would like to get a friend a gift (we're going to new orleans to celebrate her birthday) to remember the trip. any recommendations? i'm only familiar with paul prudhomme and john besh's books...
Besh, Prudhomme and yes even Emeril Lagasse are great. Donald Link of Cochon fame just released a great cookbook also.
Real Cajun by Donald Link is excellent.
Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen is excellent, but you may have to back off a bit on the spices because he comes at it from a cajun perspective whereas New Orleans is all about creole. They are very different from each other. I know who Besh is but I've never looked at his book. For authentic, old school New Orleans look up recipes from Galatoire's and Arnaud's. Now that's creole.
"My New Orleans" by John Besh is terrific. He gives lots of history about the cuisine and lots of recipes for the basic sauces, etc.
I really like John Besh but also have really enjoyed Tom Fitzmorris who is a local restaurant critic who has had a radio show talking about food and cooking for 25 years and also has written several books about New Orleans Food including an excellent cookbook. http://nomenu.com/?page_id=2112 He has a great website that has restaurant reviews and recipes.
There is no "best." Only our favorites. There is no one "Louisiana cuisine." As you may know, Creole and Cajun are both native to south Louisiana, and they are not interchangeable -- even though many people get them mixed up. So which are you going for? I tend to use Leah Chase's "Dooky Chase Cookbook" the most, but also Paul Prud'homme's, John Besh's and a book in my library called "The 100 Best Dishes of Louisiana History," which details some of the old-time traditional recipes.
John Folse's "Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine" is worth looking at.
Marcelle Beinvenue is a chef inresidence at the above mentioned John Folse Culinary School in Louisiana. She also was the Food Editor for years at the NO Times Picayune newspaper. Her books( family recipes as well as St Martinville history and pictures) are very useful and thorough.
The hard to find,but worth scouting on Ebay, cookbooks from Justin Wilson are also historical Louisiana treasures.He was of the Julia Child era,but cajun flavored.His old shows were way ahead of the Food Network's milieu, and just as entertaining . You have a lot of good choices,especially among the Amazon used book listings.