Judy views her cooking school's mission as helping to preserve the complex, refined Creole food traditions and those of its indigenous twin, the simpler, spicier Cajun cooking.

Today the student mix is half visitors and half food-proud locals reconnecting with their history. Classes are held Thursdays through Saturdays and offered as single sessions or weekend packages. Small, relaxed, and intimate, they are taught, demonstration-style, around the prep island in the warm, cluttered main-house kitchen, followed by a tour and a meal in the garden or dining room.

Frank Brigtsen, shown here, teaches every Thursday night. The gentlemanly chef and owner of the award-winning Brigtsen’s Restaurant did his tutelage under the masters—the venerable Brennan family of the famous Commander’s Palace and the legendary Paul Prudhomme at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, where Frank became executive chef prior to opening his own restaurant.

Recipes are at the end of this story.

Poppy Tooker (shown here)  and two other chefs rotate classes the remaining days. “The food diva of New Orleans,” Poppy studied with cooking guru Madeleine Kamman. Poppy exudes wit and energy, and possesses an endless knowledge of New Orleans food history. She founded the New Orleans Slow Food chapter and has worked to save such traditional foods as Creole cream cheese from disappearing.

The chefs create their own curriculum, keeping seasonality at the top of the list, although each class includes at least one dish that involves making a brown roux, the flour-and-butter building block of many Creole dishes.

Photo: courtesy of NOCE

Recipes are at the end of this story.

"Creole is the original fusion food," Frank explains. "It has French, African, Spanish, and Caribbean influences that are hundreds of years old. It's what we call 'city food,' and it is a seafood-based cuisine. Cajun is 'country food' and is pork- and chicken-based. It didn't originally use a roux-the Acadian settlers didn't have access to flour. But this changed over time."

Photo: Courtesy of NOCE

Recipes are at the end of this story.

Classes at the New Orleans Cooking Experience begin at $150 for a single session. Accommodations at the House on Bayou Road are not included; there is a discount rate for students. For classes, schedules, chef biographies, and other details, visit neworleanscookingexperience.com.

The House on Bayou Road was built in 1798 as an indigo plantation by the head surgeon of the Spanish Army. The house remained in private hands until 35 years ago, when it became a first-class bed and breakfast. Traditional colonial architecture and airy rooms are welcoming and hospitable. Visit houseonbayouroad.com for details.

Photo: courtesy of NOCE

Recipes are at the end of this story.

Crayfish Étouffée

  • 2 pounds fresh or frozen, peeled, cooked crayfish tails
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each cayenne pepper and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • Crystal® bottled hot sauce
  • Salt, cayenne pepper, and ground black pepper
  • 4-1/2 cups hot cooked rice

Thaw crayfish, if frozen. Remove crayfish from bags; set aside. Add water to bags (use 1 tablespoon water for each bag), seal and shake. Reserve water from bags. In large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, bay leaves, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon each cayenne pepper and black pepper. Cook and stir 1 minute. Whisk in tomato paste and flavored water from bags. Add green onions and cook about 1 minute or until just wilted. Stir in crayfish. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes or until heated through. Season to taste with hot sauce, and additional salt, cayenne pepper, and ground black pepper. Serve over hot cooked rice. Makes 6 servings.

Savory Calas

  • 2 cups cooked rice, cooled to room temperature* 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp, or cooked crayfish tails, crabmeat or tasso
  • 3 to 4 green onions, chopped
  • Pinch each snipped fresh parsley and thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • Several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
  • Shortening or cooking oil for deep fat frying
  • 1 recipe Remoulade Sauce (below)

In medium bowl combine rice, flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in shrimp, onions, parsley, thyme and black pepper. Stir in eggs and bottled hot pepper sauce until combined. Drop batter by well-rounded tablespoons full, four or five at a time, into deep hot fat (360° F). Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Remove calas with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with Remoulade sauce. Makes 16.

Sweet Calas: In medium bowl combine 2 cups cooked rice (cooled to room temperature), 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir in 2 slightly beaten eggs. Fry as directed above. Cool slightly Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm. Makes 12.

Remoulade Sauce: In food processor combine about 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves and 3 cut up green onions. Cover; process until finely minced. Transfer to medium bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup Creole Mustard (one 5.25-oz. jar), 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped celery heart, 2 tablespoons paprika, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoons salt, and juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons). Cover; chill until serving.

*Note: Keep rice mixture cool (below 70°) or it might not hold together when frying.

Oysters Bienville

This dish is named for the founder of New Orleans, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. It was created at Arnaud's Restaurant in the French Quarter. As Antoine's was known for Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Bienville became one of Count Arnaud's signature dishes.

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced bacon (4 slices)
  • 1 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)
  • 3 cups finely chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cups finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped green sweet pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme, crushed; and dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic (4 cloves)
  • 2 cups finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup finely chopped, peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1/4 cup Dry Sack Sherry®
  • 1 cup oyster liquor or clam juice
  • 3 cups half and half or light cream
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 36 oysters on the half-shell
  • Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

In a 4- to 6- quart Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of drippings. Add ham; cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onions, celery, peppers, and bay leaf. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes soft and clear (about 10 minutes).

Reduce heat to low. Add salt, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add shrimp; cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sherry; cook for 1 minute. Add oyster liquor; cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan.

Add half and half; bring mixture to boiling over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer, uncovered, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove bay leaf; discard. Using slotted spoon, remove 1 1/4 cups of vegetable mixture; set aside. Using a blender or an immersion blender, blend remaining mixture until smooth. Return blended mixture to pan.

Make a blond roux: in small skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in flour; cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Bring sauce to boil and gradually add roux, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low; simmer, uncovered, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover; chill 3 hours or until fully chilled. Cover and chill reserved vegetable mixture.

Open oysters in shells (see tip below). With a knife, remove oysters from shells; drain well. Wash shells. Place each oyster in the deep half of each shell. Arrange on bed of coarse rock salt in shallow pans. (Or, steady shells on pan lined with crumpled foil.)

To serve, preheat oven to 500°F . Remove vegetable mixture from refrigerator; set aside until serving time. Top each oyster on the half-shell with about 3 tablespoons sauce. Bake for 15 minutes. Top each oyster with a rounded teaspoon of the reserved vegetable mixture. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serve immediately. Makes 36 oysters (8 to 10 servings).

How to shuck an oyster

To shuck an oyster, hold one oyster, flat side up, in an oven mitt or kitchen towel. Using a strong-bladed oyster knife, insert knife tip into hinge between the shell halves. Twist blade to pry open oyster.

(continued on next slide)

How to shuck an oyster continued

Slip blade along inside of upper shell to free the muscle from shell. Slide knife under oyster to cut muscle from bottom shell.

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Cooking School: Big Easy Taste

Learn the techniques of Cajun and Creole cooking

Written and produced by Stephen Exel
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Poppy Tooker (shown here)  and two other chefs rotate classes the remaining days. “The food diva of New Orleans,” Poppy studied with cooking guru Madeleine Kamman. Poppy exudes wit and energy, and possesses an endless knowledge of New Orleans food history. She founded the New Orleans Slow Food chapter and has worked to save such traditional foods as Creole cream cheese from disappearing.

The chefs create their own curriculum, keeping seasonality at the top of the list, although each class includes at least one dish that involves making a brown roux, the flour-and-butter building block of many Creole dishes.

Photo: courtesy of NOCE

Recipes are at the end of this story.

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