How’s your roux? Got your Holy Trinity chopped? Hot sauce at the ready?
I love New Orleans cooking. Cajun or Creole, it doesn’t matter to me. But since the people of the Big Easy like the people of the Chesapeake revere and adore the crab, the oyster and a host of all good things from the water, I want to know how they make those good things down there in the Crescent City: gumbo and jambalaya, Bananas Foster and that olive salad on the muffaletta.
So I went to school. Other people may drink their way down Bourbon Street, or eat their way through all those fine restaurants. (Yeah, I did too.) But I also decided to spend an afternoon at the New Orleans School of Cooking.
My visit earlier this summer was actually my second time around. I previously took a class with Big Kevin Belton and learned a lot about putting some New Orleans jazz in my cooking.
This time Pat Hirsch was at the demonstration stove, imparting the kind of cooking advice my mama would have offered — if she had been born on the Mississippi.
I’ve attended cooking classes in Charleston, Wilmington (Del.) and Baltimore, too. I’m hoping someday I’ll learn to cook — I’ve actually learned a lot from these chef/teachers. And the classes are a dream come true for the Food Network fan. Imagine Bobby Flay handing out his po’ boys after he demonstrated making them…wouldn’t you be thrilled?
That’s how I felt about Chef Kevin’s pecan pie a few year’s back. And for sure Chef Pat’s artichoke and shrimp soup. A little lesson to go with the food — something to take home beside the extra pounds you gained eating your way through the Big Easy’s fine cooking.
Sign up early and wait in the store on St. Louis Street. They’ll call your name and you can take a seat at one of the checked-tablecloth-covered tables. Have some iced tea or lemonade and get to know your new best friends seated with you.
The class doesn’t last nearly long enough — although it’s enough time for the chef to show you how to make some great food and serve it up for you to eat. Morning classes include four courses and last 2 1/2 hours. Afternoon classes are a little shorter and include three courses. I’ve taken afternoon classes and loved every minute.
When you arrive, a lot of the food is already prepped. You don’t have to sit there and watch green peppers being diced. It’s fast paced, laced with Creole and Cajun cooking history, and advice on what to use when you don’t have the exact Creole spices. I learned Old Bay just won’t do — too much salt. I wrote that down along with all the other advice about the dishes on the stove.
The shrimp and artichoke soup could be changed up with a different protein and vegetable…Add stock at the same proportion as cream…and you don’t make this dish for your heart.
And the most important lesson I learned, You never leave a roux. You stir your roux. And the etouffee was delightful thanks to that bit of wisdom.
So was everything. We laughed. We passed around plates of food. We sampled Abita beer.
And then we left, happy and satisfied to go into the cooking school’s store to buy supplies to take home with our recipes.
Food tastes better — even in New Orleans — when you know a little about the love and care that have gone into cooking it. That’s why I went to class on a pretty summer afternoon.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman