Legends of New Orleans-Eat it to save it

8 04 2011

One of the great lessons I learned early was the concept of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. The precepts can be found in the book of the same name by the late, great Shunryu Suzuki. In short, the notion involves always keeping a beginner’s mind, a mind that like a child’s is open to possibilities, always questioning “why?” This is in opposition to an expert’s opinion, which is often limited to their knowledge base and tends toward explaining “why not.” Learning new possibilities is why I love being a student, as opposed to having to be the one with answers-that’s actually hard work. With my sorcerer’s’ apprentice cap in hand I sought some culinary wizardry on my latest New Orleans visit. And I found it.

I had the good fortune to participate in a cookery class with the legendary Poppy Tooker. For those living under a rock, Poppy is a Culinary Legend. She is a master of New Orleans Cajun and Creole Cookery. So good in fact, she bested Bobby Flay in a gumbo throwdown. That is the Bobby Flay, of the Bobby Flay Network, home to all things Bobby Flay in a 24/7/365 homage to himself, and formerly known as The Food Network. If she accomplished nothing else but dumping his smug self, that alone would make her a David among Goliath corpses. But she has done so much more; really helped educate about the differences between Cajun and Creole, elucidated the history of the region’s cookery and most importantly, how to make it taste fantastic.

Doc recieving some finer points on New Orleans' cuisine from Poppy Tooker

Poppy spoke of a guiding principle she uses in experiencing and communicating the flavors of the ingredients and meals; “Eat it to save it.” She explained you won’t be interested in preserving a flavor or food if you haven’t eaten it. To save it, you have to eat it. I agree. And one of the items I really loved that she introduced was the calas.

The calas (pronounced  cal-la) is a rice fritter that can still be found in open air African markets, where in their native Bantu tongue they are still known as calas. They are traditionally sweet, but Poppy made some amazing savory crawfish versions. She told the fascinating story of how slaves often sold these one their day off. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, slavery followed the code noir. This mandated a day off for slaves as well as a law that if slaves produced the money necessary to purchase their freedom, the exchange must be honored. This amazing little treat had bought a lot of freedom for enslaved families. After tasting Poppy’s version, I can see why.

The "Beignets of Freedom", the calas. An amazing savory version

If you ever have the chance, attend one of her lectures, demos, classes or whatever; you’ll learn something great. Even better, grab her latest book; Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook. It is a Creole gem-or is  it Cajun-or both-who cares when it all tastes this amazing! Buy the book at: Poppy Tooker’s Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook

Buy this Book!

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One response

11 04 2011
E Stelling

I could bite into those! Yo makin miss nawlins! I am heading down there in June, and cannot wait!

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