these things take time.

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Real food’s got love in it.

I know we all call it butter or sugar or cream, but if I’m honest, I have a palette for the stuff.
Food, made with a hard days work. The cost of such a dish is something so much more than what you see on a menu. 

My gumbo is nothing special. I think it’s good. It is simple, and delicious. And also, it is mine.

It takes time.

And there’s a building of flavors. It is a complex dish, created by the struggle, sadness and rebirth of a culture, no doubt. You can taste it. In some ways, it doesn’t make sense to cook a roux that dark. To sit there and stare into the abyss of molten hot fat and flour. Especially in a restaurant setting. You have to be passionate about the stuff to let a cook sit there for 40-45 minutes constantly stirring.

A good dark roux takes time.

I suggest you open a beer or pour yourself something nice.

Put on some good music.

Settle in.

Read the fat. Drop in some flour, see how much it sizzles. Adjust the heat.

Whisk, at first. Get rid of clumps.

Equal parts fat and flour.

So it begins…

I think about a lot of things. I think about how often I miss my people and culture. I think about where this dish comes from. I think about all the people that say they make the best. And honestly, that’s all that’s important. Your gumbo is your own struggle. You can make it expensive, or cheap. But at the end of the day, it’s your gumbo.

It starts to change from white to tan. Nutty. Still a little bubbly. Raw.

Ooof. I start thinking about why I started cooking in the first place. For her. And to be better. Because I live in a city where food is so very important. And I was tired of not really knowing how to do something we all must do in some way on a daily basis. I also think about how the first time I made gumbo, it was terrible. But mostly, I think about her.

Tan to brown. The smell is overwhelming and by now, my arm wreaks of slowly browned fat and flour. Intensely nutty and warm now. It is changing. About 20 more minutes, I think. I adjust the heat and continue.

I start wondering if people really appreciate food that takes this kind of time and care. If they actually want this stuff, or if I’m feeding a couple who are going through a hard time. I get that. I am here to serve you.

This is what I think, anyway. Someone has to feed people when they need to be fed. Well this pot right here…that’ll do the trick, so I say.

It gets darker, and darker. No more bubbles. No froth. Velvet and dark brown. Like a 1981 penny.

I see wisps of smoke. Telling me: this sh*t is hot.

You can see on my arms where I’ve been sprayed with the stuff by accidentally stirring too quickly.

These things take time.

nola.com

nola.com

I throw in some more thoughts. How much I feel hurt and abandoned at times. How I should’ve worn another shirt. What I will do after work, or if my roommate will be eating his fourth grilled cheese of the day. That I should start losing some weight. Whether or not I’m attractive.

I dribble in a bit of some deep, dark stuff. I’d like to think it adds to the color of the roux. But I put in there, too. Because this is my gumbo.

I think about God, too.

A lot goes in that pot.

And when it’s ready, I throw in my onions and it goes crazy. Hissing and evaporating all the water from the onions. It starts smelling like a state fair. Then, the celery and bell pepper. Now it smells like Chinese food. Then garlic, and okra. So on, and so forth.

Until finally, I am left with a swampy stew. The okra has gone from bright to dark green. Bubbles erupting through layers of fat from the andouille.

I let it sit. For at least a day. Because my nose is so full of it, I can’t really take a bite. I gotta give it some space. Let it rest. Let it do its thing.

And I do the same.

Letting it sit.

Letting it soak in some extra love.

my gumbo takes time

just like everything else.

 

Gumbo Therapy

Food, Story

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.)