The 2010 CHOW 13

The 2010 CHOW 13
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ILLUSTRATION ASAF HANUKA

SUSAN SPICER

Chef, Bayona, Mondo

For fighting back for Gulf Coast businesses. In June, when oil from the damaged BP well was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans chef Susan Spicer decided she couldn't just stand back. So she filed a class-action lawsuit, suing the oil company for damages to her 20-year-old French Quarter restaurant, Bayona. The suit was a rallying cry for other Gulf Coast food businesses, whose livelihood depends upon the availability of affordable local seafood and the patronage of tourists. Now, the suit is being amended to add other restaurateurs as plaintiffs.

But long before there was an oil spill, Spicer was a star in one of America's greatest food towns. She was one of the first to bring global influences to the city's regional cuisine, in dishes like grilled shrimp with a cilantro sauce and black bean cakes. Despite her high profile (she's been a guest on Top Chef and Iron Chef; one of the characters in the cable-TV show Treme is modeled after her), Spicer is charmingly self-effacing. When asked about when she felt the most humbled in her profession, she responded that it was whenever she catered charity galas with other famous chefs—or, as she put it, "the big guys."

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
I'd probably be a singer—roots rock, Americana, or country. I would write my own songs. Hey, you said I could do anything!

What would you change about your industry?
After being in business 32 years, it just doesn't seem to get much easier. No matter what you do, there's always something. Like the nights when everything was going so good, and then the dishwasher breaks, and somebody got in a bike accident on the way to work, somebody else forgot to order the bread, and the fish that you ordered got shipped somewhere else. You're bailing somebody out of jail. That happens about once a year.

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