I knew about as much about New Orleans as any self-respecting North-Easterner: that it was where Mardi Gras was born, and that they have spicy food. Emily Grant (Ordinary Member of the Fine Food & Dining Society), with her partner Samantha Evans (PR Officer of the Fine Food & Dining Society), thankfully, corrected both of my misconceptions (note not related to food: Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile, Alabama). New Orleans food is not spicy, though the addition of hot sauce helps give it that extra flair, but the food I ate was just full of flavor. When it comes to food, I am a girl of simple pleasures; I like food, but cooking has never been my expertise, and before coming to university all I knew how to make was pasta. Thankfully, this event has definitely made me want to explore cooking a lot more. All of the ingredients were laid out for each meal as we learned about the holy trinity of New Orleans food —celery, bell peppers, and onions— in between learning about Emily’s alligator wrangling.
The first sample we had was a kind of creamy corn mixture with jalapeños and the holy trinity of vegetables, called ‘Corn Maque Choux’ and a traditional Southern dish called ‘grits’, something similar to polenta. And it was delicious. The flavors mixed together, and Emily introduced the group to a new kind of hot sauce, ‘Louisiana’. Though I’ve always sworn by Tabasco, I might need to make a conversion. The grits also introduced us to the ‘Crazy Creola’ spice combination that far surpassed anything Tesco sells in their little packets.
Next was a Shrimp Creole. Thankfully, Emily and I both dislike shrimp so I had the chicken version, which was delicious. What was especially interesting was the inclusion of the same trio of vegetables found in the corn dish, yet the difference of taste. Although there was a reassuring similarity, there was also great variety. Who knew that celery, onions, and bell peppers could be so versatile?
Then there was the pièce de résistance: the gumbo. As Emily explained, it is a ‘labor of love’ that requires a ton of ingredients and instructions. All I can say is that it was definitely worth it. We were served a winter gumbo, the seafood left out due to the obvious scarcity of fresh seafood during the winter. Another tradition we got to experience was the addition of filé powder, made from sassafras leaves, to the gumbo by placing some of the dust on your palm and blowing it onto the top of the bowl, demonstrated below:
When it comes to deserts, New Orleans can party better than anyone I know. After the vast amounts of savory treats, we were introduced to three courses of desserts. First were square donuts, beignets, and while there was no sugar added to the dough, there was plenty to be found dusted (or poured) over them once they had been fried.
There was also a mix of fire, rum, and bananas that culminated in a truly tasty (and only slightly alcoholic) Bananas Foster, a dish made famous at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans.
As if that wasn’t enough, a mixture of yams, pecans, brown sugar, and coconut was served to finish us off. Despite being a North-Easterner at heart, I would never say there’s absolutely no reason to move down south…
The Fine Food & Dining Society hosts cooking classes on a variety of themes most every Wednesday in the St Andrews Episcopal Church. They also host a myriad of other food-related events. See what they’ve got going on via Facebook or their website.
Photo credits: Dasha Tinker