New Orleans Jumps On The Trans Fats Ban-Wagon

Friday, February 9th 2007, 1:51 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Visitors who come to the Big Easy with a big appetite for its sinfully rich food need not fear: This city of beignets, crab cakes, fried oysters and gumbo is not about to jump onto the trans-fat ban wagon.

New Orleans, which regularly ranks among America's fattest, most out-of-shape cities, is simply not the kind of place to let health concerns interfere with the exquisite pleasures of a meal cooked with butter, bacon drippings, heavy cream and lard.

``We take it to the butter-load, baby,'' said chef Paul Prudhomme at his world-famous French Quarter restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, where cooks brush melted butter over pans of jalapeno bread and saute plump Gulf of Mexico shrimp in butter and seasonings.

In truth, most of New Orleans' big-name, white-linen restaurants do not even use trans fats for their haute Cajun and Creole cuisine, but only because they prefer the rich flavors of natural oils and fats.

Prudhomme and others agree a good roux _ the flour browned in oil that helps give gumbo and Louisiana sauces their color and flavor _ is done with natural oil like peanut oil.

``And there's nothing wrong with dripping a little pork loin in there,'' said Prudhomme, who is famously overweight himself.

Some cooking oils, shortening and margarine contain artificial trans fats, which give oil a longer shelf life and sustain higher cooking temperatures. But trans fats have come under fire from health advocates for clogging heart arteries.

In December, New York City banned artificial trans fats at restaurants. Around the country, Starbucks, KFC, McDonald's and Burger King say they will phase them out, and Crisco, introduced in 1911 and the first shortening product made entirely of vegetable oil, is getting a new formula that nearly eliminates trans fats.

Several states, including Michigan, California and Oregon, are studying a possible ban. But there has been no such talk in Louisiana.

Over the years, New Orleans has made a number of lists for the fattest and most out-of-shape residents. In 2005, it was lumped among the top 10 fattest cities in a less-than-scientific survey done by Men's Fitness magazine.

The Louisiana-based WOW Cafe & Wingery, which has restaurants in 17 states, announced this month it is switching to a trans fats-free canola oil. But there are a number of restaurants in the bulk frying business that are reluctant to change.

Deanie's Seafood Restaurant in New Orleans, where the menu includes fried artichoke hearts, fried crawfish tails, fried shrimp and crab claws and fried soft-shell crab, has no plans to change its frying oil, which contains trans fats. But the manager said Deanie's may make the switch someday.

``It's definitely a trend that we'll have to be mindful of,'' Chandra Chifici said.

In Southern states, where fried chicken is a restaurant staple, many chefs said they aren't concerned about the movement to ban trans fats.

``The only real threat is that it might take us back to more authentic Southern cooking again _ using butter or some other natural oil to fry and saute,'' said John Currence, chef-owner of City Grocery restaurant in Oxford, Miss., where the menu includes shrimp and grits, prepared with garlic-infused olive oil and bacon fat.

At Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, chef Linton Hopkins does a Sunday menu of traditional Southern foods, including fried chicken cooked in peanut oil flavored with bacon drippings, sliced ham and lard. He said natural fats and oils ``just taste better.''