I work long hours on my feet. Most of the world does, I guess you could say. We work hard and it’s often back breaking, thankless work.
When I was offered the chance to submit my gumbo in Eat: Oyster Bar’s annual gumbo cook-off representing Red Hills Market, I was beyond stoked. I really don’t get to do that much cooking where I work. I act as a manager (which I sometimes feel is a bullsh*t position.) A lot rides on you to make sure everyone is doing their job and being sweet and get pounded on when something goes wrong.
But every now and then, I get to cook something delicious for a lot of people and it thrills me to the point where I have butterflies in my belly.
Between watching this week’s episode of Treme and prepping for the gumbo cook off, I’ve been an emotional wreck.
Gumbo is personal to me. It’s personal to the people I came from and when I make it, I’m usually working through something. (When are we not, really?) It can, and has always been, an all-day process if done right. I am quite sure gumbo derived from people using whatever they had to make something delicious for the masses.
But these days, folks go all over the place with gumbo. It’s a story. It’s memory and smell and an entire region mixed into one pot. While grabbing huge amounts of veggies and such at the store, the lady at the check out counter asked, “You must work at a restaurant or somethin’, uh?” I say, “Well, sort of.”
She asked what I was making. I told her gumbo and she furled her eyebrows, “Hrm…can’t say I’d like it because I don’t care for seafood much..”
“Ah..” I say, “..well my gumbo doesn’t use seafood — I think you’d dig it!”
She responded, “That’ll be 38.45 — you have your rewards card?”
Not all conversations end ultra inspirational.
I called this piece “Gumbo Therapy” because there are lots of things involved. Music. A few spirits of choice. Usually Son House, Mississippi Fred, Professor Longhair and I’ll soften it up with Andrew Bird and Bon Iver and add some harder aspects with Hatebreed and throw in some Lupe Fiasco and Common for added affect.
Beer is always good to have on hand when making roux.
The roux is my guide. My base. My flavor. All of these things are put in at each given time and ordered just as I need it. There is good structure in gumbo, but also there is space to add and change.
I can never eat gumbo the day I cook it. By tasting it over and over again, its flavor and smell overwhelms me and the walls of our tiny apartment. Gumbo tastes best a day or two after you cook it anyways.
So today will go as it has many times before. I will stir roux and chop and stir while imagining where this dish has been.
(And where it might take me next.)