Fertel’s “The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak”

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak offers as much surprise as a thick Cajun crawfish bisque.

Randy Fertel’s father Rodney, ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single platform: he promised to deliver gorillas to the city zoo. He lost, receiving 310 votes, yet he made good on his word and bought two gorillas, naming them Red Beans and Rice.

His mother, Ruth, a university lab technician, responded to a classified ad and bought a restaurant. That purchase spawned the Ruth’s Chris Steak House empire.

His parents split up when Randy and his brother Jerry were young, leaving much of the child rearing to the family’s black maid, Earner Sylvain.  She stayed with the family  42 years, the only job she ever had, moving from housework to the restaurant, cooking, running errands, and commandeering the kitchen.

Fertel’s memoir isn’t a concise history of a business, or a chronological family story.  Instead it’s poignant, fun, and informative.  A love story to New Orleans, this captivating read includes folklore and facts, family feuds and reconciliations, music and politics, and of course, food, including a  crawfish bisque recipe.


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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3 Responses to Fertel’s “The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak”

  1. Sounds like another great book for my train commute. Also another bit of great history. Once again a loving African American maid provides love and stability for a family.


  2. madeline taylor says:

    The names, Red Beans and Rice are enough to get me to want to pick up the book! Sounds like a great and intuiging read!
    You must read First They Killed My Father – true story of a young girls survival during the time of Pol Pot. harrowing but a page turner!


  3. I love book reviews. And this sounds fascinating. Don’t forget to post the review on Goodreads!


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