Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
What’s on his plate: Reprising his Role as Trombonist Antoine Batiste in the Final Season of Treme (Premieres December 1 on HBO). Also, Starring in The Michael J. Fox Show on NBC and Cofounding Sterling Farms, a Grocery Chain Bringing Fresh, Affordable food to New Orleans.
There is no place like home. I am really protective of New Orleans. Even when we fight and I get mad at her, that lady by the Mississippi is who I am. I can talk badly about her, but no one else can.
Growing up in New Orleans was the best and the worst of times. My neighborhood, Pontchartrain Park, was the first subdivision where blacks could purchase a home. We took something that was ugly and made it beautiful. I grew up seeing all the wonder of New Orleans: the music, the culture, the food, and the sense of family. But at the same time I had to deal with elements of segregation. There was a duality growing up a black boy in the South.
Treme has become a cultural document. Years from now when people wonder what we were thinking after Katrina, they will be able to look back at the show and get a sense of the culture in New Orleans during that time.
Michael J. Fox is a real pro. On his new series, I play his boss, television director Harris Green. It’s a great role, but the joy of the show is working with Mike every day.
I adore smothered okra with shrimp and tomatoes. Most people turn it into a slimy mess of okra, but my mother made it the classic Creole way with the full flavor of the shrimp and tomatoes. Sassafras Restaurant in New Orleans makes it as close to as good as my mom’s as anyone can get. [Her recipe is in the new Treme cookbook.]
If you had told me two years ago, “You are going to be a grocer in New Orleans,” I would have said: “Are you crazy?” Even before the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, many neighborhoods in New Orleans were in need of access to fresh food. We started our grocery store Sterling Farms in the Marrero neighborhood on the south side of town. It’s the first of four planned stores in the area that will provide fresh produce, meat, and seafood to underserved urban locations.
Mardi Gras is the biggest family block party in the world. People just think about the French Quarter and the wild side and forget it’s also a family holiday. When the Mardi Gras Indians reveal their costumes each year, it’s a real treat for the children. Mardi Gras isn’t a frat party; it’s the world’s greatest picnic.
My father would always say, “You can’t get lost in America.” He had a sense of wanderlust, and on the last day of school he would sit us down with a map and say: “All right, it’s summertime—where do you want to go?” The best was the year we went to the opening of Disney World, stopping at campsites as we headed down to Florida.
Those catchy pop songs that get stuck in your head are my guilty pleasure. I love them because my mother loved them. I also love country music because of her. I guess really I just loved my mother. She passed away last year, and I’m so thankful Treme brought me back to New Orleans and let me fully share the last few years of her life.
“Thang God” is an expression people constantly use in New Orleans. If something great happens: “Oh, thang God!” I find myself saying “Thang God” a lot in New York, where I split my time. Usually people quietly ask, “What did you say?”