Dig Baton Rouge

Louie’s chef brings Louisiana roots to the kitchen

“There’s always a little madness to the method.”

It sounds like a slip of the tongue, but for Marcus “Frenchie” Cox, head fry cook at Louie’s Cafe, it may as well be a mantra.

While Frenchie is known for his boisterous presence behind the counter at Louie’s, his persona is backed up by a lifetime of cooking experience with deep Louisiana roots.

Raised in Mansura in Avoyelles Parish, home of the Cochon de Lait Festival and the self-proclaimed cochon de lait capital of the world, Frenchie learned the Cajun cooking tradition at a young age, standing by his mother’s and grandmother’s stoves and picking up barbecue tips from his father.

After a tour in Southeast Asia with the Air Force during the Vietnam War, Frenchie took his own tour of the western and southern United States, working odd jobs from California to Dallas and back to Louisiana in Alexandria. He took his first kitchen job in Grand Forks, North Dakota, as a fry cook at Perkins Cake and Steak, a regional 24-hour diner chain in the Midwest.

“This is 1981,” Frenchie said. He has a knack for pinning stories from his life to exact dates. “I remember because, that damn Joe Montana to [Dwight] Clarke, “The Catch,’” he said, referencing Montana’s famous NFC Championship-winning touchdown pass. “I had to buy a 49ers warm-up, I lost a bet. That was back when I was a Cowboys fan.”

Before finding himself back in Baton Rouge three years later, Frenchie bounced between a Dallas steakhouse, an Alexandria Howard Johnson’s and his own catering company he opened in Natchez, Mississippi. But, he said, don’t let his humble choices of employers fool you—he is a chef of pedigree.

Fresh out of the Air Force, he took advantage of the GI Bill to take Cordon Bleu culinary classes at a local community college. Upon returning to Baton Rouge, he began as a line cook at Juban’s, working his way up over the course of two years to executive sous chef, essentially the second-in-command position in the kitchen.

“That was probably my proudest achievement as a chef,” he said.

What makes it even more impressive is that he was already working at Louie’s at the time. Frenchie frequently held down two or three jobs at a time, until he committed to Louie’s full time. He seems to have been unable to sit still for most of his career, casually mentioning a bartending or construction job he worked on the side in God-knows-what part of the country, or the time he partied with Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band, or the multiple governors he’s cooked for.

Edwin Edwards, a fellow Avoyelles Parish native, is a particular point of pride.
“He’s like a god up there,” he said. “A great, great man.”

Louie’s is the one job that stuck, that managed to keep Frenchie in check. What’s the difference?

The food is simple enough, but that doesn’t mean the job is easy, he said. The diner’s high volume and short ticket times mean being head chef requires great mental discipline and clarity alongside cooking ability. And besides, an easy job likely wouldn’t have kept his interest for long.

It’s plain to see why Frenchie likes it at Louie’s on a busy Saturday morning: It’s his domain, his own personal fiefdom. From behind the counter, he’s in charge, cracking jokes, ranting and raving a little, bringing an energy that sets Louie’s apart. His business card — how many fry cooks have those? — reads “Warrior, Statesman, Fry Cook.”

He laughed upon presenting it. “It’s true, you know. I was at Carthage with Hannibal. You don’t believe in reincarnation? Who knows what you did in your past lives?” He winked. “No, I might say a bad joke, or cuss, but people like that, it’s alright. As long as they get their food.” He laughed again.

A kitchen, he said, is in a constant state of controlled chaos. A state of preparedness and continuous turmoil. Method and madness.

More about Chef “Frenchie”

What’s your favorite dish in town that isn’t your own?
Hallelujah Crab at Juban’s

Your top cooking tip?
Let somebody else do it!

Favorite local bar?
The Chimes. The best ones are where they know your name and buy your beers.

Favorite memoryas a chef?
Being promoted to Executive Sous Chef at Juban’s

Favorite place to eat that isn’t your own place?
Pinetta’s

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