The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak by Randy Fertel
A New Orleans Family Memoir (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography)

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Synopsis

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth's Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise-buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo-he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!

These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected-lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street-and how it intersected with the denizens of "Back a' Town," just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city-before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.

 

About Randy Fertel

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Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.
 
Published September 2, 2011 by University Press of Mississippi. 288 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak

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Ruth succumbed to cancer in 2002, having sold the business three years prior—though, her son lovingly notes, she remains “one of the great restaurateurs in a city of great restaurants.” Fertel ends his memoir with a somber chapter on Hurricane Katrina’s massive devastation, which swept five feet ...

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Publishers Weekly

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Raised in the Delta in a tradition of great meat and good cooking, Ruth turned out to have business acumen as well, resulting in Ruth's Chris Steak House becoming the biggest fine-dining group in the world.

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BC Books

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In many ways I think the recipe for crawfish bisque, which he graciously provided midway through the book, illustrated both the book and story within quite well.

Jan 22 2012 | Read Full Review of The Gorilla Man and the Empre...

BC Books

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Randy Fertel’s The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak opens with a quintessential New Orleans scene of his mother’s funeral, complete with a second line.

Jan 22 2012 | Read Full Review of The Gorilla Man and the Empre...

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