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Nov 8, 201808:54 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Ruminations on a Cajun Cookbook

And cooking generally

Chef Isaac Toups has a new cookbook out. It’s called "Chasing the Gator", and it’s good. I’m not going to review it here, because I believe there’s some coverage coming your way in another format in the next few weeks, but I did want to touch on a few things that came up when I was reading the book. 

I’ve written about chef Toups a number of times over the last 15 years or so. I remember meeting him at Cuvee, when chef Bob Iacovone seemingly dragged him out of the kitchen to meet me. He was polite, but he looked like he’d rather be anywhere but talking to some food writer. Didn’t bother me at all. I’m much less inclined to like a chef who actually seems happy to come out of the kitchen during service to talk to someone like me.

Then I kept running into chef Toups and his wife Amanda when I was eating at restaurants around town. It was probably only three or four times, but that’s two or three times more than I see most other chefs dining out and they always seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Last month I saw that chef Toups had a cookbook out and after I begged his publicist a little I had a copy in the mail. I like it. I think what I like most is that Toups’ personality comes through very clearly in the pages of this book.

Let me be clear – I can’t say I really know Isaac Toups. I’ve met him a number of times and we’ve talked, but I am not invited to his house for Thanksgiving and he has never asked me for a kidney. What I can say is that most times I’ve been around him he’s been irreverent and from time to time he’s given the impression he’s about to do something that might unwise if not strictly illegal.

Emeril Lagasse wrote the foreword, and it’s nice. Toups wrote the introduction, and it’s not so much “nice” as “real.” He drops an f-bomb in the last sentence and I may be crass but I fucking love that. Profanity without purpose is silly, but I believe it can have a place and while I may not always end up on the right side of the equation I think Toups does in this book.

I also loved the fact that Toups name-drops Magnalite cast aluminum cookware in the foreword. That’s old-school. I mean, really old school. My grandmother’s kitchen in Amite was well-stocked with Magnalite in addition to cast iron. I still don’t know how she produced such incredible food in that stuff. Aluminum is a very efficient conductor of heat, meaning that the spot under your heat source is really hot, and everywhere else in the pan, not so much. Not really ideal, but it sure is a lot lighter than cast iron.

He also has a section on roux, in which he mentions “white” roux but also advises you not to use it. I’m in agreement, whether you call it white roux or beurre manié, you need to cook the flour at least a bit to get rid of the starchy flavor.

Toups’ book is divided into sections that make some sense: “Cajun 101” is where he talks about roux, stock and mother sauces; “The Boucherie” goes into sausage, terrines and grilled stuff; “The Community Table” has recipes for boiled seafood and fixins; “The Homestead” is where you’ll find gumbo and some serious offal recipes; “The Fish Camp” speaks for itself as does “The Hunt Camp.”

I have not cooked any recipes from the book yet, but I am fond of the tone and from what I’ve read these are not “theory” recipes. These are things you can cook. I will do so, and at some point I suspect I’ll report again. If you have already taken the dive into Toups’ book, please let me know your thoughts.

 

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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