Louisiana blogger and “Acadiana Table” cookbook author George Graham isn’t a chef. Instead, he prefers to be known as a self-taught cook because of his admiration for trained chefs. We chatted with Graham about his background, the best food in Baton Rouge and becoming a good Cajun/Creole cook.
You’ve cooked on Food Network, written cookbooks and run a successful blog all centering around Cajun and Creole cooking. What draws you to the cuisine besides your location? What makes Cajun and Creole food so great?
The obvious answer is the depth of flavor and spice that is the foundation of our food, but for me, it goes far beyond that. Unlike any other American culinary culture, there are deep roots in South Louisiana that connect the people to their food culture. Stirring a dark roux on a stovetop is stirring a kitchen full of memories of the generations of cooks that came before me. The cultural mystique of my food culture is the magnet that draws me to it.
How has your background influenced you in your writing?
Like life itself, cooking is a series of events that combine to create knowledge and wisdom, and over time we have stories to tell and memories made. As a born-and-fed son of the South, I grew up in a family full of cooks with colorful stories told around our yellow Formica kitchen table. With a culinary curiosity that borders on obsession, I’ve pursued telling those stories of my Louisiana foodway through “Acadiana Table”—my cookbook and food blog.
You speak to this quite a few times on your blog, so I’m not going to ask you the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking. Instead, where’s a good place for someone interested in the subject to begin their research?
It all begins at the bottom of a black iron pot. Take a deep dive into the Cajun and Creole culinary world by being curious about the food and the culture. Drive the backroads; meet the butchers, bakers, and boudin makers. Learn about our world of gumbos, gateaus, grillades and grits. All it takes is a thirst for knowledge, a hunger for the details, and an appetite for adventure. Stir your passion for learning about your culinary heritage and you just might
discover who you are.
In all of your work on Acadiana’s cuisine, what’s one thing you’ve learned that’s really stuck with you?
As steeped in tradition as our Cajun and Creole culinary heritage is, it is evolving. I contend that the entire culinary foundation of our beloved cuisine is a slow, inevitable evolution of the cultural influences which have shaped the genre of cooking that we hold so dear. All across Louisiana, chefs and home cooks alike are experimenting with new flavors, new methods, new attitudes. What I’ve learned is this: For food culture to stay relevant, it must evolve. For a genre of cooking to maintain its momentum, it must embrace new ideas that build on its foundation. For Cajun and Creole culinary culture to reach new generations, it must be open to new attitudes that add to its rich heritage. Preserving the past is noble. Building on that past is the key to saving it.
What’s the easiest Cajun/Creole dish to make, and do you have any culinary secrets to help amateur cooks?
Nothing secret to it; learn the basics, and they are all easy. It’s all in my book: the fundamentals of a dark roux, the essentials of layering flavors, local sourcing for the freshest ingredients, a balance of seasoning, and the magic of black pot cooking.
I know you’re located in Lafayette, but in your opinion, what’s the best food in Baton Rouge?
That’s easy: Wake up early on any Saturday morning and head to the Red Stick Farmers Market. Connect with the growers, artisans, and makers that make living—and eating—in Baton Rouge special.
If we’re visiting Lafayette, where should we stop?
Everywhere. Anywhere. Please understand: It’s not just the Cajun and Creole cooking that makes a visit to Acadiana so compelling, it’s the people behind the recipes and how food speaks volumes about their heritage, their history. Whether you’re lined up at a steam table lunchroom, perched on a stool at a roadside counter, or bellied up to a long, newspaper-covered table pinching tails and sucking heads, the culture of food in Acadiana is all about people—neighbors, friends, family, and the hospitality of strangers. And if you want a heading, head straight to the pages of my cookbook “Acadiana Table” or to the Faces and Places page of my online food blog AcadianaTable.com.
Photos courtesy of George Graham.