'Treme' cookbook author Lolis Eric Elie talks Season 4 cutbacks

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"Treme's" shortened fourth and final season is due to premiere on HBO on Dec. 1, but fortunately fans of the series can have a taste of the show while they wait for the final five episodes to air. A cookbook called "Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans," which was written by "Treme" story editor Lolis Eric Elie, was released by Chronicle Books on July 24.

Zap2it spoke with Elie about the cookbook, which not only gives detailed recipes from the heart of New Orleans but also spotlights the people who live there. Like "Treme," the goal of the cookbook was to share a slice of life from post-Katrina New Orleans.

"The first thing I did was go back and look at all the times we saw food on screen and we talked about it on screen and tried to figure out which of those recipes to use. Much of what we have is stuff that was in the show," Elie, a New Orleans native, explains. "Because the show is in some ways about the post-Katrina rebuilding, I also liked the idea of getting recipes from some restaurants that had closed around the time of the storm and had come back after the storm; recipes that you might otherwise never get a chance to taste in restaurants that, if you come into New Orleans, you might never hear about."

The cookbook offers a range of food and drink recipes curated from many of the chefs who have appeared on "Treme" as well as some of New Orleans' most famous restaurants. For Elie, this was about making a great cookbook instead of just making something to tie into the HBO series.

"I was a food writer well before I was a television writer, so I had a particular interest in ensuring that this would be a quality cookbook because my reputation as a food writer was on the line," he says. I believe that if you put this book on the shelf with a bunch of other New Orleans cookbooks, this book will hold its own both in terms of the [range] of information it offers about New Orleans' food history and in terms of the quality and range of its recipes."

The decision to make a "Treme" cookbook was decided between the first and second seasons of the show, Elie explains. Elie, who helped write the Season 1 episode "Shame, Shame, Shame," was brought on to help craft the cookbook. He then went on to serve as the "Treme's" story editor in Season 2, and helped write another episode, "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say," in Season 3. Elie discusses how disappointed the entire "Treme" crew was when HBO decided to give it such a short final season.

"The only way we were able to get a Season 4 was through some drastic cutting back. There was no story editor and a lot of jobs that we didn't have because of those cutbacks to make Season 4 work," Elie says. He adds of the shortened Season 4, "We were disappointed, but mind you we were aware of the realities. Our show is certainly no 'Game of Thrones' in terms of popularity. But HBO also prides itself on the quality of its programs, and we have broken incredible new ground with this show and the way we incorporate live music into the show and the way in which we look at cultural expression as a crucial element of what we were intending to do."

He continues, "You add those things and other innovations that both Eric Overmyer and David Simon came up with, I think you have a good argument for why HBO should have kept the show alive. Now, there's also financial realities, and clearly they thought that given those realities they could not keep the show. So, we have to respect their decision while at the same time also being disappointed."

"Treme's" fourth and final season premieres on HBO on Dec. 1. "Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans" is available in stores now.

Photo/Video credit: Chronicle Books
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