I visited both sets of my grandparents often as a child, a short hour’s drive into rural bayou country in southeast Louisiana. One set spoke French exclusively, and the other was bilingual, favoring their native French much of the time. Both lived lives of simplicity, lives that revolved around harvesting their own food and preparing and enjoying that food with their families.
When my parents explained to me and my two older sisters that we would be moving “down the bayou” because of my dad’s new job, I felt a tinge of sadness—I would be leaving my friends midway through third grade—but then they explained that we would be moving in with our maternal grandparents for about a year while carpenters constructed our new house. Happiness. I could feel nothing but happiness. That move opened up a whole new world to me.
My grandparents lived behind a restaurant, Randolph’s, the only real restaurant in town, owned by my grandmother’s cousin. Less than a block from the house sat Dufrene’s Bakery, owned by another cousin, a bakery with a cult-like status due to its famous french bread. I still remember mornings before school, calling the restaurant to order biscuits for breakfast. “Ready in ten minutes, sha,” Miss Louise would say. Walking through the back screen door of the restaurant, passing huge bags of onions and old, worn hands peeling shrimp and crabs just plucked from the waters, I would smell the chicken and sausage gumbo cooking, gumbo that would feed everyone from local businessmen to visitors passing through, heading to Grand Isle for fishing and a party. I still remember the heat of that kitchen and how Mr. Randolph, the owner, would look up from his stove, soften his brow and smile when I entered the kitchen, grabbing my container of still warm biscuits with a few packets of jelly thrown in for my grandfather. Some mornings I hoped the biscuits were not quite ready so that I could stand there to watch, to listen, to soak in the atmosphere of that kitchen.
Over the next few years, I became the child who waited patiently for Great Chefs to play on PBS on Saturdays, the college student who watched Marcel Desaulniers create the most beautiful chocolate desserts, the graduate student who would spend time at bookstores scouring cookbooks I could not afford to buy, and the new wife who aspired to be as adept in the kitchen as Martha Stewart. Once I became a mother, baking and cake decorating became a gift I could present to my children, as well as a stress-reliever, a hobby, and later, an obsession. Restaurants became less about just going out and more about experimenting, trying new cuisines, expanding the idea that food simply offers sustenance—food is expression and a gift. I always bake for a reason, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always as an expression of fondness for the recipient.
And now you find me here, with a husband and four children, an unruly labrador, and a desire to show you the burgeoning restaurant scene in New Orleans and beyond, to explore the connection between family, food and memory, to help you to elevate your own home baking, and ultimately to explain why I baked a cake…
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