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SmashMouth 09-27-2011 08:53 AM

Minister close to finishing his quest to eat in every N.O. restaurant
Minister Ray Cannata’s mission is almost complete. Four years ago he set out to eat at every restaurant in New Orleans. By mid-September, he’d already checked 719 eateries off his list and only had 10 meals to go before the ceremonial conclusion of his quest on Oct. 21, when he’ll have dined in 729 establishments.
Ray Cannata is a Presbyterian minister who has dedicated himself to eating in every New Orleans restaurant including Cafe Nero in the Marigny in New Orleans, where he's seen checking out "Not Yo Mama's Cornbread."
That last meal will be a celebratory steak-house dinner he refers to as “the last supper.” Which is an interesting choice of words considering that Cannata, a 42-year-old with mutton-chop sideburns and not nearly the belt size you’d expect for someone with his hobby, is a Presbyterian minister.
Here’s the back story in fast-forward. Cannata, who grew up in New York, says he got the calling from God while in college, later attended the seminary at Princeton University and then set out for a career in the ministry. Within a decade, he was pastor of a thriving suburban New Jersey church with 300 dedicated parishioners and working on his doctorate degree. It was a success story. The downside, he said, was the dullness. Then, Cannata said, a New Orleans minister called, hoping to interest him in taking over a modest church on St. Charles Avenue with only a few dozen members. What the heck; it was worth a look. As so often happens, Cannata and his wife, Kathy, a school librarian, instantly succumbed to that old Crescent City magic. It didn’t hurt that Kathy’s father was originally from New Orleans. This was summer 2005. Before the couple could pay a second visit to their possible new home, their possible new home was battered by Hurricane Katrina and swamped by floodwater.

Reverend Ray Cannata attempts to eat at every New Orleans restaurant
The Reverend Ray Cannata of is on a mission to eat in every New Orleans restaurant. Cannata, of Redeemer Presbyterian church plans to complete his quest in October 2011 when he dines in restaurant 729. Visit with Cannata via video as he tours the city, commenting about his dining discoveries from the best to the worst. Cannata will be featured in a full length documentary titled "The Man Who Ate New Orleans." Look for a detailed story in the Living section of the Sept. 27 Times-Picayune newspaper and on
watch the video right here
It looked like the move was off. After all, Cannata already had gotten another attractive job offer in sunny San Diego.
But, as Cannata explains, “Christianity isn’t supposed to be about moving away from the pain; it’s supposed to be about moving toward the pain.” And there was plenty of pain in New Orleans in winter 2006, when Cannata bought an Uptown shotgun house for his family — he and Kathy have two kids — and dove into Redeemer Presbyterian, his new New Orleans church with fewer than 20 members.
“God loves an underdog,” Cannata said of the congregation’s struggle to rebound.
Though angst was in abundant supply, Cannata was buoyant; he felt he’d found the place he belonged. At Tipitina’s one night, in the defiant blare of the Rebirth Brass Band, Cannata remembers saying to himself, “I’m never ever leaving.”
In addition to helping steady the post-Katrina congregation, he also pitched in on rebuilding his adopted city. Here’s where we get back to the restaurant quest. As Cannata explains, he had a steady stream of Presbyterian missionaries coming to town to help repair damaged homes — he says they’ve worked on 500.
And when dinner time came, those missionaries, who’d been swinging hammers all day, wanted to know where to get some of that great New Orleans food. To help offer a broad range of dining options, Cannata began keeping a list of his favorite spots. Week after week as the city began to rebound and he added restaurants, the list just seemed to take on a life of its own.
When someone casually suggested that Cannata continue until he’d eaten everywhere, a quest was born. Naturally, Crescent City natives who heard of Cannata’s goal volunteered restaurants recommendation to the snowballing list. “To love the people in New Orleans,” Cannata said, “you have to love the food.”

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