Creole Culture & Food
Unlike many other ethnic groups in the United States, Creoles did not migrate from another country. The Creole people by definition are descendants of French, Spanish, or Portuguese settlers living in the West Indies and Latin America. In Louisiana, Creole is best identified by French-speaking people of French or Spanish decent. Their ancestors were a separate caste of people who were Catholic and retained the traditional cultural traits of related social groups in France. Today, Creole has come to represent people of generally mixed background, generally French, African, Spanish, Native American, English, German and Italian.
Louisiana Creole cuisine is recognized as it’s own unique style of cooking, which makes use of the “Holy Trinity” (chopped celery, bell peppers, and onions), but has a great variety of European, French, Caribbean, African, and American influences.
Gumbo is a traditional Creole dish. It was created in New Orleans by the French attempting to make bouillabaisse in the New World. The Spanish contributed onions, peppers, and tomatoes; the Indians contributed filé, or ground sassafras leaves; the French gave the roux to the stew and spices from the Caribbean. Over time, it became less of a bouillabaisse and more of what is called gumbo. Later the Italians blasted it with garlic. The Germans contributed potato salad as a side and even started the practice of eating gumbo with a scoop of potato salad in it; they also introduced the practice of eating gumbo with buttered french bread. It is a stew consisting of seafood gumbo (shrimp, crab, sausage, and oyster) or chicken-sausage gumbo (chicken, sausage). Both contain the “Holy Trinity” and are served over rice. It is often seasoned with filé.
Jambalaya is the second of famous Louisiana Creole dishes. It arose in the original European sector of New Orleans (the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, in colonial days). It combines ham with sausage, rice and tomato. Today, jambalaya is prepared two ways: red and brown. Red jambalaya is native to New Orleans and its immediate environment, in parts of Iberia Parish, as well as in parts of St. Martin Parish. The red jambalaya has a tomato base but owes its color also to the use of shrimp stock.
In Cajun areas, people prepare a “brown jambalaya”, which is roux based with tasso, a type of smoked pork. Jambalaya can also combine chicken, sausage, and fresh shrimp tails; or chicken and tasso.
Cooking and mealtime is a distinct activity in Creole homes. Where a dining is treated as a true celebration, not just a means of addressing your hunger.
OUR FOUNDER – About Tony Chachere
In his early years, Tony Chachere (sa-shur-ee) learned and loved to cook. His natural talent, imagination and flair for always being the best earned him a reputation as a notable chef. Over time, around Acadiana, he became known as the “Ole Master” of fine Cajun cuisine. His fishing and hunting camp on Bayou Big Alabama, in the Atchafalaya Swamp near Opelousas, was legendary as a gourmet haven where his culinary talents delighted palates from all over the United States, Mexico and Canada. While there with good friends, Tony invariably headed for the kitchen while everyone else headed with their dinner plates to the chow line. His effervescent shout of “tonight, I’m gonna make’em cry!” was always a promise of unsurpassed culinary delicacies soon to be conjured up.
Tony fished and hunted practically every noteworthy lake, bayou and wood in Louisiana. He fished Canadian and Mexican streams, hunted duck, deer, and quail in Texas, white wing doves in Old Mexico, and pheasant and grouse in the Dakotas. Everywhere he went, he enchanted local palates with his Cajun Cooking, at times cooking for as many as 800 people. He also picked up many good recipes along the way.
He fulfilled his dream of retiring at age 50, but not being a man of liesure, he soon began a new career as a salesman for Equitable Life Insurance Society. He made the Millionaires club his first year and every year thereafter. After 13 years he was installed into the Equitable Hall of Fame – the highest honor bestowed upon an agent.
In 1970, at age 65, Tony retired for the second time. He still sold insurance occasionally, but his primary focus was on hunting, fishing and fulfillment of another dream – to write a cookbook of his native cuisine. In 1972, the popularity of his book led to the formation of Tony Chachere’s Creole foods to fullfill the demand for his now famous seasoning.
With his special knack, his famous Creole Seasoning and other fine products, Tony was a frequent guest on TV talk and cooking shows throughout the South and as far East as Baltimore. He cooked for several governors of Louisiana, Miss America, and national conventions of the National Restaurant Association and American Culinary Federation. Features about him and his recipes have appeared in the food pages of many newspapers and magazines. His famous seasoning has been used in dozens of other cookbooks, cooking contests, and even in a couple of movies.
In March 1995, he was honored as the first inductee into the Louisiana Chefs Hall of Fame. He died just one week later, three months shy of his 90th birthday.
Tony Chachere will never be forgotten in Cajun Louisiana. He lived a legendary life and will be a legend in years to come. Though he left a lasting impression in the business fields he entered, he will be remembered best as a bon vivant with a rare and wonderful sense of humor, a man who was “at home” with every one who knew him.