Friday, November 4, 2011

See You at the Gumbo Bowl!

 (Left to right: Steve Zucker, Executive Chef, Aloha Hospitality;
Bob Baumhower, CEO, Aloha Hospitality; Rick Tramonto,
Executive Chef, Restaurant R’evolution; John Folse, Executive Chef,
Restaurant R’evolution, posing with the 300-year-old
cast iron pot they will use to prepare the world’s largest
pot of gumbo)
Tomorrow, sports lovers and foodies will unite for a tailgating extravaganza unlike anything ever seen OR tasted before!  And it’s all in the name of charity.

At the wildly anticipated rivalry game between top-ranked Louisiana State University and number-two University of Alabama, Chefs Folse and Tramonto will join culinary forces with long-time friend and football legend Bob Baumhower – founder of the Aloha Hospitality restaurant group – and Aloha Executive Chef Steve Zucker, to present the first-ever LouisiBama Gumbo Bowl, and set the Guinness World Record® for the largest pot of gumbo. Just how big is the 300 year-old cast iron pot that will hold this gigantic gumbo? Picture nearly two tons of Louisiana seafood, and you’ll start to get the idea.

Rivals for more than 100 years, LSU and ‘Bama will set aside the blood lust for a few hours to come together and raise money for Nick's Kids Fund (Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s charity) and Caring Days Adult Day Care (supported by Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore), two local nonprofit organizations that are working hand-in-hand with the greater Tuscaloosa community to help rebuild homes and recreate services for dependent adults that were hit hard by the tornadoes that ripped through Tuscaloosa on April 27 of this year.

A star-studded roster of special guests – including Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, actress and Alabama alum Sela Ward, and former Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden – will be stopping by throughout the morning to help add ingredients to the simmering pot and give it a stir. After the gumbo is ready and the world record is announced, bowls will be served up to hungry and devoted football fans for $5 each.

If that isn’t enough excitement to get your taste buds hot and bothered, the day’s line-up will also include the Tailgate Cook-off! Four lucky fans each from the LSU and Alabama sides will face off in a culinary battle for gumbo domination. Stakes are high with legends like LSU champ A.J. Duhe, Alabama star Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, and football great Hugh Green judging. Don’t miss it!

We invite you to buy your tickets now at They will also be sold on game day at the Gumbo Bowl event, taking place at Ferguson Student Center, near Alabama’s famous Bryant-Denny Stadium.

We’ll be cheering on our top-ranked LSU Tigers (Geaux Tigers!), but whichever team wins the game, with the world’s largest pot of gumbo in the house, we’re pretty sure everyone wins. Hope to see you there!

-          John and Rick

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's Been a Long Time Coming

Demolition and progress
After signing our contract to conceptualize, design and build Restaurant R’evolution at The Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans, Rick and I felt confident that we would be firing up the ranges and wowing guests at Bienville and Bourbon streets by January 2011. Well, as with most, if not all, construction projects, delays are inevitable.  Add to the mix that we’re tearing down and building up in the historic French Quarter and you begin to get a glimmer of life these past months.  I’m sure Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon could not have been more difficult.
Exposed brick work over doors

For all of you who have been involved in construction projects, whether building a home, expanding a business or revamping a summer getaway, you know the challenges and delays in the world of construction.  It’s easy to analyze the process after the fact, but not as easy while going through the experience.  From owners and designers to purveyors and marketing specialists, there are a lot of moving parts and different entities who ultimately bring the project to fruition.  Yes, construction is no “I Dream of Jeannie” moment where fingers are snapped and all is completed within seconds in perfect fashion, smiles radiating from every face.  But, all’s well that end’s well and we are moving forward and with great exuberance as R’evolution rises from the slab. 

7 months 'til delivery

Now, we’re entering the exciting phase of construction.  The equipment we’ve talked about for months, the rooms we’ve envisioned in our minds and seen as renderings on large-sheets of paper; everything is now tangible and touchable.  We’re still in our first trimester, but we’re only 7 months from delivery.  The new opening date is hovering around March 1, 2012.  This is just after Mardi Gras and about 8 weeks before Jazz Fest, a great time to be in NOLA.  But, don’t mark your calendars yet! The date could be sooner, but we can say with confidence that it certainly won’t be later.
One of the highlights of working on a project like Restaurant R’evolution is the architect and designer.  Bill Johnson, of The Johnson Studio in Atlanta, has designed more than 500 of the best known restaurants in the business, both nationally and internationally. It’s amazing to see just how passionate he is about his work when he walks into the space.  Our contractors and builders have taken his incredible design and are working diligently to breathe life into the concept.
Understanding the vision!
The entire Sonesta organization, from the Sonnabend family in Boston to Royal Sonesta Hotel President Al Groos in New Orleans and his team, could not be more supportive, and like us, are eager for the opening night!  Our growing restaurant team is just as excited to fire up the stoves, set the tables, decant the wine and open the doors to welcome guests.  

Under way!

Rick pulls up a seat in Bar R'evolution

So, stay tuned! And visit the blog often, because from now until opening night, R’evolution will come to life before your eyes.

- John

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tramonto's Game Changer

Operation H.O.T. Trailer from Christopher Shepherd Films on Vimeo.

Restaurant R'evolution recently had the great blessing to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I traveled, along with Chef Fred Heurtin of Chef John Folse & Company, to the Bagram Airfield military base in northeastern Afghanistan, as part of Operation H.O.T. (Honoring Our Troops), a large-scale show and dinner for 5,000 U.S. Army and Air Force troops.
Going into an active war zone was never on my personal bucket list. Operation H.O.T. was the brainchild of Chef Charles Carroll of River Oaks Country Club in Houston, who is a close friend of both John's and mine. We've known each other for years because he invited me to participate in the annual culinary events held at the club. Charles is an incredibly special person -- a motivational speaker and author in addition to being a well-respected chef -- and he had wanted to do something to give back to our troops, ever since John invited him to go to Afghanistan a few years back to feed the troops. That trip unfortunately fell through, but ever since, it remained in the back of his mind. A year ago, Charles was having a beer with his friend Chief David Longstaff, a high-ranking Army official, and he was telling him this pipe dream, and he said he could help make it happen, as he is in charge of all the food that gets delivered to the troops in the Middle East bases.

 One member of River Oaks, and a very good friend of Charles's, is Joanne King Herring. Joanne is a passionate civilian activist who has worked for decades to improve conditions for our troops abroad and to create change in war-torn areas through providing services and education. She was protrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," and also offered a lot of support and enthusiasm to make the trip happen.
Rick Moonen and me in our body armor

So, after an event that Charles and I did together last year, he began calling people and asking them what their interest was in putting together an old-school, USO-style event with performers, a special "taste of home" meal, and video messages for the troops. For part of the show, he wanted to integrate an "Iron Chef"-style cooking competition, so he called Chef Rick Moonen and me. We were both hesitant at first, but with some time and consideration, I finally decided that not only was it possible, but that I had to do it. Because I’m not a child of war, I’ve never been directly affected by war the way that so many Americans have, so I really didn’t have the appreciation for what it's all about. I knew that for me, going to Afghanisgan would be an eye-opening, game-changing experience. If only I could have realized just how much so.

The trip was over a year in the making, with Charles and his assistant, Hilmi Ahmad, working on it seven days a week for the final six months. It took that long just to obtain the necessary level of military security and clearance, coordinate the logistics and paperwork, and raise the $178,000 it took to make it happen. The idea was to bring a taste of home to the troops. We would be cooking for 5,000 troops of a base of 30,000 – the rest were all in active duty while we were there. Charles’s vision was to give them 5 or 6 hours off to feel like they were at home. Many of the troops came from the South – Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas – so we thought we’d do a taste of the South with BBQ, gumbo, étouffée, the whole works.

We all flew into D.C. from various parts of the U.S., and we had a debriefing with Chief Longstaff. He was our leader, so he flew in to escort us from Washington to Kuwait, where we spent six hours in a barracks, changed into the body armor and helmets we'd wear for the rest of the journey, and then hopped on board a cargo plane from Kuwait to Bagram. We had to fly in the middle of the night for security reasons, sitting in jump seats around the sides of the cargo plane, with tanks and Humvees in the center. There were no bathrooms, no drinks, nothing for six and a half hours. All told, it took us two and a half days to get from the U.S. to the base in Afghanistan that would be our home for the next three days.

When we finally arrived, we showered, ate, and started prepping. John's manufacturing company air freighted tons of donated food over for the event, and there was Gulf seafood that was donated by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. It was incredible to see how they provide food to serve 30,000 troops every day. There are contractors there who handle the cooking, and literally miles of refrigerated storage. It made me glad to see that these guys are fed really well, with hearty meals, fresh fruit, and even a salad bar.

So when we go there we got all set up for the show. The tour production company putting the show together had shipped all of their gear there, and they were all setting up their stage. There were comedians, impersonators, magicians, a hypnotist, and even a U2 cover band to make it feel like a big festival. Rick's and my "Iron Chef"-style cook-off would be just part of an 8-hour show designed to bring a piece of home to the troops and take their minds off of battlefield life for a brief window of time.
The "Iron Chef" battle between Rick Moonen and me

 The theme for our "Iron Chef" battle was “Battle MRE,” which refers to the dehydrated food packs (Meals Ready to Eat) that the troops take into combat with them. We had to use the MRE packs as part of our recipes. We did a 60-second “quick-fire” challenge with Gulf seafood. Then we got interviewed and went into the battle itself. I made a crab pasta, incorporating the spice packets and the beans from the chili with beans from the MRE pack in the pasta. The troops were so enthusiastic about the battle, cheering us on. It was so much fun.

Joanne King Herring with Julia Roberts
(Photo credit:

Charles had gotten video messages recorded by every living president, as well as several celebrities (including Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, of "Charlie Wilson's War"), all thanking the troops for their sacrifices in defense of the country. Those videos were screened between the various show acts, and you could see how much they meant to the troops. The first message, which Charles played to open the show, was from Joanne King Herring herself. He wanted to show the troops that there are civilians back home working on their cause, too. He introduced her as the hardest-working civilian for the military. As I write this, there are shovels down in Afghanistan due to her efforts, and they’re building the first self-sustaining village in the country, with food, water, jobs, and medical care. She’s been the one driving that project from day one – a mission to fight the war without guns. The village is being built with the help of the Navy and Marines, and if this takes off, then the government will throw its support behind it and help it grow. It was clear how touched the troops were. They even recorded a video message back to Joanne, yelling "We love you, Joanne!"

Charles also brought gifts for the troops -- everything from candy, t-shirts, knives, and suntan lotion, to these beautiful white polished rocks in leather bags. The rocks were meant to serve as a symbol of solidarity with people back home. Charles gave a wonderful speech about how these rocks came with love and prayers from home and were meant as a source of support and memories. He wanted them to signify this special day long after we were gone.
Signing the missile on an F-16.

There were enough poignant and unforgettable moments to fill 10 blog posts, but I'll just mention a few. We had the chance to visit a military hospital, where they treat the soldiers who do all of the F-16 fighter plane runs, and met soldiers who had been injured in battle. We saw the war room where the generals met to plan the Bin Laden assassination. We stood on the flight lines with the F-16s and wrote on the missiles, which is a military tradition. We were presented with an American flag by two soldiers who had flown it in battle for us. We learned through first-hand experience that for every soldier who falls in battle, everyone on the base goes out to the main road and stands at attention as the bodies are loaded into planes and flown home.

The Operation H.O.T. team in our body armor

I initially had misgivings about this trip, but by the time we all got home, the only thing every single person said was, “When can we go back?” It was life-changing for all of us. A few days after our return was when President Obama began to announce the pull-out of some of the troops from Afghanistan, and so everyone is saying we should go to Iraq if there are still troops in Iraq next year. We’re hoping that the two-hour movie that filmmaker Christopher Shepherd shot of the trip will be a tool we can use to help raise the funds to do it again. We’ll be screening it at River Oaks on August 8 for everyone who took part in the trip, plus the donors who put up the money and helped us get there. Everyone will tell you that this show was different from any other show that's ever been undertaken at a military base abroad. We were there for three days, immersing with them and getting involved in the culture of the base. We really wanted to make a difference in their lives, not just put on a show. I hope we succeeded. All I know is that this trip changed the game for me, forever.

God bless.

- Rick

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A R'evolutionary Experience

On Saturday, May 28, chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto, along with Director of Wine & Spirits Molly Wismeier, led a seminar on "R'evolutionary Thinking" at the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience, where they previewed the food and wine programs for Restaurant R'evolution.

If you weren't able to be there in person, scroll down for a taste of the seminar in photos from our friend Huge Galdones of Galdones Photography, and check out our Facebook page for an exclusive video of the chefs' cooking demo!

Chef John Folse, Director of Wine & Spirits Molly Wismeier, and Chef Rick Tramonto


Wine tastings lined up, ready for guests

The team talks about R'evolutionizing Creole cuisine and takes questions from the audience.

The audience got to taste an alligator sauce piquante, a duo of Cajun hogs head cheese and Creole daube glace, and a chocolate cake made with Abita Turbo Dog beer

Chef Tramonto demos corn and crab bisque

Chef Folse talks with the audience while Chef Tramonto demos corn and crab bisque
with crab salad, shaved truffles, and dehydrated corn powder

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Come Hell or High Water

"The Gulf is on fire!"
Just over a year ago, Louisianians were awakened with shouts of, “The Gulf is on fire!” The Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig managed by British Petroleum, had exploded, killing many and opening the door to a disaster that would tarnish our shores and seafood industry for years to come. The only question was how bad it would really be.

A shrimping village
As millions upon millions of gallons of crude oil poured into the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico, fishing vessels and the communities that supported them with labor, fuel and fixtures lay dormant along the coastline. Fishing families who for generations had made a living cruising these waters for shellfish, oysters and finfish were now viewing the Deepwater Horizon as their greatest enemy. Their industry and livelihoods were being decimated before their eyes and very little would change for the next year. As seafood seasons came and went, more than 50% of an industry valued at $2.4 million evaporated from the Gulf waters.

Chef Folse watches the river rise
Recently, as government officials remembered the one year anniversary of the disaster and 75% of the fishing community was back at their task, 30% of Louisiana fishing families were still out of work. Luckily, there was hope in the immediate future. In April 2011 a new fishing cycle began.The inside shrimp season opened allowing fishermen to trawl up to three miles into the Gulf. Shortly thereafter, the offshore industry with its higher priced white shrimp opened and hope reigned on the Gulf waters. During the early days of May, finfish prices and supply were rising while blue crab were plentiful and prices stable. Oysters were the only fishery still off by 50%. Overall, things were looking good.

However, with rising hopes came the rising waters of the Mississippi, Atchafalaya and Red rivers. When the snow melts up North, the rushing water heads South, testing the Mississippi levee system, which is one of the largest in the world. It comprises more than 3,500 miles of levees extending some 620 miles along the river. In 2011, Louisiana and other states along the Mississippi’s course will set high-water records and shatter 100-year floodplain predictions. Already, small river villages are drowning in the abundant waters of Big Muddy. To protect the city of New Orleans from impending floodwaters, the man-made spillways protecting the Crescent City were opened, diverting water away from the city and toward Lake Pontchartrain and the Atchafalaya Basin.
Opening of Bonnet Carre Spillway outside New Orleans
Credit: Ted Jackson, Times-Picayune Archive
Eventually, this freshwater will empty into the Gulf, diluting the saltwater so vital to the growth and quality of shellfish and finfish. This freshwater intrusion pushes the species farther into the Gulf to seek the saltwater needed for survival. In doing so, they become more difficult to catch and more fuel is expended to reach their new locations. What was beginning to look like a prosperous year for Louisiana and her fishermen is now uncertain, and Louisiana’s fishermen and small hamlets are in peril once again. The only silver lining is that the Mississippi’s intrusion into the swamplands will assure abundant supplies of crawfish to waterlogged citizens, hotels, restaurants and markets. Louisianians by nature are resilient, bouncing back from adversity time and again. How much more can younger fishing families take both financially and emotionally? They are simply not used to starting over again and again as their parents and grandparents did. Is their love for this lifestyle enough to bring them back? Only time will tell.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Drink and Be Merry: Director of Wine and Spirits Molly Wismeier

Director of Wine and Spirits
Molly Wismeier
Molly Wismeier’s spirited path starts with a love of the Russian language, which she studied at the University of Iowa before taking a job as a translator in Denver. It was there that she began working with her first wine lists, as a sommelier at Enoteca Wine Bar.

“In a lot of ways, working with wines and spirits encompasses things I am passionate about: history, culture, languages,” Molly explains. “Wine itself is a language, and working in a restaurant with guests, I am, in many ways, a translator. I help them understand and choose the wines that are right for them.”

In 2002 she relocated to Chicago and after stints at Cru Café and Ambria, Molly successfully completed her introductory exam from the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2004. From there she went on to work at the world-renowned Charlie Trotter’s, before joining the team at Epic restaurant, where she helped propel the restaurant to local and national acclaim.

When chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto approached her with to work with them on Restaurant R’evolution and move to New Orleans, it was an opportunity she could not pass up. “New Orleans is an epicenter for food, wine, art, and so much more,” she notes. “It embodies the best of all the things I love in one place.”

In her new role, Wismeier focuses on maintaining a world-class selection of wines from around the world, with an emphasis on the seven nations that originally settled Louisiana and make up the backbone of what has become known as Creole cuisine. She is also in charge of the mixology and beer programs for the restaurant, and has recently been working with Chefs Folse, Tramonto, Denton, and Kimball to develop the beverage program for Bar R’evolution. Below, she offers a sneak peek at what’s to come.

Can you give us a preview of Restaurant R’evolution’s cocktail program?
The foundation of Bar R’evolution will be pre-Prohibition mixology, with a chef-like philosophy. We’re going to approach the bar like a kitchen, creating the cocktails like a chef creates a dish. We’re using fresh and local ingredients and really focusing on the components of the cocktail – texture, acidity, sweetness, fruit components, body, and balance.

The menu focus will be on classic cocktails. For example, our Sazerac will incorporate the best rye whiskey and the best ingredients we can source locally. The pre-Prohibition theme is really our inspiration but we’re going to be interpretive with our cocktails. We’ll have a sling that will use local ingredients, and our signature punch will be made with Hum liqueur, made by (sommelier and renowned mixologist) Adam Seger in Chicago.

A rendering of Bar R'evolution
What would you say is one of the more overlooked elements of mixology?

The type of ice you use. Depending on the liquor in your drink, the ice needs to be the right shape and density to control the rate of melting. The denser your ice is, the slower the ice will melt and the purer the cocktail will remain. We’ll have specific shapes of ice to match the cocktails we’ll be mixing.

What is going to set your bar team apart from other restaurant mixologists and bartenders?
Our goal is to create a bar where people will want to come and visit our bartenders. All of our bartenders and servers will be very well trained in the cocktails of pre-Prohibition. They’ll kind of act like a sommelier at the dinner table, talking to the diner about what they’re in the mood for then guiding them to a drink recommendation, based on their preferences. It’s more than just taking someone’s order and bringing them a drink. Our service will be more interactive and customized. Of course, you’ll still be able to come in and order a rum and Coke if that’s what you want.

Switching gears a little, what can you tell us about the wine program at R’evolution?
To start, we’re going to have an extensive wine by the glass program. We’re focusing on choosing wonderful wines that are going to pair well with all of the different courses and the small plates in the bar, yet still represent the wines people want to drink right now. We’re featuring refreshing whites from South Africa, Portugal and Greece. Guests can also find some classics from Alsace, Bordeaux and Burgundy. We may get to pour some rarer wines by the glass, so the prices will range from $7 to $45 a glass, depending on how rare the wine.

When we open, we’ll also offer some selections from magnums. The pricing will be very reasonable and the experience memorable. Wine ages much more slowly in magnums, so when you taste wine from a magnum it’s a special thing. We’ll probably always have one glass from a magnum that will rotate depending on what we can source.
I’m also really excited that we’ll be able to offer people quite a bit of older, approachable California wines, like a 1974 Heitz, for a reasonable price. We’ll be sourcing some exciting wines that will go really well with the cuisine. The food is going to be so wonderful– there are so many different flavors in each dish. Pairing each with different wines has been very interesting and exciting for me.
Wine Room Rendering
Was it a challenge pairing wine with Creole/Cajun food?
There are quite a lot of pronounced flavors in Creole food, so you need wines that can stand up to those assertive flavors. There’s a lot cream and butter in the dishes, a lot of texture and spice involved. 
We're looking into pairing dishes with Alsatian, German and Slovenian wines. We’re thinking about Cru Beaujolais (Gamay grape) that pairs well with the cuisine and drinks a lot like Pinot Noir.

What other aspects of the program are you excited about?We’re going to be serving local beers, from NOLA Brewery and a line of Abita beers, along with Heiner Brau, which comes from German brewmaster, Henryk Reiner Orlik out of Covington, LA.

We’re also growing fruit and herbs at Chef Folse’s White Oak Plantation to make homemade bitters and ratafias. Another fun element is we’re designing cocktail and beer progressions for pairing with food, so if people come in and want a progression of dishes from the regular menu or the small plates bar menu, they can match cocktails, wine or beer with their meal.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bringing a Bite to the Big Apple…Swamp-Style

Chef Folse and The "Taste of the Bayou" Food Truck
I have been amazed at the huge success of Swamp People. Whether I’m talking to folks from Canada or Illinois, their first comment is about the program and how much they love it. I was approached a few weeks ago about going to New York City to promote the second season premiere of the program. Of course, I said “yes,” grabbed my camouflage chef jacket and headed north. My task: serving swamp delicacies to New Yorkers from the History® channel’s “Taste of the Bayou” food truck.

Crowds gathered to sample the swampland delicacies
The experience was a remarkable celebration of Louisiana cuisine and swampland culture. I climbed aboard our “swamp on wheels” and started dishing out alligator sauce piquante, mallard duck and smoked wild boar sausage gumbo, Louisiana red beans and rice with smoked nutria sausage, Louisiana crawfish étouffée, venison jambalaya and fricassee of swamp rabbit. I have to hand-it to New Yorkers. They were amazingly game to taste anything from the swampland of Louisiana. Over the four-day promotion (March 28 – 31) more than 13,000 free servings were handed out from the “Taste of the Bayou” food truck at prominent locations near Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, Penn Station, the Financial District, the Port Authority, Union Square and Chelsea.

I also had the opportunity to serve at a number of private tastings for executives of A&E Television Networks, Time Warner, Universal McCann, Initiative, Mindshare, Targeteast and ZenithOptimedia. I can assure you, these board rooms were a long way from the bayou.

Beware of Gator
I was thrilled to help promote the second season of Swamp People. The program was the best original series premiere ever on History® and ranked number one in its time period versus all television across key male and adult demographics. The second season premiered last week and can be seen every Thursday at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT. Swamp People is drawing so much interest nationally and internationally that it’s quickly becoming a fabulous way to recruit visitors to Louisiana. So, come on down, get a taste of the bayou, and soon, you can eat with us, too, at Restaurant R’evolution. What? Of course, gator is on the menu!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Setting the Bar

Assietes of crudo for the Restaurant R'evolution bar
We’re in the midst of formulating the cocktail and food programs for Restaurant R'evolution's bar. We’re tentatively calling it “Bar R’evolution” – what do you think? We’re in what I call “think tank mode” right now, generating and polishing up our ideas, which we’ll present to the team in tastings next month. The bar menu will offer seasonal, market-driven cocktails with a pre-Prohibition theme, great wines by the glass, artisan beers, and its own food menu. Molly Wismeier, our director of wine and spirits, has been working closely with us to develop the beverage side, and she‘s going to give you a little sneak preview of that this week.

Andouille black sea salt potato chips for the R'evolution bar

My focus, with John and our chef Jody Denton, has been on the food, which will include small plates, crudos, and salumi. Think playful. Things like house made potato chips with black sea salt flavored with andouille sausage, assietes of crudo, our own spins on some classic NOLA dishes like crawfish balls and a pot de crème that’s infused with all of the flavors of a traditional crab boil. We’re really playing with the flavors of New Orleans in fun new ways that we think will be appealing with the drinks that Molly is concocting.
Smoked sea trout panzanella for R'evolution bar
On a more personal note, something has been on my mind recently during this bar-focused piece of the process that I want to share. I’ve been thinking about how I approach the bar as someone who has struggled with addiction in my past. Maybe it’s because this chapter of the restaurant development process has fortuitously aligned with the release of my memoir, Scars of a Chef, which openly shares some of the struggles I’ve had with addiction in my life. It’s been a really important part of my evolution as a chef to realize that I can treat wine and spirits like food. It’s about tasting and appreciating, not consuming. Nowadays when I taste wine or spirits, I’m not tempted to overdo it the way I was tempted by drugs and these things in my youth. It’s not a battle anymore. But then again, I also know that I can’t sit there and taste ten cocktails in a row either. I have a very healthy respect for my sobriety, so I’m very aware and cognizant of my limits.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is that I’m better off leaving most of this piece of the puzzle to others. I’m all about the food part of it, understanding what the flavor profiles need to be in order to match up well with the wine and the cocktails. But at the end of the day, I leave a lot of the beverage piece itself to the experts, like Molly. And with someone as talented as her in charge, I know we’re in good hands. Again, watch for more on the drinks from Molly this week.
- Rick

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Courir de Mardi Gras

Courir de Mardi Gras costumes
When folks hear Louisiana Mardi Gras, thoughts automatically run to Bourbon Street, beads and bawdy behavior. Many don’t realize that there is another Louisiana Mardi Gras, a country Mardi Gras, that is only found in the rural communities of Acadiana.

The Courir de Mardi Gras, literally the “running of the Mardi Gras,” is still celebrated in rural South Louisiana, but is a far cry from what most people associate with Mardi Gras and Carnival. While the principle is the same, a last day of mischief and revelry before Lent, pageantry and balls are replaced by parody and pranksters.

Once a part of pre-Lenten festivities in most French parts of Louisiana in the 19th century, the Courir de Mardi Gras has ancient roots dating back to medieval rites of passage. During the festivities, a band of revelers don strange disguises and elaborate masks while taking to their horses. Riding wildly through the countryside, they go from farm to farm and beg for chickens or other ingredients for the communal pot of gumbo. They often sing loudly or play pranks until the farmer or homeowner produces something for the pot, usually a live chicken that must be caught. While each band includes an unmasked capitaine to keep the peace, the celebration is still a raucous one.

The tradition was all but forgotten in many parts of Louisiana, but in the mid-20th century it began to make a comeback both in an effort to preserve the Cajun culture and as an alternative to the huge crowds of tourists that descend on New Orleans. Mamou, Eunice, Church Point and a handful of other rural communities feature a Courir de Mardi Gras in the week or so prior to Lent. Always featured is a surplus of chicken and sausage gumbo, music and fun.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fishing in Cajun Country

Fishing on the Mississippi River
I'm American by birth, but Cajun by the grace of God. To be born and reared in the heart of South Louisiana’s Cajun Country is indeed a gift. There is absolutely no better time to live in Louisiana than in the spring. Louisiana turns bright green come February when most of the rest of the country is dismal grey or covered in snow. Along with the warm days of late February and the guaranteed 85-degree temperatures of March, it’s time to go fishin’.

John Folse with sibilings in the late 1950's
(back row, fourth from left
next to his father Mr. Royley Folse)
You see, each spring the snows melt in the northern part of the United States and the Mississippi River fills and flows south, bringing along with it miles of driftwood and tons of freshwater fish. It was during the “June Rise” (that’s what we called the northern snow melt) that Cajun Boys growing up on the River Road gained a mastery of fishing the waters of the mighty Mississippi, which lapped at our front steps. The Mississippi River overflowed its banks into the batture creating bar pits and ponds held back from our home by the 20-foot high levee system that had been revamped after the flood of 1927.

Catfsiherman Butch Smith
These bar pits, filled with spoonbill cats, channel cats, garfish, gaspergou and sweet Mississippi River shrimp, were not only our playground, but were also the origin of our entrepreneurial spirit. It was our father and grandfathers who lived along the River Road who taught us the art of hanging a drop line inconspicuously from a willow branch and how to string and bait a catfish line that spanned the length or width of the bar pit. But, one thing was for sure. Every morning at 6:30 and every afternoon after school at 4, each hook had a fish. Not only did we have supper, but a few dollars in our pocket from the sale of our bounty. Yes, we were fishermen.


The fish that lived in the bayous and swamps were another story. They were not necessarily our first choice for eating. In the late spring and summer, algae cover the surface of the water and fish living there eat the algae, giving its flesh an earthy or “off” flavor.

Although we spent many hours fishing for choupique, carp or buffalo fish, and alligator gar they were mainly used as bait. Sometimes, we sold them for 25 to 50 cents, depending on size, to the plantation workers in the area. Many times, though, the garfish meat was smoked at our family camp and put into a stew or soup to replace smoked pork sausage; after all, we Cajuns love smoke flavor in our food. From time to time when other fish were scarce, we would grind the coarse, tough meat of the choupique to make boulettes, which were flavored with the trinity, lots of garlic and cooked in spicy, red or brown gravy. The buffalo fish brought in anywhere from 50 to 75 cents and was a first choice fish for the African-American workers on the plantation. Yes, indeed, the swamp created young entrepreneurs out of the Folse boys, and when considering the live frogs that were sold to biology labs, we were global fishermen. 
Crawfisherman Gerard Perry
I almost hate to admit though that we weren’t big fish eaters. Living in rural St. James Parish our swamp-floor pantry yielded big game, small game, game birds and crustaceans that were more often consumed than fish on our dining table. Two seafoods were critical for our diet and were most often found in our cast iron pots: crawfish (photo 9) and channel catfish. Although crawfish did not become popular fare for the Louisiana table until the late 1950s, our humble, Cajun cabin certainly considered it a delicacy. In fact, we ate Crawfish Bisque for Easter Sunday; Daddy’s River Road Crawfish Stew for Mother’s Day; and late in the summer, boiled crawfish with corn and potatoes were a common occurrence. Yes, crawfish was fare for our holiday table. And, with nearly 1,000 acres of swampland at our backdoor, crawfish were plentiful and easy to catch with a few set nets and a chicken neck for bait. As crawfish became popular and peeled crawfish tails found their way into grocery stores, crawfishing became another of our money-making ventures.
Jay Folse with 103 lb catfish

The large, channel cat caught on drop lines in the Mississippi was Daddy’s first choice for a courtbouillon. His recipe for this fish stew is legendary in our family. To make a courtbouillon any other way would be sacrilegious. Daddy used the whole fish, head and skin on. He said the head and skin were important because they added that wonderful, gelatinous texture to the stew. Daddy removed the gills and whiskers from the catfish and then, with a Brillo® pad in hand, scrubbed the whole fish under running water from the cistern. The slime that protected the fish’s skin had to be removed, and there was nothing better than Brillo® for this task. Daddy also claimed that the skin kept the tender meat from falling apart during the two- to three-hour cooking process. Yes, it was crawfish and catfish in our house.
Cabanocey Plantation
As I look back on my youth so many years later, I realize what a great gift God gave to the Folse family by placing us on that small piece of land in St. James Parish, strategically located between the river and the swamp on Cabanocey Plantation. At the same time, He gave us a bonus. He made us Cajun. Today, our lifestyle is known worldwide for its cuisine and culture. With three great growing seasons, a semi-tropical climate, the freshwater of the Mississippi River, the lush swamp floor abundant with game and wild seasonings, the brackish waters where the salty Gulf meets the freshwater rivers, and lakes with names such as Pontchartrain, Maurepas, Bruin, Caddo and Toledo teeming with seafood and shellfish, how could anyone think of us as anything but Blessed. And, coming from our Catholic French background, we also realize our obligation to share our good fortune with the world