I come from a long line of cooks on both sides of my family. But there are some things I never picked up on my own. My grandmother was known for making a mean jambalaya, but all I got from her was how to make biscuits. Growing up in the big city might have been part of that.
Most of what I’ve learned about cooking outside my small south Arkansas culture has been as an adult, through TV and books and cooking classes taken whenever and wherever I can. And just about every time I find myself in New Orleans I end up at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Classes are offered every day on everything from gumbo to red beans and rice and everything in-between.
But I don’t just go for the knowledge. I go for the food -- the school’s food is some of the best Cajun and Creole fare you’ll get in the French Quarter. And I go for the stories.
Kevin Belton’s one of my favorite chefs at the school. When you say someone’s larger than life, you’re usually referring to attitude. With Kevin that applies, but it’s his stature that people tend to recall first. He’s six foot, nine inches tall and in the range of 400 pounds… of what, you might ask? “It’s not fat,” he insists. “It’s credibility. Would you trust someone without some credibility?”
Like the other chefs at the school, he’s full of knowledge and wisdom about southern Louisiana cooking. He’s also full of tales and teasing. I don’t mind that at all.
Kevin will tell you, as will the other chefs, this simple mantra. “Use what you got. That’s the heart of Louisiana cooking. You got this recipe, you don’t have crawfish, use shrimp. No shrimp? Use chicken. Use venison. Got a garden? Use squash. It don’t have to be perfect.”