For over twenty years, in a renovated molasses warehouse dating back to the early 1800s, four amazing chefs have been helping hundreds of thousands of people have fun, learn about New Orleans history and culture, and most importantly, how to make their mouths happy. 

Morph into something tasty!

With delicious staples from the Cajun and Creole people, two onsite classrooms are packed daily with up to eighty guests, foodies and kitchen novices alike.  Everyone is quickly united through these informal cooking classes where the end results are devoured by ravenous students of all ages who take back home a sensory treat to savor forever.  No matter how long you’re visiting New Orleans , it’s easy to find time for either a two or three hour cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  Besides, in New Orleans , there are as many meals a day as you can literally squeeze in.

There’s always something good cooking at 524 Saint Louis Street in the Vieux Carre, or French Quarter.  For our two hour gastronomic treat, Anne Leonard was leading our class of 24 visitors for this Louisiana history and home economics class for dummies.  We all made ourselves comfortable at a seat around one of the many dining tables as Anne, a very amiable, energetic, squeaky voiced, retired kindergarten teacher, filled us in on the history of New Orleans and the many cultural influences that have their spoons in the great gumbo pot known as Louisiana cooking.

Louisiana Cooking History

Founded and inhabited in 1782 by the French, one of the first outside cultural influences in cooking came three years later when Germans moved to this swampy marsh located 110 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and brought with them cows and chickens, meaning beef, milk, and eggs were introduced to the palates of early residents. 

Cajun staple -
Shrimp on white rice

After 42 years of French rule, this difficult flood prone area was happily given away to Spain .  Under Spanish influence, the food preparation now infused rice, bell peppers, and tomatoes into their diets.  Later on the Acadians, or Cajuns, migrated from Canada and also settled in Louisiana .  Being an area in the good old South with numerous slaves, African foods, vegetables, and methods of cooking were yet another strong influence into this food amalgamation. 

Yes, even numerous Italians ended up in New Orleans and settled in an area that was known as Little Sicily.  We all know how good of cooks Italians are, now imagine yet another completely different style of cooking that blended together well with these other cuisines from differing cultures. 

After throwing all these various cooking methods together, what do you get as an edible end result? 
The New Orleans Cookbook: Creole, Cajun, and Louisiana French Recipes Past and Present

The New Orleans Cookbook: Creole, Cajun, and Louisiana French Recipes Past and Present

Jetsetters Magazine Special.

Of course, you get a mouthwatering hybrid of delicious cooking styles that has been passed down from generation to generation with love and pride as if it were a religion of its very own.  In this city that is literally obsessed with food, it is easy to understand just how ingrained this love of food is in everyday life just by turning on the radio to listen to their local five day a week, three hour a day food/cooking program.  After years in the making, cooking and eating good food is certainly a religion that these lucky Louisiana citizens cherish.

Speaking metaphorically of religion, the “Holy Trinity” is the backbone of a majority of Cajun dishes.  Comprised of onions, green peppers, and celery, these items are often joined by “the Pope,” or garlic, to be the base ingredients for gumbo, jambalaya, etouffe, and shrimp Creole dishes, among others. 

Another disciple in this food religion that Kim and I have found ourselves devout members of is called roux.  Roux is a mixture of flour and oil that is stirred and heated in a pot or pan until the color comes out just right.  Not too light, or it will be pasty, or too dark, or it will be burnt.  Answer the phone and accidentally burn roux just once and your whole house quickly fills with smoke.  Trust me: you will not repeat this mistake again!  With practice, and lots of good eating, the technique of making a great roux will come easily to any convert to this style of cooking.

In The Classroom

While telling hilarious stories and answering questions, Anne explained each step-by-step instruction to make Pastaletta Salad, Shrimp Creole, and one of the sweetest desserts to ever melt in your mouth, pralines.  Like she said, this New Orleanian style of cooking is not the most health conscious, so live it up while you’re in N’awlins.  You can purify when you return back home. 

In N’awlins, they say that the fatter the chef is, the better his or her credibility is.  From where we were observing as Anne’s two helpers, Tremaine and Kendrick, scurried back and forth constantly bringing out and taking away ingredients; there really was no bad seat in the house, since we could easily see and smell what was whipped up from the huge overhead mirror that was angled above the two cooktops in front of the classroom. 

With the Louisiana School of Cooking, there’s no need to attempt an unfamiliar recipe on your own because you can read a recipe until you’re blue in the face and never really know how it should be prepared.  These fun, hands-on classes are just the thing to make a believer out of even the most timid of chefs.  Besides, what better way to impress your friends and family than by making these delectable dishes and desserts for them!  It makes sense to me, I thought as my nose inhaled in the tempting aromas that were now wafting throughout the classroom, located directly behind the well-stocked general store that holds a bounty of spices, seasonings, cookbooks, hot sauces, boil mixes, etc.

Tips and Tidbits

Anne, our cooking instructor
telling a story while
whipping up gumbo.

“Don’t read the directions, just do as I’m telling you,” Anne heartily replied to one of the many questions thrown her way throughout the entire class.  Want to make a great seasoning stock, just boil the shrimp heads and shells.  Sure, it sounds gross, but that’s where all the flavor is.  For proper cooking, use cast iron pots and pans, and never clean them since you’ll lose all the marvelous seasoning that will help your next dish taste even better. 

How do you know when your okra is cooked properly?  When all the slime is cooked out!  Lastly, remember that true New Orleans cooking is not served too spicy that it burns your face clean off.  Leave the spices, file, and hot sauces on the table so your guests can add to suit their own palate.

You Will Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans

Sample local microbrews.
New Orleans School of Cooking
504/525 - 2665,
524 St. Louis Street,
New Orleans, LA 70130

As we devoured one final sweet brown sugar praline, after gorging ourselves with outstanding Pastaletta Salad and Shrimp Creole, it was, unfortunately time to leave.  Yes, after taking this class for the umpteenth time (some classes are great to fail and have to repeat over and over) we still learned something new.  It was fun, relaxing, and something that the whole family could make a meal out of. 

Do me a favor, just don’t tell too many people, because when we come back to N’awlins for our yearly pilgrimage we fully expect to have room for us in the New Orleans School of Cooking.  Like Anne said as she bid adieu, “I had a good time.  If I did, I know you did.  Enjoy yourself and eat well.” 

By Donald and Kimberly Tatera, Southern California Jetsetters Magazine Correspondents.