HomeArts & LitDinner With Tennessee Williams: Recipes and Stories inspired by America's Southern Playwright

Dinner With Tennessee Williams: Recipes and Stories inspired by America's Southern Playwright

By Troy Gilbert and Chef Greg Picolo with Dr. W. Kenneth Holditch
reviewed by Erin Z. Bass

You may have thought about what it would be like to have dinner with Tennessee Williams. Or maybe you’ve only thought as far as drinks with the playwright. Regardless, the restaurant would probably be in New Orleans’ French Quarter, and you know the conversation would be good.

New Orleans native Troy Gilbert and Chef Greg Picolo of Bistro Maison de Ville have taken the idea a step further in their new book, “Dinner With Tennessee Williams,” released just in time for what would have been his 100th birthday on March 26. Part food memoir and part cookbook, the book includes more than 80 recipes that would have delighted Williams’ on any given evening. Each chapter is based on a play and delves into Williams’ references to food, whether it be in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Glass Menagerie” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Tennessee Williams spent his childhood in the Mississippi Delta, eating fried chicken and turnip greens and drinking sweet tea. He came to the New Orleans French Quarter for the first time in 1938 and got a room on the third floor of a boarding house on Toulouse Street (coincidentally across the street from where Chef Picolo’s restaurant is located now). His favorite spot to dine was Galatoire’s, where he sat in the front window at a corner table and ordered trout meuniere. Not all of Williams’ past food haunts are still in existence, but many live on in his plays, as “Dinner With Tennessee Williams” does a great job of pointing out.

“The Southern devotion to good food and, in some sectors, good drink, not surprisingly plays a major role in the plays of Williams, since he was one of the most Southern of authors,” Gilbert writes in the first chapter. A mention of hoppin’ john can be found in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and in his one-act play, “The Unsatisfactory Supper,” Williams includes a recipe for cooking greens. In “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur,” fried chicken and deviled eggs are being prepared for a picnic, and “Vieux Carre’s” landlady cooks up a gumbo, while coffee with chicory gets a mention as well.

Thankfully, the book’s chapters are kept short, because it’s the recipes that make “Dinner With Tennessee Williams” a must-have in the collection of any Southerner. Chef Picolo’s impressive resume includes an appearance on The Food Network and he’s been featured in Bon Appetit, Gourmet and The New York Times, so was up for  the challenge of reinventing old New Orleans classics from the playwright’s years in the city. He also had the help of Dr. Kenneth Holditch, a frequent diner at the Bistro and renowned Williams scholar and professor at the University of New Orleans.

Holditch is quite familiar with the culinary aspects of Williams’ writing and was an integral part of Picolo’s menu development. Direct connections can be seen in some recipes, like Trout-Pecan Meuniere with Bacon and Yukon Gold Potatoes Sauteed with Sugar Snap Peas, which the chef notes was derived from “Kingdom on Earth.” Big Daddy’s Braised Double-Cut Pork Chops with Coca-Cola, Bourbon, Molasses and Granny Smith Apples obviously pays homage to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” while Rum Coco Tart or Coconut in Shortbread Crust with Caramelized Bananas and Rum Caramel Sauce could easily have been on the menu at the Costa Verde Hotel in “Night of the Iguana.”

Other recipes – Lavender, Honey, and Goat Cheese Beignets with Metaxa Brandy and Orange Drizzle, Chicory Coffee with White Port Wine, Blue Cheese, and Blueberry Vinaigrette Served on a “Cold Biscuit” Crouton – just read like poetry on the page and call to mind an image inspired by a quote from “A Streetcar Named Desire”:

“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour-but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands-and who knows what to do with it?”

I predict you’ll be spending many a rainy afternoon with this cookbook, channeling your inner Tennessee Williams and dining on fine food and intoxicating drinks just as he did. Happy Birthday Tennessee!

“Dinner With Tennessee Williams” is available from publisher Gibbs Smith and Amazon; signed copies are for sale on Troy Gilbert’s website. For upcoming events related to Tennessee Williams’ birthday in the South, view our blog post .

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