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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.