Katrin And Janine’s Culinary Adventure Cooks Up ‘Priceless’ Publicity For New Orleans
When animated sitcom star Homer Simpson ate his way through 54 restaurants in New Orleans in a TV episode of “The Simpsons” last year, who knew it would inspire two tourists from Switzerland to do the same. Katrin von Niederhäusern and Janine Wiget’s real-life, shot-for-shot recreation was posted to YouTube on Friday, August 23, and surpassed one million views yesterday.
“It’s priceless,” said Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. of the free publicity the dining duo generated when taking a bite out of The Big Easy. “It’s hard to put a value on something like this. Hats off to these two ladies who created an amazing impression-building piece of art.”
“Honestly, we never, ever, expected such immense positive feedback,” said Wiget, co-star and co-creator of “Homer, Katrin and Janine Eat Their Way Through New Orleans,” a short video showcasing the 30-year-old college friends following in the fictional footsteps of Homer and his precocious daughter Lisa.
The iconic Simpsons segment, featured in “Lisa Gets The Blues,” the 17th episode from the 29th season, first aired on April 22, 2018. It shows Homer devouring dozens of local dishes in a dizzying food cavalcade around the Crescent City.
It took von Niederhäusern and Wiget seven days to serve up an identical video version to the cartoon during a trip this summer. From alligator po’boys to zucchini bisque, they stuffed their faces on the same fodder as Homer, mimicking every mandible movement. They visited restaurants including Antoine’s, Frankie & Johnny’s, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen and Parkway Bakery and Tavern, and gorged on Creole sweet potato pone, boiled crawfish, seafood mirliton casserole and pecan catfish respectively.
Shown side-by-side, both “moveable feasts” clock in at one minute and 27 seconds.
Romig, who heads the New Orleans nonprofit leisure travel promotion agency created to foster jobs and economic growth by developing the tourism industry, said von Niederhäusern and Wiget’s love for the city and respect for the local cuisine have branded them New Orleans “ambassadors” and “influencers.”
“Several times during the day while doing the project, we asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ ‘Why exactly are we doing this?’” said Wiget. “But when we watched the videos that we shot at night, and laughed a lot, we knew we just had to keep doing it. And it makes us so happy to see how many people from all around the world are enjoying watching it, too! So it was definitely worth all the work.”
According to the Louisiana Restaurant Association, restaurants are a driving force in Louisiana’s economy, with 9,533 restaurant locations that generate $10.3 billion in sales. The agency, that advocates on behalf of the state’s foodservice and hospitality industry among elected officials and regulatory agencies, found restaurants also account for more than 213,400 jobs in Louisiana, or 11 percent of employment in the state.
Wiget said after chewing on the idea for a few months and digesting all the data, they researched all the restaurants that were rendered in The Simpsons episode, concocted a detailed storyboard and assembled a map with every single location, address and their hours of operation. They filmed everything with a mobile phone and a single tripod, spending eight hours a day whisking around town, from restaurant to restaurant, setting up shots, replicating exact angles and ordering their food.
“Everyone was so happy to hear about our project and were super supportive and excited,” said Wiget of the local restaurants that catered to the two illustrators and graphic designers’ vision and let them film their snippets to the smallest detail. “Whenever we talked to the managers, they laughed and let us do whatever we had to do. We even had to convince one manager at Emeril’s to let us set up a table right in front of the entrance door because the sign was on the door instead of on the window. While doing the project, we realized how proud New Orleanians are about their food culture and how honored the restaurants felt about being featured in The Simpsons episode.”
“Our culinary industry has grown so much since Hurricane Katrina,” said Romig. “We had about 800 restaurants in New Orleans before Katrina, and now I believe it’s more than 1,400. We see chefs opening up restaurants that are not just French or Creole or Cajun, but a fusion of different styles. Our chefs have a passion for creativity like in no other city.”
Wiget said she and von Niederhäusern, who often switched up their costumes so they could both portray Homer and Lisa throughout the video, spent about $500 on food when filming their feature. They said Betsy’s Pancake House and Katie’s Restaurant and Bar were so enthusiastic about being included, they gave the ladies their meals for free.
“Cajun Seafood’s deliciously seasoned crawfish with corn was also one of our favorites,” said Wiget. “Another dish we loved was the Bananas Foster, a dessert that was invented at Brennan’s in 1951. They flambée the bananas at your table right in front of you, while they tell you about its history. It is incredibly delicious.”
“The cooperation to participate in this video project illustrates the hospitality of the people in the industry who welcomed these visitors into their establishments and celebrated what they love to do, prepare food every day,” said Romig. “It’s why our industry is so successful. People enjoy their work.”
“Homer Simpson is a man with great charm, but not the best manners,” said Wiget of infusing the animated affectations of Homer’s dining table decorum into their performances. “To get the right angles and positions, we had to sit on floors, lay on tables, eat with our hands and put a lot of shrimp and fries in our mouth, everything in front of the other restaurant guests.”
Their finished product had so much zest and sizzle, Simpsons animator Eric Koenig reached out and wrote a comment on their YouTube page: “Hey! Just wanted you to know, we here at The Simpsons Animation Studio saw your video and were blown away! And also hope you don’t have heartburn from all that eatin’!”
“We were absolutely stoked when The Simpsons creators reached out to us,” said Wiget. “They didn’t offer us jobs, but they invited us over to the studio and one of their table readings in L.A.”
But it’s the other LA that has captured the hearts of von Niederhäusern and Wiget.
“For designers and illustrators like us, New Orleans, Louisiana, is a constant source of inspiration,” said Wiget. “It’s full of colors, murals, hand-painted signs and beautiful designs in the stores. The city feels wild and alive and many people celebrate it for what it is. We appreciate this vibe every time we return.”
Muse, New Orleans, marinates in several other of von Niederhäusern and Wiget’s YouTube collaborations, including Two Blondies In America, Three Blondies In America and Dancing Across America where the two get to indulge in another one of their passions, swing dancing.
“We really did all of this just for fun,” said Wiget of “Homer, Katrin and Janine Eat Their Way Through New Orleans.” “It was never a money-making thing but more of an homage to The Simpsons and the city. Now that it has gotten so much publicity maybe we should have given it more thought. We do allow some advertising on the video now. If we have any income from it, we will use it for one of our many ideas for some future projects.”
“Y’all are amazing,” tourism exec Romig said, thanking von Niederhäusern and Wiget for spreading the word about New Orleans’ vibrant culinary industry. “What they’ve done is taken our message and produced a video that has been seen more than one million times around the world. They made magic, and if they both ever come back to New Orleans I’d gladly buy them a meal, or two.”