born on the bayou by Donny Rouse, CEO, 3 rd Generation
photo by Romney Caruso
My Cajun roots run deep. My grandmother’s family, the Guillorys, lived in Eunice, the “prairie Cajun” capital of Louisiana. Like the vast majority of Cajuns, my Guillory ancestors came with the wave of Acadian refugees who were exiled from their homes in the French Canadian maritime province of Acadie. But not all people in Cajun country descend only from Acadian exiles. My Italian great-grandfather J.P. Rouse arrived at Ellis Island, New York, in 1900. J.P. founded City Produce Company in my home- town of Thibodaux, which is in Louisiana’s Cajun bayou country. He helped share the local ingredients that go into our great Cajun food with the rest of the country. He bought onions, bell pepper, celery and fresh green onions — which he called shallots — from local farm- ers and shipped them by rail to stores and supermarkets as far away as Alaska. My grandfather, Anthony, continued the tradition of neighbors sup- porting neighbors when he opened our family’s first grocery store in Houma in 1960. Pa bought Creole tomatoes in Chackbay, which they would clean and pack in the back of that little store, same as the cab- bage and shallots and oranges from neighborhood farms. He said buying local was important for the community.
That’s the Cajun way. While I’m very proud of my Cajun heritage, and it has definitely shaped who I am, I don’t think you have to be from South Louisiana to have the Cajun spirit. It’s about being mindful of where you came from. It’s about passing down traditions, from generation to generation, so that we keep those traditions alive. We do that all over Acadiana and, indeed, all over the Gulf Coast. Sharing is the backbone of Cajun culture. We love to intro- duce people to our fabulous food — our gumbos, étouffées, jambalayas and more. We love sharing our recipes, our cook- ing traditions and methods, our Cajun joie de vivre . Whether it’s my dad’s recipe for smothered chicken (see page 32) , or your mom’s recipe for Alabama banana pudding, it’s in the sharing of these reci- pes that we truly reflect the Cajun spirit. And in that same spirit, we love sharing the stories and recipes in our magazine with you, our neighbors, customers and friends.
AFTER ALL, THAT’S THE CAJUN WAY.
table of contents
cover photo by Romney Caruso
1 Letter from the Family 4 Contributors 5 Letter from the Editor 6 In Our Stores
CAJUN & CREOLE HISTORY 42 Les Acadiens by Ken Wells 68 Les Creoles by Lolis Eric Elie CAJUN FOOD 14 The Gumbo Belt by Ken Wells 18 Roux-Ga-Roux by Marcelle Bienvenu 35 Cajun Seasonings by Kit Whol 36 Maw-Maw Says ... by David W. Brown 38 12 Essential Cajun Cookbooks 44 Boucherie and
CAJUN CHEFS 22 Blackened Everything by Sarah Baird 26 Memories of Chef Paul Prudhomme by Marcelle Bienvenu 48 The Swamp Floor Panty excerpt by Ken Wells RECIPES 19 Papa’s Court-Boullion
CAJUN CULTURE 8 Cajun Alphabet
illustrated by Kacie Galtier
54 Allons Danser
by Michael Tissserand 55 The Cajun Side of Me by Michael Tissserand 58 James Lee Burke by Susan Larson 60 By the Book by Justin Nystrom 62 Cajun Card Games by David W. Brown 72 Cajun Folklore by Sarah Baird 75 Cajun Glossary
19 Smothered Mirliton 27 Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish 30 Donald Rouse’s Eunice Sticky Chicken 30 Donald Rouse’s Smothered Chicken 31 Crawfish Étouffée
Cajun Charcuterie by David W. Brown
31 Seven Steaks Étouffée 31 Smothered Green Beans with Potatoes 32 Smothered Okra 32 Macque Choux 33 Alex Patouts Shrimp & Crab Stew 33 Rabbit Sauce Piquante 34 Alzina Toup’s Okra Shrimp Gumbo 34 Cajun Two-Step Beans 51 John Folse’s Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
The cooking ingredients that make up our Cajun Trinity — bell pepper, onion and celery — are the foundation of so many of our family recipes that generations of Rouses customers have grown to love. Sometimes we add garlic to the Trinity (the Pope), and we
almost always liberally sprinkle our Cajun Blessing — fresh green onion (both the white part and darker green tops) and parsley — on top of our Cajun dishes. —Donny Rouse, CEO, 3 rd Generation
OFFICIAL SUPERMARKET OF THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
now in your neighborhood. We’re opening fresh, new stores in Daphne, Alabama, this May, and Gulfport, Mississippi, this June and more locations later this year. If this is your first Rouses Market, we can’t wait for you to taste all we have to offer. We've got the best of Cajun, Creole and classic Gulf Coast. The fun? That’s lagniappe. the best of new orleans,
SUSAN LARSON Susan Larson is the host of the New Orleans public radio station WWNO’s “The Read- ing Life.” She was the book editor for The Times-Picayune from 1988 to 2009, and has written two editions of The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans . MICHAEL TISSERAND Michael Tisserand is a New Orleans-based author whose books include The Kingdom of Zydeco ; Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White ; and a post-Katrina mem- oir, Sugarcane Academy , about Tisserand and other parents persuading one of his children’s teachers, Paul Reynaud, to start a school among the sugarcane fields of New Iberia. Tisserand is a founding member of the Laissez Boys Social Aide and Leisure Club, a Mardi Gras parading organization. CHANNING CANDIES Channing Candies, a photographer based in Schriever, Louisiana, loves to travel, but says there’s nothing like fishing and camp- ing at home in South Louisiana. JUSTIN A. NYSTROM Justin A. Nystrom is an Associate Professor in the History Department at Loyola Uni- versity New Orleans. He is the author of Creole Italian: Sicilian Immigrants and the Shaping of New Orleans Food Culture. recommend new writers. That’s how I found new contributors Justin Nystrom and Ken Wells. — Marcy Nathan, Creative Director When I’m looking for inspiration, I often turn to Octavia Books, a great little indie bookstore nestled in Uptown New Orleans near the Audubon Zoo. The owner, Tom, and booksellers, especially James, are always willing to help and share ideas and
SARAH BAIRD Sarah Baird is the author of the books New Orleans Cocktails and Short Stack Edi- tion: Summer Squash . Her work appears regularly in/on Saveur , Eater , GQ , First We Feast , PUNCH and Food & Wine . She was the longtime food editor and restau- rant critic for the New Orleans alt-weekly, Gambit Weekly . MARCELLE BIENVENU Marcelle is a cookbook author, food writ- er and chef/instructor at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. A native of St. Martinville, in the heart of Cajun country, Bienvenu wrote Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux? and Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine with Eula Mae Dora, and other books and cook- books. She also co-authored five cookbooks with Emeril Lagasse. ROMNEY CARUSO Romney is a Mandeville resident and has been a professional photographer for over 25 years. He has styled and photographed food for hundreds of local and national publications, and for several cookbooks. His portrait series of chefs and bartenders, titled “Shakers, Knives & Irons,” was recently dis- played in New Orleans and Los Angeles. PATTI STALLARD Patti is a freelance copy editor, proofreader and copywriter with decades of editorial experience in both the marketing and pub- lishing arenas. A native New Orleanian and a culinary devotee, she was part of many creative teams that crafted ADDY award- winning campaigns for a variety of clients, including tourism, professional sports and higher education. KIT WOHL Kit Wohl is a lifelong food and wine enthu- siast and author of over a dozen cookbooks, including Arnaud’s Restaurant Cookbook and The P&J Oyster Cookbook .
LOLIS ERIC ELIE Lolis Eric Elie is a New Orleans born, Los Angeles based writer/filmmaker. He re- cently joined the writing staff of the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle . Before that, he wrote for the OWN series Green- leaf and the HBO series Tremé . A former columnist for The Times-Picayune , he is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country and editor of Cornbread Nation 2: The Best of South- ern Food Writing . A contributing writer to Oxford American , his work has appeared in Gourmet , The Washington Post , The New York Times and Bon Appétit . DAVID W. BROWN David is a regular contributor to The Atlan- tic , The Week and Mental Floss . His work also appears in Vox , The New York Times , Writer’s Digest and Foreign Policy magazine. He is a regular commentator for television and radio. KEN WELLS Ken Wells grew up on the banks of Bayou Black deep in South Louisiana’s Cajun belt. He got his first newspaper job as a 19-year-old college dropout, covering car wrecks and gator sightings for The Cou- rier , a Houma, Louisiana weekly, while still helping out in his family’s snake-collecting business. Wells’ journalism career includes positions as senior writer and features editor for The Wall Street Journal ’s Page One. His latest book, Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou , is in stores now. FRANK RELLE Frank Relle is a photographer born and based in New Orleans, Louisiana. His work is included in the public collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Relle’s pho- tographs have been featured in The New York Times , The New Yorker , National Geo- graphic , The Southern Review and Oxford American . The Frank Relle Gallery is located at 910 Royal Street in the French Quarter.
letter from the editor by Marcy Nathan, Creative Director
Amanda handles our advertising for the magazine. She grew up in Luling. Residents in nearby Des Allemands and Bayou Gauche still make their livings off of the bayou. I pronounce Gauche like gōSH, but Amanda, whose grandmother’s people are LaCroixs from Nova Scotia who settled in White Castle, pronounces it like OH MY GOSH! Patti, our proofreader/copy editor, lived in Luling as a child too, and she backs up Amanda on that GOSH pronunciation, cher . The most Cajun of our group — at least the one with the thickest Cajun accent — is our marketing director, Tim, who grew up on a sugarcane plantation in Thibodaux. If you’ve ever seen him on our Facebook Lives, you know he almost needs subtitles. I’m from New Orleans, and I sound like I’m straight out of Brooklyn. If you ask Tim, he’d say I’m the one with the accent. Now if you’ve always wondered how we attract such great writ- ers, the answer is, they live here, or they grew up here, and in this is- sue, their Cajun roots are showing. Our newest contributor, Ken Wells, spent 24 years at The Wall Street Journal , but he made his bones at the Houma Courier. His new book, Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou , is in stores now. We included an excerpt from his chapter on Chef John Folse in this issue (see pages 48-51) . I have to say it’s been so much fun creating this issue. We’ve been listening to Cajun music, playing Pedro and Bourré, and sharing Bou- dreaux and Thibodeaux jokes. I’m a bit of a bookworm, so when we opened our store in New Iberia, I insisted we go to Victor’s Cafeteria, which is where Dave Robicheaux, the Cajun detective in James Lee Burke’s mystery books, often dines with his sidekick Clete (see story pages 58-61) . Kacie, Eliza, Rob and our artist, McNally — just Mc- Nally, like Beyoncé or, well, Cher — and I ate ourselves silly. Eating is what we do best around here. Just ask our wonderful food photographer, Romney Caruso. He’s half Italian, half Cajun — his maw-maw was born in Breaux Bridge in 1911, and his great-aunt was once crowned Boudin Queen. Romney’s Italian side shot our recent Pasta issue. His Cajun side shot this one. And that Cajun tarte à la bouille pie on our back cover? Yeah…it never made it back into the box. magazine team. See Frank’s photos on pages 16-19. Visit his gallery at 901 Royal Street, New Orleans or at www.frankrelle.com. Photographer Frank Relle’s epic photo of Lake Fausse Pointe in the Atchafalaya Basin is the focal point of our downtown New Orleans office, and was a daily inspiration for our
If you’ve been a regular reader of our magazine ( thank you! ), you’ll probably notice a new look in this issue. For the past six months, as we were putting out our Holiday, Soup and Pasta issues, the team and I were busying ourselves behind the scenes playing with new de- signs — even a new name. But like kids who can’t wait for the Cajun Night Before Christmas — ’Twas the night before Christmas an’ all t’ru de Rouse — we ended up already sharing a bit of what our illustra- tor, Kacie, could do in those magazines. She created a visual Cajun alphabet for this issue (pages 8-9) and drew our first-ever comic. It features the Cajun duo Boudreaux and Thibodeaux (pages 72-74 ). This magazine is a passion project for our marketing department, with no issue more dear to us than this Cajun one. Our team includes a Clement, pronounced Clay-mahnt (not Clem-ent) who lives in Chack- bay. A Besson, pronounced Bay-sohn (not Besson like lesson) who lives in Labadieville, which sits along the banks of Bayou Lafourche. She helped edit our Cajun glossary (see page 75 ). And we’ve got a Barrilleaux from Thibodaux, who helped teach the writer David W. Brown how to play the Cajun card game Pedro (see page 62-65) ; a LeBlanc from Gonzales, the Jambalaya Capital of the World; and a Hopkins who lived in Mobile, Alabama, but is in Gonzales now (so that counts). Don’t even think about offering either of them a bowl of red jambalaya. Our new magazine designer, Eliza, grew up in Grand Coteau, which is nestled between Opelousas and Lafayette. When Eliza likes something, she smiles and calls you cher , which is a term of endear- ment like dawlin’ that is pronounced sha, not Cher, like Sonny and.... Are you surprised she chose the typeface Boucherie for our cover?
Laissez les bons temps rouler! Play is so important for our little people — it’s an instrumental building block to children’s suc- cesses in science exploration, discovery and cre- ativity. The Bayou Country Children’s Museum in Thibodaux is a fantastic place for hands-on play, and it is possibly the only Children’s Museum that places its entire emphasis on Bayou, Cajun and South Louisiana culture for our kids! Every exhibit has a bit of local flair to it, from the full-size sugarcane harvester (my 4-year-old’s favorite machine to climb on and “drive”), to the Jean Lafitte pirate treasure dig area — not to even mention trying not to wake the alligator on the Swamp Stomp near the Miss Clotille (my 3-year- old’s favorite shrimp boat). There’s even a 2-story oil platform to climb up, fish from, operate a crane from, and then slide down! My 2-year-old loves the little area called Toddler Town — it’s full of pint- sized activities for exploring and bigger, easy-to- grab building materials for tiny hands. All three of my kids love the lil’ Rouses Market (it must be in their DNA!), where they can push their cart, shop for groceries and check out. (If they run out of mon- ey, there’s a bank set up right next door, complete with an ATM.) They usually find their way to the fully stocked café afterwards to play “restaurant.” When mom or dad needs a break from running around, there are presentations in Safetyville for all ages — tod- dlers like mine can watch puppet shows put on by local law enforcement about severe weather, what to do if you get lost and other topics that appeal to curious young minds. We love the new addition of the outdoor play area — there’s a real fire truck and a real police car for the kids to explore, and lots of room to run, climb and slide! All in all, we just love our Bayou Country Chil- dren’s Museum! It’s a sensational addition to our Thibodaux community. by Ali Rouse Royster, 3rd Generation
BOILED GULF SEAFOOD As the Gulf Coast’s grocer, and avid fishers ourselves, we feel a particular commitment to preserve and protect our seafood industry, which plays such an important role in our culture and economy. Most of our seafood comes from local fishermen with whom we have close personal and professional relationships. But our commitment doesn’t end at our coast. We’re mindful of how all of our seafood is caught and farmed. Limited Time Only! Get crawfish boil fried chicken hot in our deli. In Lower Alabama, Silver corn is worth its weight in gold. We get our Silver King and Silver Queen corn from two centuries-old farms: the Bengtson family’s in Robertsdale, Alabama, and the Sirmon family’s in Baldwin County. Silver King and Silver Queen corn varieties have bright, white kernels and a high sugar content, which gives them an exceptionally sweet flavor. Also from Alabama: Some of the tastiest tomatoes in the world are grown on Sand Mountain, a sandstone plateau in northeastern Alabama that is part of the southern tip of the Appalachian mountain chain. Our Lower Alabama stores get fresh shipments from our Sand Mountain farmers daily. We have full-service butcher shops specializing in fresh meat, sausages and specialty prepared food items. Our trusted butchers are available to answer your questions about cuts, grades and cooking techniques. Beef and pork are cut by hand. Choose from steakhouse quality USDA Prime beef and USDA Choice beef. On the more affordable end, we also have USDA Select Beef. Most of our stores also have a dry- aged beef locker, in which the beef is aged at least 25 days. Special orders are welcome. HELPING THE GULF COAST GROW AN OLD-FASHIONED BUTCHER SHOP
EAT RIGHT WITH ROUSES Imagine having your own personal dietitian with you when you shop. Rouses registered dietitian, April Sins, has handpicked more than 500 grocery items that have lower sodium, saturated fat, healthier fats, more fiber and less sugar. Just look for the Eat Right logo on the shelf tag or package. FRESH SUSHI You’ve probably seen our professional in-store sushi chefs handcrafting sashimi and sushi rolls. We also have a variety of sampler platters, and sides like edamame and seaweed salad. Special orders and sushi platters are available. FRESH FLOWER SHOP Our licensed floral directors are as picky about the flowers we sell as our chefs are about the ingredients that go into the foods we make. Visit www.rouses.com to order flowers for delivery within specified areas. SOUP & SALAD BARS Our make-your-own salad bars feature an ever- changing selection of prepared salads and fresh- cut vegetables and fruits. Our hot soup menu changes daily, though you’ll always find our famous gumbo — it’s a favorite year-round. GROCERY DELIVERY If you don’t have the time to come to your closest Rouses, Rouses can always come to you! Order online at www.rouses.com for same-day delivery to your home or office. DIGITAL COUPONS Get offers online at www.rouses.com and redeem directly in your local Rouses store with no need to download yet another mobile app.
CAKES & DESSERTS There are as many reasons to order our cakes and cupcakes as there are ways to customize them. If you’d like to place a special order for a cake or dessert, stop by or call your neighborhood Rouses Market. For locations visit www.rouses.com. PRIVATE LABEL PRODUCTS If Rouses Markets is on the label, you know it’s good. We have close relationships with the dairies that bottle our milk, bakeries that make our sandwich bread, and manufacturers who package our products. Every Rouses Markets private label food item has been personally tasted by the Rouse Family and is guaranteed to deliver the best quality at the best price. CHEESE & CHARCUTERIE Our cheesemonger is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, a title that requires passing a master exam covering everything from dairy regions to cheese making, ripening, storage and serving. Get his tips about cheese and how to build the perfect cheese board at www.rouses.com. WINE, SPIRITS & BEER We offer wines and spirits at every price point and have experts on the floor to answer questions and offer pairing suggestions. Our craft beer selection includes cans, bottles and kegs from all over the Gulf Coast. PREPARED FOODS You’ll always find something hot and delicious on our line. Depending on your location, you might find barbecue, pizzas, burritos or a Mongolian grill. All of our stores feature grab-and-go meals, including $5 daily deals, fresh sandwiches and salads, and heat-and-eat dinners.
rouses new digital coupons Save on your favorite brands with our new digital coupons. Get offers online at www.rouses.com and redeem directly in the store with no need to download yet another mobile app. Create your free account today.
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MANUFACTURERS COUPON EXPIRES 7/31/19 SAVE $ 1 . 00
WHEN YOU BUY ONE (1) PACKAGE OF RICHARD’S 16 OZ. BOUDIN (ANY VARIETY) Consumer: Limit one coupon per item purchased. Void if copied, sold, or transferred. Consumer is responsible for all sales tax. Not eligible for doubling. Retailer: Richard’s CajunFoods.will reimburseyou the facevalueof thecouponplus8¢handling ifsubmitted
in compliance with our coupon redemption policy. Redemption policy available upon request. Send coupon to: Richard’s Cajun Foods 1606, NCH Marketing Services, P.O. Box 880001, El Paso, TX88588-0001.
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You still had to scald, pluck and dress the chicken to get it to the gumbo pot. But our chickens were free-range before that term was likely invented, their diets supplemented by generous servings of cracked corn once a day. It was always a plump hen, never a rooster, that my mother cooked. No chicken in my memory has ever tasted better than those. But do I, today, want to chase down a chicken in the yard? Absolutely not. I’m hugely grateful for the evolution of the modern supermarket — like the one that publishes this maga- zine — that makes gumbo prep so much easier but still hews to the traditions and sensibilities that keep the gumbo pot boiling. When Bonnie got an envie to cook seafood gumbo, we often drove down to the saltwater bayous south of Houma — places with names like Dulac, Pointe-aux-Chenes and Theriot — to get the very freshest seafood directly from the boats. My mother often did the bartering in Cajun French because, back then, French was the dominant language in these bayou communities. But more often than not, Dad and my brothers trailered our 14-foot johnboat down those dusty, potholed shell roads and, after launch- ing, hooked up a small trawl and started “dragging” some remote crook of the bayou. It wasn’t uncommon to haul in 50 pounds or more of shrimp in a morning or afternoon. If the tides were running right, sometimes we just threw a castnet and filled up a big hamper with the glistening crustaceans that way. That’s what I love about the Gumbo Belt, which I define more or less as the I-10 corridor from the Texas border east to Mississippi. All the mommas, daddies, and gumbo-cooking aunts and uncles have their ironclad rules — and then break them in the tastiest ways possible. We caught our crabs using a different method. We’d bring strong twine and a bucket full of chicken necks that we’d saved over the season and stowed in our freezer. We’d cut the twine into, say, 12- foot lengths, creating a dozen or more crab lines. Then we’d tie on a chicken neck and toss the bait into the water at some suitable spot along the bayou bank, letting it sink to the bottom, then wait 10 min- utes and pull it up slowly. On a good day, there could be two, three or even four crabs clutching the chicken necks. Get a big net under them and they’d go right into the hamper. My mother actually had a name for these crab lines. She called them “puhlonks” because that’s the sound the bait made when it hit the water. Using those puhlonks, it was not unusual for us to come back with a bushel, sometimes two, of fat crabs. Those not reserved for the gumbo pot got boiled in Zatarain’s (a concoction I don’t have to explain to people of the Gumbo Belt). Oysters were seasonal in our family — only in the winter months. We sometimes bought them from the oyster-pluckers down the bayou. But it wasn’t uncommon back then for us to harvest a sack or two while we were on a redfishing trip. The conditions had to be right. Ideally, a cold front had moved through the night before with a coup nord — a cutting north wind — that had blown down the tide and left vast stretches of wild oyster reefs exposed. You didn’t need tongs, just
by Ken Wells; photos by Frank Relle
Growing up on the banks of Bayou Black west of Houma, I got a peek into the old ways of how people lived life and how they made their gumbo. We moved there in 1957 when I was nine years old. My dad, Rex Wells, an outlander from Arkansas, took a job as the payroll clerk for the Southdown sugar mill. His package included a tidy, rent-free planter’s colonial on six fertile acres set right across our clamshell road from the bayou at a place called Mandalay Plan- tation. For the first couple of years, we got our water from a cypress cistern. My five brothers and I learned to swim in the bayou. We kept big gardens and fished and hunted and trapped to supplement our larder. My mom was born Henrietta Toups in Thibodaux. Bonnie, as she was called, spoke Cajun French, could dance the two-step and cooked a mean Cajun gumbo. By specifying a Cajun gumbo, I mean a gumbo cooked with a roux, although her roux wasn’t always the same. Chicken-and-sausage gumbo meant a dark roux (and no okra). She made her seafood gumbo — always shrimp and often shrimp and crab — with a lighter roux (and always with okra). My mother had strict gumbo rules. If you didn’t make that roux, it wasn’t gumbo. She would never mix seafood in her chicken- and-sausage gumbo, and she never put meat of any kind in her sea- food gumbo. Oh, and no tomatoes. Ever. And, yes, cher , use filé, but only at the table to jazz up an already cooked gumbo. Do not put filé in your gumbo at the boil (though my mother had heard, to her horror, that some people did). Oh, wait. Bonnie did sometimes break her no-seafood-in-her- chicken-and-sausage-gumbo rule if fresh oysters were available. She’d ladle them in at the very end, bring her gumbo to a boil, and then turn it off and let the oysters steep. Oh, my. The flavor memory lingers still. That’s what I love about the Gumbo Belt, which I define more or less as the I-10 corridor from the Texas border east to Mississippi. All the mommas, daddies, and gumbo-cooking aunts and uncles have their ironclad rules — and then break them in the tastiest ways possible. Back when I was a kid, gumbo had its challenges. Bonnie’s chicken-and-sausage often began with chasing a chicken down in the yard. Well, not always chasing. Our Granny Wells, who grew up in backwoods Arkansas, lived with us. She wasn’t more than 5'2" and the mildest-mannered, sweetest grandma on earth. But she had a clever way of luring chickens to her feet by dispensing tantalizing amounts of some special store-bought chicken feed from the apron she always wore. Then when the right chicken wandered into the right spot, Granny would snatch it up and pop its neck with a speed and skill that made the Wells boys wonder if a spirit had invaded Granny’s body. If you’ve ever witnessed the death dance of a wrung-neck chicken, you have surely not forgotten it. But, mercifully, it never lasted long.
stiff gloves, to pry the oysters from their reefs with your hands. Like most Cajun mommas, Bonnie cooked more than gumbo. She cooked sauce piquants (turtle or rabbit), court-bouillons (always redfish), and étouffées and stews made with either chicken or crawfish. You already know how the chicken got into the pot. For crawfish, there were no farms to speak of back then, and not that many ven- dors unless you wanted to drive all the way to Morgan City to buy Belle River crawfish — con- sidered the biggest, fattest and tastiest — from a local fisherman. No worries. Across the bayou from us, on Southdown land, sat a beautiful little stretch of swamp bounded by an old natural levee. We’d hike there, hauling our crawfish nets and the aforementioned chicken necks. I remember on one particular trip, we filled up two burlap feed sacks with crawfish in a single morning. Our gardens were ambitious. We planted one on the batture, the narrow strip of land between the road and the bayou, and carved another out of a rambling cow pasture behind the farmhouse. Believe it or not, in 1957, Southdown still kept a mule lot — in part, I believe, because tractors could not easily navigate the narrows of the bat- ture, and because the batture often contained the most fertile ground. So once or twice a year, Dad would pay Southdown’s mule handler to walk his mule the mile down our dusty shell road and form beautiful, straight rows on our batture. He’d then retire the mule and come back with a tractor to plow the big garden behind the house. We grew pretty much everything that would grow down here; for our gumbo pot, okra, onions, shal- lots and bell pepper — celery, no. It’s too hot. We’d also plant tomatoes, pole beans, radishes, cucumbers, squash, honeydew melon and can- taloupe, which did well, even though the water- melons we often planted did not. (Too hot, again, was our guess.) In the fall, we’d plant two long rows of potatoes. My mother would help plant the garden but one thing she wouldn’t do is pick okra, as much as she loved to cook with it — not just in her sea- food gumbo but in the tasty smothered okra stews she made. Anyone who’s picked okra knows why. The okra hairs and milky secretions from the okra stems when you cut them away from the stalk can cause serious itching if they touch bare skin. Thus, it was left to the Wells boys — dressed in their “okra-picking uniforms” — to harvest the okra. The “uniforms”? Long-sleeved shirts, gloves, ball caps and sunglasses to prevent okra juice from squirting into your eyes. Try that in the heart of the hot, sweltering South Louisiana summer when the okra ripens, and you will understand why the Wells boys would rather go to the dentist than pick okra. My parents quit the bayou in 1968 and moved to a small brick ranch house on the northern
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to research my gumbo book. What I found was that from Opelousas to Lafayette to Breaux Bridge to New Iberia to Thibodaux to South Lafourche to Houma to New Orleans, and other stops along the way, the gumbo spirit — joy and pride in food, family and place — is as strong as I remembered it in my Bayou Black days. More surprising is how our beautiful and tasty comfort food, so long a secret of the Gumbo Belt, has moved onto a national and even international stage in respectful ways that I could’ve never predicted. I leave you with one example. In Chicago, where I live now, there are at least seven gumbo-serv- ing restaurants that I’ve discovered. One, called Heaven on Seven, sits in a nondescript office building just off the city’s downtown Mag- nificent Mile. But when the elevator opens to the seventh floor, you walk into South Louisiana — Mardi Gras beads and “Blue Dog” post- ers on the walls, Abita Amber on the menu, Cajun music on the sound system and the smell of gumbo wafting through the air. Heaven on Seven is owned by a Chicago-born…Greek family. The gumbo is made with a roux and, while it might not stand up to the exquisite gumbos cooked in the Motherland, it is very good gumbo — the real deal. And so when I inquire as to how this came to be, the young woman at the counter tells me that 20 or so years ago, her dad visited South Louisiana and fell in love with the food and the people. He came back to Chicago vowing to open a Cajun restaurant. And in an act that seems crazy, he called the most famous chef he knew to beg him to teach him how to make gumbo. The chef? Paul Prudhomme. The best part of the story: Paul Prudhomme — by then a superstar chef — called him back and told him to come on down and he would teach him the Gumbo Way. Is that not a beautiful story?
outskirts of Houma. There was no room for a big garden there, although Dad still faithfully planted his Creole tomatoes every spring along their backyard fence line. Bonnie kept the gumbo pot going. By this time I had enrolled at Nicholls State in Thibodaux and would soon move there to avoid the daily commute. Happily, I had gumbo connections in Thibodaux as well. My Maw-Maw Toups lived with my Uncle Pershing Toups and his kindly wife, Ann Adele Naquin. Of course they could cook! Every- body with a Cajun or Creole surname in Thibodaux could cook. I was working as a part-time reporter for the Houma paper and had little money and, anyway, the cheap lunchtime tuna sandwiches at the Aquinas Center on campus were no substitute for my chief com- fort food. So a couple of days a week, I would just happen to show up at the Toups’ house on Spruce Street right around noon. The Toupses kept an open house — no need to call, just come and come hungry. Oh, my. Reliably, I would walk into a kitchen where red beans or white beans and rice with sausage, chicken stew or gumbo, usually chicken-and-sausage, was on the stove. Sides? Always potato salad, sometime smothered green beans, smothered potatoes or okra. Here’s how it went: Me: “Hey, y’all, it sure smells good in here.” Maw-Maw: “You must be hungry, cher. Come get you a bowl.” Me: “Oh, well, are you sure?” Maw-Maw: “Mais, cher, look at you. You so skinny. Eat, cher!” Me: “Okay — if it’s not too much trouble.” Maw-Maw: “As if you ever been trouble, Kenny. And I know how much you like your gumbo.” And so I would have a bowl of gumbo (and usually two), and we would talk and catch up, sometimes the Toupses lapsing into Cajun French, which I could understand well enough, though I do not speak it. And I would drive away thinking how lucky I was to have been born in this place. Half a century later, I drove the length and breadth of the Gumbo Belt, eating gumbo in more than 60 restaurants and dozens of homes
flour about every 15 minutes for an hour or so, and you will have to stir it more often as the flour gets darker. You can store dry roux in an airtight container for months. To use the dry roux, I usually mix equal parts of the toasted flour and water, whisk- ing to blend smoothly. Then you can heat it up, add the onions and bell peppers, and continue in your method of cooking your gumbo. My friend tells me he browns the trinity, adds stock or broth, then sprinkles in his dry roux. Experiment to find what works best for you. A roux can easily be made in a micro- wave. I haven’t had much success since my microwave only has a timer and an off/on switch, but one of my nieces swears by this process. Put 2/3 cups of flour and 2/3 cups of oil in a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Mi- crowave uncovered on high for 6 to 7 min- utes. Remove from the microwave and stir with a spoon, then return to the microwave and heat again on high for about 1 minute, or until it’s the dark brown color you desire. Be very careful, as the roux will be very hot. Put the roux in a pot, and you’re ready to go on with your stew or gumbo. Now on to the topic of the color of roux. Here is my take: A French-style roux, which is made with butter and oil, is ideal as the base of white sauces that are cream- and milk-based, such as béchamel. A blond roux is used for white sauces that are stock- based, such as veloutés. My mother firmly believed that a peanut-butter-colored roux, rather than a dark brown roux, should be used for a seafood gumbo, since crabmeat and shrimp are so delicate. A dark brown (chocolate) roux is for chicken and sausage gumbo and stew, or for meat-based dishes. Several years ago, my culinary students at
by Marcelle Bienvenu photo by Channing Candies
Until I was a young adult, I believed that the only way to make a roux was my mama’s way: Equal parts of oil and flour were combined in a cast-iron pot over a medium-low heat and stirred constantly until the mixture reached the desired color, which sometimes took over half an hour. When Mama was going to make a roux, she announced to the household that she was not to be disturbed as she went about her task. You could die at her feet, and she wouldn’t even blink an eye. Her method allowed her to enjoy a couple of whiskey sours or Manhattans while she had some peace and quiet. Chef Paul Prudhomme’s technique for making a roux was to get the oil almost smoking hot, then add the flour and in min- utes, voilà! — a roux. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t bring myself to make a roux like this. Years ago, I worked with Eula Mae Dore, who was the cook for the McIlhennys at Av- ery Island, on her cookbook. She professed that all rouxs should have more flour than oil.
“ Cher , a little more flour always makes a slightly thick gumbo or stew, and that’s how I like it,” she explained. I admit I do a roux “her way” when I make a shrimp and egg stew.
the Chef John Folse Culinary In- stitute at Nicholls State Univer- sity and I took a poll on cam- pus. We found that the further west you go from Lafayette, the darker the roux, which might be explained by the hearty, meat- based Cajun cuisine of South- west Louisiana versus the more delicately flavored seafood- and fish-based cuisine found down the bayou.
Chef Paul Prudhomme’s technique for making a roux was to get the oil almost smoking hot, then add the flour and in minutes, voilà! — a roux. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t bring myself to make a roux like this.
A friend who carefully watches his diet showed me how to make a dry (no oil) roux years ago. It’s simple enough. Two to three cups of flour is stirred constantly in a cast- iron skillet over medium heat until it reaches the color desired. This can also be done in the oven. Simply spread the flour evenly on the bottom of a large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, and place it in a 400-degree oven. This technique requires you to stir the
So the best rule of thumb is to make it however you like it. Let your taste buds be your guide. And hey, if you like pre- made roux from a jar, that’s fine too. Another niece of mine who doesn’t cook very much always uses jarred roux. She just buries the jar at the bottom of her garbage can before her guests arrive!
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PAPA’S COURT-BOUILLON Makes 8 Servings WHAT YOU WILL NEED ²/3 cup all-purpose flour ²/3 cup vegetable oil 2 medium onions, chopped 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped 2 celery ribs, chopped 3 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole 2 (1-pound) cans whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped 1 can RO-TEL tomatoes (mild version) 1 quart warm fish stock or water 1 tablespoon salt 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 21/2 pounds fish, cleaned and cut into chunks 1 bunch green onions (green part only), chopped 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley Steamed rice HOW TO PREPARE Combine the flour and oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stirring slowly and constantly, make a roux the color of chocolate. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the whole tomatoes and RO-TEL, and stir to blend. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil forms a thin layer, like paper, over the top of the mixture, about 30 minutes. Add the fish stock or water, the salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. The mixture should be slightly thick. (If the mixture becomes too thick, add more stock or water.) Add the fish, cover and cook (do not stir) until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary with salt and cayenne. Add the green onions and parsley, and serve immediately in soup bowls with steamed rice.
SMOTHERED MIRLITON Makes 4 Servings WHAT YOU WILL NEED 6 tablespoons butter 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 medium mirlitons, peeled, seeded and chopped 1/2 cup chopped onions 1/4 cup chopped bell peppers 1/4 cup chopped celery 1 cup chopped ham 2 teaspoons chopped garlic 2 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined HOW TO PREPARE
An ode to Cajun folklore The roux-ga-roux, or rougarou, rugaroo or rugaru, is a werewolf-type creature with the body of a man and the head of a wolf that prowls the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, as well as the areas around New Orleans. The roux-ga-roux is sometimes called a loup-garou, which means werewolf in French. Learn more Cajun folklore on page 72. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, add the flour. Stir constantly to make a roux that is the color of sandpaper. Add the mirlitons, onions, bell peppers and celery. Sauté for about five minutes, or until the vegetables are wilted. Add the ham and garlic and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add the water, salt and cayenne. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 10 minutes more.
I had the best of both worlds — Mama (a Broussard) was of Acadian descent, while Papa (Bienvenu) was a Frenchman. Papa was also an avid sportsman who hunted and fished and loved to cook outdoors over an open wood fire. - Marcelle Bienvenu, Stir the Pot
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by Sarah Baird When a group of hungry guests of the Southern Foodways Alliance gathered for a 2011 dinner honoring Paul Prudhomme at Cochon in New Orleans, the larger-than-life chef and culinary personality began the evening on a humble note: Hello, everybody. My name is Paul Prudhomme and I’m a cook. And I mean that very, very strongly. And while this genuflection of modesty certainly speaks to Prud- homme’s affable nature and love of the kitchen, what everyone in the room knew well is that the Opelousas-area native was so much more than a cook: He was a man who fundamentally changed the face of what it meant to be a chef in the United States — all while creating a madcap frenzy around Louisiana cuisine. As an (ahem) younger person, when I first learned about K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen — Prudhomme’s iconic ode to forward-thinking, his- tory-respecting Cajun cuisine in the French Quarter — I automatically assumed the “K” stood for “king” because, well, why not? It made perfect sense given Prudhomme’s oversized stature in both regional lore and national edible history. Soon, though, I learned that the “K” actually represented a queen: K Hinrichs, his late wife and business partner, who was responsible for making the atmosphere and experi- ence at K-Paul’s one that magnetized out-of-town guests and, ulti- mately, charmed the nation. This doesn’t mean, though, that Paul himself wasn’t royalty. A proud product of the Cajun prairie who carried the area’s signature lilting accent until his death in 2015, there’s little about his path to acclaim that followed the traditional route at a time when becoming a lauded chef meant climbing the lockstep rungs of a culinary ladder and stay- ing, mostly, out of the public eye. Instead, Prudhomme carved out a very public-facing path with sheer Cajun tenacity — and therein lay his strength. One of 13 chil- dren and the son of a sharecropper, Prudhomme did things his way, meandering through stints in magazine sales, failed hamburger joints and failed marriages to finally bring a style of cooking — first to New Orleans diners, and then, the world — that was completely, deeply, in his blood. “If that culture wasn’t there, if Mother hadn’t handed me this stuff, and my sisters and my cousins and my uncles and my aunts, if they hadn’t shown me all this by putting it in my mouth and talking about it all the time, I wouldn’t have done any of this. I don’t kid myself. I wasn’t born with it. I may have been born with the drive. But the food was taught to me by the family and the people around. It’s their food as much as it is mine,” Prudhomme recalled as part of an exhaus- tive oral history conducted by The Times-Picayune ’s Brett Anderson in 2005. And while Prudhomme is, undoubtedly, celebrated as a chef and restaurateur (where would contemporary Louisiana cooking be today, after all, without his blackened redfish?), he also played a critical role in shaping how the public perceives food as not only diners, but as an audience. Prudhomme and K both knew that eating and entertaining are inextricably linked, and through avenues that were novel at the time, heightened Prudhomme’s profile by making the excitement of the dining room at K-Paul’s accessible to the masses. If anyone was an influencer, brand builder and pop culture force of nature long be- fore we had names for these things, it was Chef Paul. Blackened Everything
But his massive role as a sculptor of our current food media land- scape seems to be glossed over far too often in national discussions. Julia Child gets almost all the credit for bringing televised cooking into living rooms across the country, but it was Prudhomme who showed that regional cuisines are just as likely to get viewers to tune in. Prud- homme protégé Emeril Lagasse has made a career out of Bam!-ing his way into pop culture consciousness as the quintessential Louisiana chef, but it was Paul who did it first — in an era largely unaided by syn- dication and social media. And while Prudhomme’s longtime friend Alice Waters is best known for sparking the farm-to-table movement at her California restaurant, Chez Panisse, it would be hard to surpass Chef Paul’s passion for encouraging chefs and home cooks alike to seek out and use the freshest possible ingredients. (After recalling how, as a child, he and his mother would dig up new potatoes fresh from the field to use while cooking, Prudhomme told Nation’s Restaurant News that he “recognized at that point how important it is to have fresh ingredients, and I’ve been battling that battle ever since.”) A role model for authenticity and staying true to your roots — all while innovating, achieving and, of course, altering dining history — it’s easy to look at the ways Prudhomme succeeded in the kitchen and call him a legend. He was, after all, the first American-born executive chef of Commander’s Palace. But in our ever media-hungry world, it’s more important than ever to begin talk- ing about how Prudhomme was, in part, an architect of something larger, a foundational example of how a chef goes from celebrated to full-blown celebrity . Love it or hate it, it’s nigh on impossible to flip through television chan- nels, stroll down the grocery store aisle or pick up a local event listing without seeing celebrity chefs everywhere . If you were so inclined, it would be all too easy to be eating a dish cooked with Bobby Flay- branded sauce, using an Alton Brown-branded spatula, in a Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) branded crockpot. You could do this while flipping through 24-hour-a-day celebrity food program- ming on both the Food Network and Cooking Channel, or while get- ting dressed to head out to a “secret” pop-up dinner from the latest beloved chef du jour. And while it’s difficult now to imagine a time when food program- ming didn’t dominate the television landscape and cooks didn’t launch their own lines of ready-to-eat frozen meals on a regular basis, before chefs like Prudhomme, the thought of a “celebrity chef” seemed almost ridiculous.
Paul Prudhomme was a man who fundamentally changed the face of what it meant to be a chef in the United States — all while creating a madcap frenzy around Louisiana cuisine.
Following the runaway success of his first cookbook, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen , in 1984 (which, by the time his first television show aired in the mid-’90s, had sold over half a million copies), Prudhomme found himself the origin point for, and nexus of, a Cajun food mania across the country. And while most restaurant chefs of the era would’ve simply returned to the kitchen and reveled in the throngs of customers drawn in by such a popular work, Chef Paul took a different tact: He found a way to reach even more people by going on television.
you wanted cooking for you, beside you or simply having a seat at your table. If the old political test for likability, “Which candidate would you want to drink a beer with?” was applied to celebrity chefs over the genera- tions, I still believe Prudhomme would be a top choice. “It’s alive; it’s wonderful gumbo!” Prud- homme marvels at a boiling pot of gumbo in an episode of Always Cooking! “I can just see all the taste in it. Take a bowl of potato salad, pour some rice on it, and take the gumbo to it!”
When the tastes change with every bite and every
bite tastes as good as the first, that’s Cajun. — Paul Prudhomme
Prudhomme’s sensibility not only as a chef, but as a live performer, also made him a favorite guest on talk shows. Perhaps most notably, he was well-liked by Regis Philbin, who hosted him on his daytime program countless times and gave Prudhomme’s reci- pes a key role in his 1993 book, Cooking with Regis & Kathie Lee: Quick & Easy Reci- pes from America’s Favorite TV Personalities. This charm — combined with top-notch cuisine, of course — came to manifest what could be described as the first-ever celebrity chef “brand.” Whether consciously or not, Prudhomme was a master of self-promotion and branding before the term existed as something an individual could (or would even want to) do. There was his signature look, his Cajun identity (“Cajun makes you happy,” he told People magazine in the mid-1980s. “It’s emotional. You can’t eat a plate of Cajun food and not have good thoughts.”) And then, in the early 1990s, the catchphrase “Good cooking, good eating, good loving!” — which became his official television sign-off. Prudhomme’s status as a deeply recog- nizable culinary force unto himself also ex- tended to grocery store aisles, with a line drawing of his likeness donning each jar of Magic Seasoning Blends — his line of sig- nature spices, rubs and, eventually, smoked meat — that debuted in 1982. And while restaurant chefs until this point had, by and large, attempted to keep their recipes and processes close to the vest, Prudhomme took a very different approach, bottling and sell-
instruction, Prudhomme gave it flair. Where Julia made cooking that might’ve seemed intimidating — from cheese soufflé to boeuf bourguignon — accessible, everything about Prudhomme was downright affable. Each facet of his television persona sought to reveal something about his Louisiana heritage, diving into both his personal story and the history of the region with a sense of warmth and tradition that, until then, had rarely been seen in a chef on television. It’s difficult to imagine tracing the legacy of any broadcast chef promoting the cuisine of their region, whether Southeastern or Southern Californian, and not see Prudhomme as the originator of this style of culinary TV. But Prudhomme was not only a represen- tative of regional cooking at its finest and a storyteller extraordinaire: He was a man
Over the course of his lifetime, Prud- homme starred in five separate cooking shows on PBS, beginning with Fork in the Road in 1995 and ending with Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Always Cooking! in 2007, which can still occasionally be found airing on public television stations across the coun- try. And with over 125 episodes of television under his belt — in addition to direct-to-vid- eo instructional tapes like Louisiana Kitchen Vol. 1: Complete Cajun Meal Featuring Blackened Redfish and a recurring syndicat- ed news segment called The Magic of Chef Paul — it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Chef Paul was a bona fide television star, and one who scratched out the blueprint for all celebrity chefs to follow. While Julia Child (and, before her, James Beard) also pioneered televised cooking
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