Next week, two of New Orleans’s most highly acclaimed chefs and restaurant owners, Nina Compton of Compere Lapin and Bywater American Bistro and Melissa Martin of Mosquito Supper Club, join forces to fund Hurricane Ida relief — and a primary goal, in addition to raising money, is to direct the public’s attention to New Orleans’s neighbors down the bayou.
The Bayou Fund was established in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ida by chef Melissa Martin of Mosquito Supper Club. Martin is a native of Chauvin, Louisiana, and along with running her acclaimed Uptown restaurant, published a best-selling cookbook last year called Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou. Working with the Helio Foundation, a nonprofit that works in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, Martin has raised $375,000 of a $400,000 goal as of this writing, since launching on September 4 to “put cash in the hands of people in our bayou communities who have lost their homes and livelihoods.” Martin is working to get ice, water, gas, and other supplies to the lower bayou parishes through the fund, and cooking hot meals for residents on the ground in the communities of Chauvin, Pointe Aux Chene, Bourg, Montegut, South Lafourche, and more.
“Yes, the hurricane’s been past two weeks. But there’s so much left to do,” Compton tells Eater. “So much that is affecting the ecosystem of restaurants. All the things people want when they come to town, we just don’t have access, because the people that supply us, they don’t have anything to work with. The supply chain is completely broken right now.”
Many New Orleans businesses, particularly smaller spots that pride themselves on partnerships with local and regional purveyors, would agree: supply chains are even more complicated than normal right now. The city’s farmer’s market network, Crescent City Farmers Market, was shut down for two weeks, returning this week on Tuesday, September 14 — only to close early due to rains from Tropical Storm Nicholas. “Everyone’s affected,” says Compton.
“Once power was restored to the metropolitan [New Orleans] area, we all started realizing that the focus was not on the areas that were actually really devastated,” she says. “There was sort of this view that New Orleans didn’t have that much damage, that now the power’s back they’re rebuilding and it’s fine. But not everyone’s fine.”
Residents of the bayou parishes are not fine, Martin tells Eater, because “our land and Hurricane defense systems have been eaten away by the fossil fuel industry, our air has been polluted, and our rivers have been damned.” As Martin puts it, “Louisiana and the people of the bayou have paid it forward for over 100 years. This is not a bayou problem, this is a problem for a country dependent on fossil fuels and dependent on Louisiana’s seafood.”
Compton says that after Martin developed the fund, word started to spread quickly; it was apparent from the vivid imagery Martin was sharing on social media that relief efforts needed to be organized quickly. “It was like, ‘Man, these people lost everything,’” Compton says. “They can’t wait for FEMA and the rest; this needs to happen now.”
Of course, New Orleans restaurant owners have good reason to be concerned about the state of Louisiana’s River Parishes, in addition to their humanity — a great number of their purveyors are based there. “I mean, in Grand Isle, those fishermen got their places ripped up,” Compton said. “What does that mean for New Orleans? Are we going to get Gulf oysters right now? Probably not.” The farm of at least one well-known restaurant oyster supplier out of Grand Isle, Scott Maurer’s Louisiana Oyster Co., was reportedly destroyed by Hurricane Ida.
As restaurants and bars started opening back up about 10 days after Hurricane Ida hit, Compton decided to use her own reopening to celebrate and uplift the people and businesses in the bayou still struggling. “Let’s make it about how they’ve been affected, and how it’s affecting the restaurants in turn,” Compton said. She wants to bring awareness to the fact that before New Orleans restaurants can really get back on their feet, they need to aid in the rebuilding process for the farmers and fishermen that supply them.
A large number of local restaurants have taken steps to join in on Martin’s efforts for the bayou communities — spots like Pizza Delicious are donating portions of its sales to the Bayou Fund this week, while others like Zasu, owned by James Beard award-winner Sue Zemanick, are collecting supplies and food to distribute on the ground in the parishes themselves. The folks behind Courtyard Brewery have also been accepting donations for and purchasing specific items requested by residents in Lafitte, Louisiana, to be delivered to the area on Wednesday, September 15.
Compton’s one-night-only, three-course dinner benefiting the Bayou Fund takes place at Bywater American Bistro on Wednesday, September 22. The menu (priced at $65 per person, excluding tax and gratuity) is intended to showcase “ingredients and dishes indigenous to the bayou,” and includes boiled shrimp with Vietnamese dipping sauce, redfish courtbouillon with smothered greens, and banana pudding, among other options.
“With a storm this strong, it changes the entire landscape of the Delta,” Compton says. “We have to look at the issue of climate change, how these storms are getting stronger and stronger each year. The places people go to fish, the damage in these areas … it’s forever changed. They are in dire straits.”
For more information on the Bayou Fund, see here. And for Eater’s guide to mutual aid funds, nonprofits, and community groups getting meals and resources to people on the ground in Louisiana, as well as volunteer opportunities, see here.