and I’ll say, “Well, if
you have enough to drink, you will.”
Mikko: Has anyone ever seen a ghost on the tour?
Sidney: That’s an interesting question because a lot of people are very sensitive to paranormal activity. Some people are more sensitive than other people. Some people hear it, see it, feel it, experience it on a regular basis. Other people never feel anything or see anything, but they will have a great time on our tour.
But what we do tell people is to bring a camera. Take a lot of
pictures on the tour and honestly, people capture things in their photos
all the time, that were not there. Everything from ectoplasm to full blown
apparitions to images that were not there.
A great story I have in that same realm. I had a lady come to me not
too long ago. She had taken our tour and she said, “Boy, have I got a story
for you.” Apparently she had stayed at the Place d’Armes Hotel on a
previous visit. And we know the Place d’Armes happens to be haunted, it
used to be a Spanish Boys’ School, in the late 1700s it burned down. In
that fire the headmaster died. We believe the hotel is haunted by the
headmaster. The hotel itself believes it’s haunted by the headmaster. Well,
that being said, the lady told me that she had engaged in a conversation
with a gentleman on the adjoining balcony. Long conversation, she enjoyed
Later on she went down to the lobby and asked “Who is that fellow
that’s staying in that room?” and she was told “That room is empty, there’s
nobody in that room.” And she said “No, no, no, no. I had a long
conversation with the gentleman, this is what he looked like.” “Oh, you saw
our ghost.” “I didn’t see any ghost,” she said, “I had a long conversation
with the guy.” Well, she didn’t see the guy any more throughout her visit.
When she got back home to St. Louis, where she was from, she had a
roll of film developed. One picture on the roll is a shot that her
traveling companion had taken of her, she was modeling a hat inside her
hotel room, in front of the mirror. Well, guess who’s image is coming out
of the mirror? It’s the gentleman she talked to on the balcony. It’s those
kinds of things that people tell us all the time.
We get emails from people all over the country who have taken our
tour. They send us photographs that they have taken they say they were not
believers before but once they took the tour and took the pictures, “What is
this? How can this be in my picture?” well, guess what, it happens.
Mikko: Well I have a question for you. I’ve been dying to ask a
paranormal expert. Is there any building in the French Quarter that is not
Sidney: That’s a good question, and probably not. There are haunted buildings everywhere.
Mikko: I mean it’s so old.
Sidney: It’s very old.
Mikko: I understand that a lot of times ghosts like to hang out in places that they loved, and we have the theater downtown. Some people say there’s 15, 20 ghosts. So is that the case?
Sidney: It’s a familiar thing. I believe that once you die you tend to associate yourself to people and places that were familiar to you. I don’t think you’re going to have ghosts hanging out in the cemetery.
Mikko: Yeah, who would right? Right.
Sidney: Who would hang out in the cemetery? I mean they’d want to be
around the people and places that were familiar to them when they lived.
Mikko: Now you’ve been here I know you’ve been here a lot longer than
that, but you are a grizzled veteran…
Sidney: Thank you.
Mikko: …of working in the French Quarter. Are there any newer ghosts
now that you’ve noticed?
Sidney: Well, you know you have to have a death before you can have a ghost. So there are-, we try to stay away from stories that are relatively new because it may affect people’s families or it may have something to do with people that others knew. For instance, Chris Owens claims that Al Hirt’s ghost haunts her club, but we don’t talk about Chris Owens and Al Hirt on our tour, but we’ve talked to Chris and she tells us Al Hirt’s
ghost. She’s confident. Al Hirt’s ghost you know haunts her club.
Mikko: Maybe he just likes the show.
Sidney: That’s right. I think he did play there for a while.
Mikko: Yes and they both have their statue down there now in the French Quarter.
Sidney: That’s right.
Mikko: Well Sidney, thank you. I’ve got goose bumps now. Next time I walk through the French Quarter in the evening time I’ll give you a call, and thanks for being here.
Sidney: Well, if you want to check us out it’s hauntedhistorytours.com.
Mikko: And that’s a link that will be on our page and happy hauntings.
Sidney: Thank you. Happy hauntings to you.
Sunpie: GoNOLA Radio is a production of New Orleans Tourism and
Marketing Corporation, in conjunction with FSC Interactive. Music by Cale
Pellick. My name is Sunpie. Tune in next week by subscribing to GoNOLA Radio on iTunes or gonola.com.