There was some sadness at the end of Sunday's "Treme," the penultimate episode of the first season. (This isn't a spoiler, but I'll nonetheless warn you that if you haven't watched yet, stop reading.)
Of course, the primary catastrophe was the apparent suicide of John Goodman's character, Creighton Bernette, an event that had been foreshadowed by his increasing depression and frustration in recent weeks yet was no less melancholy when it actually happened.
But on some level, it was just as affecting to see chef Janette Desautel, played by Kim Dickens, declare defeat and make plans to move out of the Big Anything but Easy. After her restaurant foundered under the strain of post-Katrina financial headaches, Desautel was trying to make a go of it as a self-proclaimed "guerrilla caterer." But despite massive eater satisfaction with her cooking, another rainstorm saddled her with another muddy defeat.
When Desautel came home to find the inside of her dilapidated house doused in rainwater, she decided enough was enough. She would pack her things and try to make a go of it as a chef-for-hire in New York. You could immediately understand her desire for a clean (and dry) slate, but it's not as if she's any more assured of success, much less a nice place to live.
There's something I find particularly a propos about Desautel's story as I sit here at Variety's Miracle Mile base of operations. Storm or no storm, it is a cutthroat world for a lot of us.
For eight years, I've worked in this area, first across the street at LACMA, then for the past several years at Variety. For seven of those years, when I wanted to go to lunch and maybe think about my future, uncertain as it always has seemed to be in that time, there were barely a handful of eating options. There were times when I would have bet cold cash that the Koo Koo Roo on Curson and Wilshire, where I might be marinating some very bony chicken in my own personal angst, would outlast me in this area for years and years.
Now it's 2010, and three of the brick-and-mortar restaurants at Museum Square are as gone as Janette's old restaurant, succumbing to the combination of outside economic pressures and ... yes, you guessed it, guerrilla caterers. Gourmet lunch trucks of countless culinary permutations are everywhere in this little stretch of town, as many as 10 on a block. And not the same ones — there's a rotation that lends lunch (the days I'm not brownbagging it, anyway) an air of actual excitement. I imagine this might sound preposterous, but I'm not kidding.
The establishment has been rocked, but it's not as if all the newcomers are making a killing. Everyone's out for survival — old guard and new. Extend this metaphor as ye may.
From 2002-2009, I'd have gone to Baja Fresh to satisfy my desire for Mexican food. Today, I grabbed three soft tacos for $1.25 each from the portable grill that now sets up shop in front of our building each Tuesday — and topped it off with a free ice cream sandwich from a truck hired by the promotional team at USA Network. And it's not like I was alone — there were lines of anticipatory consumers everywhere I went. On the other hand, Marie Callender's seems to be made of the stuff that would survive a nuclear attack. And frankly, it's nice thinking that Baja Fresh will be there every day.
No matter your gustatory preference, our little section of town is a richer place to eat in. But how will it evolve? Who will survive?
Walking down the street the past two days, it has occurred to me that Janette Desautel would be right at home on the Miracle Mile, both for good and for bad. Either way, I'd be rooting for her, and I wouldn't want to bet against her. And all I want to say to the Janette Desautels of the world, whether they're purveyors of jambalaya, jazz or journalism, whether they're on their own or part of a bigger whole that serves comfortably seated customers, is keep cookin', as long as you can. Because people are hungry, and they're always looking for a good meal.