I’m doing one of my favorite things on earth. I’m sitting in a kitchen – somewhere in New Orleans called Gretna – watching Michael cook. No, let me rephrase that… I’m SMELLING Michael cook. It’s not really easy to do anything else with Michael, actually because his favorite thing to do is cook. So, he’s cooking a lot. I’ve done this in several kitchens. There was a kitchen in Coloma MI which was the first Michael kitchen that I knew. I remember my first time there. At that time, he’d not come out of the closet, and I harbored a crush on him. He was the only single southerner around my age in that northern city, and I understood him. Or, at least I thought I understood him. We had a canoeing trip date that didn’t work out too well, and then one evening I somehow ended up at his house, and he offered me food. Sure, I thought… expecting some southern good ole boy dish. Instead, I got gourmet leftovers from the night before – restaurant quality gourmet leftovers – served on beautiful china with these gorgeous tree branch utensils. I’d never seen a guy have that kind of taste. And, I was too naive to put the whole picture together.
Serious Bread Bakery – Bay St. Louis MS
I sat across the counter from him while he cooked in three Memphis homes. He’s fed me cornbread, gumbo, jambalaya, greens, grits, beans with salt pork and countless other dishes. He’s even hosted a couple of birthday celebrations with my favorite strawberry cake where he planned, cooked AND served me and my posse dinner. Now, I’m in New Orleans at his husband’s family’s house, watching him make gumbo. I told him I’d be coming by, so he waited to go to the fish market so that I could join him. It’s a bunch of little shacks where local fisherman sell directly to the public. Michael bought some shrimp for his gumbo and some oysters. “They are proud of their oysters,” he said after he exchanged money with the vendor. We talked about the fact that oyster dressing day had just ended and maybe there was a supply and demand issue. I could have bought bags of catfish, gator, redfish, trout, huge shrimp, crabs or oysters, but I only bought a crawfish stuffed potato which I consumed promptly when I got back to my perch at the kitchen counter. It was delicious.
Before I came over here, I had some divine coffee and a cinnamon roll, both not indicated for my hypoglycemia. I’d planned to eat more protein for breakfast, but I got sidetracked when I went into the local bakery, Serious Bread Bakery, in Bay St. Louis. I spent more time there than I needed to, and I bought more bread than I should have, too. I took off in a protein-deprived funk to drive the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the morning light before heading west to NOLA. I promised I’d be there by 10, and I knew I’d never go hungry anywhere near Michael. It’s just not even possible.
Fish Market and Gumbo
We saw each other a few weeks ago when I was passing through Houston for a brief lunch. Other than that, I haven’t really seen him since he moved from Memphis a few years ago. And, I hadn’t seen his spouse Darren since my 50th Birthday party that they hosted at their temporary living quarters on Mud Island. But, it’s been a long dry spell since I sat at the counter while he chopped, sliced, stirred and sauteed. Today we discussed the ins and outs of making a roux and how everybody down here has their own dos and don’ts on making roux. Some make it with the trinity of green peppers, onions and celery. Others keep it pure and make the roux on it’s own. Some make a light roux. Some make it dark. Some mix in tomatoes. And, Michael said one woman swore that you had to use a cold roux in order to make the perfect gumbo. I like mine pure and mahogany dark. And, Michael makes his the same way. He calls his gumbo today a “gumbo du monde” based on the variety of meats he’s adding. Shrimp, crab, oysters, andouille and chicken are in the pot… his small gumbo pot which takes up approximately 4 burners on the stove.
Darren is out shooting children in City Park. I asked how many children he is shooting today, and Michael said about a dozen. If I didn’t know Darren was a photographer, I would probably think this was some strange New Orleans Thanksgiving tradition of shooting children to place in the gumbo du monde. It is hunting season, ya know?
I wish I could share the smells of this kitchen with you, but photos will have to do. I’m heading over to Mandeville this afternoon to watch football with some friends from college. I’ll be bringing some cookies from Serious Bread. I’m sure I’ll smell like gumbo. I doubt anybody will notice, though. They are headed over to my college roommates restaurant for lunch and a couple of beers. That’s another counter I’ve hugged while my friends have cooked good food. Everybody down here is always cooking or watching people cook. This is a place where the Thanksgiving meal is not all that unusual. It may be different dishes, but it’s still an all day cooking event and a gathering planned around food. It’s the just the way they do things down here, y’all. Go ahead and pull up a chair.