Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flash! You Can Cook Cajun and Creole Food Without Shouting Bam!

My love of Cajun and Creole cuisine go way back to those olden dark BE years.  You know, that ancient period that was before Emeril.  My first forays into this style of cooking was informed by the very low budget PBS shows of Justin Wilson.  This safety engineer by day, Cajun chef by night, created a fun gumbo of a show by mixing in equal parts of education, showmanship and Bayou humor.  The end of his show usually resulted in a mad dash to the grocery store to assemble the ingredients to whip up that day's spicy and garlicky wonder.

Fast forward to today and Emeril has a frickin' variety show of all things, Justin Wilson has gone to the Great Bayou in the Sky and I don't get to eat much Cajun food anymore.  E doesn't like food that is spicy and she doesn't really like seafood.  How does someone in my situation get in touch with their inner Cajun?  By taking a Cajun and Creole cooking class of course!

When I saw that the Astor Center was offering a Cajun and Creole class, I signed up quicker than you could say "***!"  Oops I almost said the banned B**! word. Only of course I didn't say "***!" because I grew up in the BE era remember.  I didn't know how much I would learn, I only knew I would have fun and have my hot sauce hand liberated.

The class attracted the usual diverse crowd, from people that don't cook to those thinking of opening their own restaurants.  Many of the people lived in New Orleans and/or had family from the city.  This of course, is the stuff that I love.  People connecting to a place, person or family through cooking.  As you know, I feel eating Grandma's gumbo is one thing, trying to recreate Grandma's gumbo is another.  Bringing the family together to help you in this quest?  Well, we all know that answer to that question.

The class was taught by Chef Emily Casey, making her Astor Center debut.  She was a font of knowledge about Louisiana culture and cuisine, as well as a engaging educator.  We broke into groups to attack the days recipes and the cooking commenced.

I was in a great group of people and we had a ton of fun making a gumbo and a spinach salad.  Everyone jumped right in prepping the ingredients.  Soon our shrimp and crab meat gumbo was simmering and our strawberry jam vinaigrette was keeping cool in the fridge.  Yes, you read that correctly, strawberry jam.  The dressing ended up being a perfect foil to the spinach, pecan and strawberry salad.

While we tackled the gumbo, other groups took on jambalaya, deep fried oysters and shrimp stuffed mirliton.  The oysters were the first dish ready and the group pounced on them just as quick as they were being fried.  The remoulade sauce that was served with them was spot on in terms of flavor and spice.  A selection of wines was chosen to go with the dishes we were about to eat.  A very nice, minerally Muscadet was served with the oysters.  This was just a perfect match to this dish.  The wine on its own was very nice as well.  For once, I enjoyed the least expensive wine the most!  That's not to say that the other wines were not great in their own right.

To top things off, we enjoyed a decadent Bananas Foster.  Rum, brown sugar and fire make just about anything taste good.

All too soon, it was time to leave our virtual Mardi Gras and make it back to the real world.  But one thing we did prove was it was possible to create a table full of Louisiana goodness and not once shout ***!


Trix said...

Jealous!! I love cooking both Cajun and Creole cuisines, and eating them of course. I remember Chef Justin! Emeril is just a nightmare, isn't he?

Elin said...

Hi John,
Great write out...thanks for sharing this with me :))

Anonymous said...

Dear John!
As a French man I have always been intrigued by Cajun and Creole gastronomies which are in many circles considered as the first true American gastronomies!
Thank you so much for sharing!