When John Cannon took over as chef at Li’l Dizzy’s Café last fall, there was no doubting the mandate ahead of him. There was even a playbook.
“They handed me the family cookbook, it’s the Bible, that’s what we called it in the kitchen,” Cannon said, flipping through a copy one day at the Treme Restaurant. “My goal is to make every dish in this book.”
Cannon also applies its own touches along the way, and this year the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is giving a striking example its own spotlight.
Li’l Dizzy’s, run by the Baquet family, is one of the returning vendors at the massive two-week event, from April 29 to May 8.
The restaurant itself is also evolving, closely linked to its past. Cannon is leading this progress.
Recipes and revival
The restaurant’s Jazz Fest stand in the Heritage Square area again this year features the restaurant’s signature Creole gumbo, painstakingly crafted crawfish bisque (stuffed crawfish heads and all) and new dish – Dizzy’s Trout.
This replaces the Trout Baquet, a longtime festival staple, featuring grilled trout in a buttery sauce and topped with crab. At Jazz Fest in 2019, Li’l Dizzy served rockfish this way.
But this year, with very high prices for crab, the call has gone out to make a new dish. Trout Dizzy’s is based on an old family recipe, a dish called Trout Geri, topped with crawfish and sauce with the cuisine’s signature “beurre Jourdain”, with a little cayenne pepper, a garlic backbeat. This new version for the Jazz Fest shakes it up with crayfish and shrimp.
Trout Dizzy’s is part of Cannon’s work, which is just beginning, to bring back many other dishes that the Baquet family of restaurateurs have codified through several generations of Creole soul cooking, and one of the legacies of black restaurants. oldest in town.
Li’l Dizzy’s is the final chapter in this story, although it almost came to an end with the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, founder Wayne Baquet Sr. was at an impasse. Then 73, he was ready to retire and didn’t want to reopen through the risks of COVID. The restaurant was for sale.
But then, on the brink, the next generation changed their minds and dedicated themselves to carrying the torch. Wayne Baquet Jr. and his wife Arkesha purchased the business and reopened Li’l Dizzy’s in 2021, also paving the way for its return to Jazz Fest.
“Jazz Fest is part of who we are, we’ve been doing it for 36 years now,” said Wayne Jr., who was 18 when he started working at the Jazz Fest booth. “It goes hand in hand with our business.
‘This place called me’
Arkesha rules the front of the house. Wayne Jr. has a business career as CEO of Imperial Trading (full disclosure: this grocery distributor is owned by John Georges, who also owns The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate.).
To revive Li’l Dizzy’s and revive old recipes from the Baquet family restaurant, they knew they needed a chef in the kitchen.
Cannon, 42, a St. Augustine High School graduate who grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward, is best known for music. He has played tuba for marching bands including the Stooges and Free Agents.
With his wife Tanya Boyd Cannon, a singer, he remains active in music. But with their two kids off to college, he was looking for another kind of career when he heard Li’l Dizzy was looking.
“This place called me. A lot of this cooking took me back to my grandmothers,” he said.
Cannon has cooked in many restaurants in New Orleans. But the base of his chops comes from his home. His father was murdered when Cannon was only four years old, and his grandmothers played an important role in his upbringing. Creole cuisine came naturally to them, and for one of them, Cora Pugh, it was her calling. She cooks at Galatoire and creates her own restaurant business. Cannon imbibed their technique and absorbed their intuition.
“It’s the hallmark of American cuisine,” he said of New Orleans cuisine. “I don’t care where you go, food is related.”
Trout Dizzy’s was on the menu at Li’l Dizzy’s Restaurant during Lent and continues as a Wednesday special until the end of Jazz Fest. After that, Cannon plans to run it as a monthly special as other dishes from Baquet’s past join the rotation.
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