A Lil' Taste of Home:
On the Sixth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans Cuisine Reigns Supreme
If New Orleans was a melting pot of flavors and spices before Hurricane Katrina, then it has created some of the same flavors throughout the country since the storm. In every city, parish, county or township where New Orleans citizens have settled, you can find the smell, the flavors, and the taste of New Orleans. Our food, our cuisine reigns supreme.
On this sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we take a look at some of the products that give New Orleans its flavor. And we also take a look at some of the people, scattered near and far, that are still cooking it up “Naturally New Orleans.”
Clara “Sky” Jackson says she “appreciates and treasures” New Orleans cuisine.
“People have always come from all over the world to taste our good cooking,” she says. “Living in Lafayette after Katrina, it has been a little difficult finding the things that make our finest cuisine. I still make my own roux from scratch. But here they buy it out of a bottle—never even knew that existed until I moved here. I find myself coming back home shopping for the things that they don’t sell here. I miss home.”
Early after Hurricane Katrina, getting that taste of New Orleans required a little ingenuity and driving, says Tasha Thomas-Naquin says, “When I was in Charlotte, N.C., Patton’s sausage was one of the things I missed most and the DD smoke sausage—especially when I wanted to make gumbo,” she says. “I would take the ten hour ride all the way back home with my cooler in the back of my van and stock up on all my New Orleans foods I couldn’t get in North Carolina—blue crabs, DD smoke sausage, Patton’s hot sausage, alligator sausage and Louisiana seafood. If it wasn’t for a lil’ taste of home during those times I think I would have lost my mind. The food really brought me comfort.”
More than a Meal
Many New Orleans products, the things we take for granted, are more than just a meal. They’re a comfort. In some cases, if the right ingredient is not available, the dish can taste totally different.
Many of the companies that produce the products used and loved by New Orleanians were also devastated by Katrina. Luckily, they have bounced backed. It would be difficult to imagine the preparation of a favorite meal without the perfect ingredient or spice used to bring out the flavor of a dish.
A pinch here, a dash there, a drop every now and then, and you have the makings of a good pot of gumbo, stew, etouffeé or red beans.
And if you think that New Orleanians, no matter where they are or how long they have been away, don’t miss the dishes and the products used to make them uniquely New Orleans, here’s what a few have had to say:
Rhonda Miller, New Orleans native now in Carrollton, TX said: “Whenever we were in Louisiana (primarily Baton Rouge), we always brought back what we could not find or what was too expensive (at stores in Texas).”
Amanda Coleman, New Orleans native now in McKinney, TX said: “Pickled pig tails is an issue for me. There’s nothing to compare to what they do for the red beans. I haven’t been able to use anything to duplicate the flavor. I so look forward to visiting New Orleans and eating red beans and returning home with a couple of pounds of pig tails in my carry-on luggage. I do get the hot sausage and smoke sausage occasionally from Fiesta store, but I can’t find the N.O. French bread. I truly miss the po-boy loaves, (oysters, shrimp and hot sausage). That makes my mouth water just mentioning it. When I visit New Orleans, getting a taste of its food is one thing I definitely look forward to doing.”
Bonnie Bart, New Orleans native now living in Baton Rouge said: “We make gumbo every year for Christmas. My mom’s recipe calls for hot sausage. I asked co-workers here in Baton Rouge where I could find some when I first arrived after Katrina. No one knew. I visited all the grocery stores and finally found Patton’s hot sausage."
A “Meating” of the Minds
Bart is not alone in her search of the unique flavir if hot sausage. In fact, not being able to find a good hot sausage po' boy in New Orleans is unconscionable.
Yet, shortly after the storm, the Patton’s company was out of business. Just like everyone else, they took a considerable loss. Located in the Lower Ninth Ward, Patton’s is still a family-owned and operated business. Frank DeGrado III, is a third generation owner of Patton’s. When this writer visited his plant on Delery Street several years before Katrina, his mother Theresa, his sister Ann and several other employees were working there. One lady had been there for over 35 years and her son had been there for about 15 years. The business is still very family-oriented.
“I have worked for the company since 1974,” says DeGrado. “The company was founded by my grandfather, Andrew Thomas Patton in 1942.”
His mother no longer works in the business.
“My mom and dad were stuck in their house that flooded out,” DeGrado tells. “The storm took a tremendous toll on her.”
Patton’s also lost everything in Hurricane Katrina—the building, equipment, everything needed to make the hot sausage.
“I recall shortly after the storm, I received a phone call from a guy asking about where to get the hot sausage,” he says, adding that he forwarded his business phone to his cell phone in order to keep up with his business associates and employees.
“The guy said he woke up craving Patton’s hot sausage. And he asked me where he could get it—he was in California. I told him we would be operational soon. Then, I asked him if he knew that it was 1:30 in the morning.”
In late November 2005, Patton's resumed processing inside the Double D (DD) meat plant in Bogalusa, owned by Tillman Stogner and Mike Stogner.
Now, they are up and running, “in our new custom built plant,” says DeGrado. “Before the storm, we sold our products in Louisiana only. Now we are USDA inspected and can sell anywhere in the United States. We currently sell in Texas, Georgia and California."
Patton’s also distributed the DD smoke sausage that is often used in gumbo, red beans and other dishes. DD smoke sausage can also be purchased in the same areas and stores. And for Brandi Morris and other former New Orleanians who are not returning, but still crave that “taste of New Orleans,” it is a welcome addition to the stores they shop.
“While trying to find my way around my new home in Decatur, Ga., I stumbled upon a seafood store that made me feel at home,” Morris says. “This store sells all the items from home—DD smoke sausage, Patton’s hot sausage and a few Zatarain’s seasonings.”
The Spice of Life
McCormick is world renowned for its spices, herbs and seasonings. It can be found in various cities around the US. From its first products in 1889, to all the new and innovative spices, flavorings, grill mates and seasonings today, McCormick has been a mainstay in kitchens in New Orleans. So, in 2003, when McCormick acquired Zatarain’s, it was a union made in cuisine heaven. Zatarain’s products have also been around since 1889, and they are a part of New Orleans. According to its website, “The reason for the popularity of Zatarain’s is that it truly captures the flavor and rich texture of New Orleans-style cooking.
Zatarain’s is a family name and was founded by Emile A. Zatarain Sr. His first marketable product was a root beer extract. The company now has over 200 products from rice dinner mixes, pasta dinners, breading seasonings and spices to seafood boils and stuffing mixes.
But like everything else, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the McCormick-Zatarain’s plant was closed because of storm damage.
Located in Gretna, the facility suffered massive roof damage which caused production and distribution to be halted for a short time, says Dudley Passman, director of food services for Zatarain’s.
“We were not able to ship out of New Orleans because of martial law, no trucks available and no workers,” Passman says. Passman, who grew up in Baton Rouge and now lives in Metairie, has worked for Zatarain’s for 13 years and was there when the merger of McCormick-Zatarain’s took place. He says they were out of service for about two or three weeks after the storm.
“There were no workers in the city. And cleaning up the facility was a huge undertaking. Those who came back to help with the clean up had to find places to stay,” he says, adding that some office workers and other staff members came back and found shelter with friends and relatives and helped with the cleanup. “No one had a place to live. Some slept on floors. But they all did what they could to get the Zatarain’s products back out.”
Red Beans and Rice – So Nice
Everybody knows that Monday is unofficially ‘Red Beans Day’ almost anywhere and everywhere in this city—from the fanciest restaurant to the greasiest spoon. It’s on all the restaurant menus.
And when you think of Blue Runner, you naturally think of red beans. Now, it’s true that there are those who believe in fixing their beans the old fashioned way—soaking them all night long, putting on a pot in the morning and slow cooking them all day. But for those who need to serve up dinner fast so they can take care of kids or get back to work, Blue Runner saves time, mess and fuss.
“With two small kids, a full-time job and attending school (SUNO) Blue Runner red beans really does the job for me. All the hard work is done,” says Danielle Brooks. Brooks also says that she likes the flavor of the Blue Runner beans. “I put the DD smoke sausage in mine. I’ve been cooking with Blue Runner even before the storm.”
The same holds true for Regina McGill, who is also a Blue Runner fan. “They taste good and they are so creamy,” she says. “Also, they are quick and inexpensive. I don’t mind cooking, but I hate to spend all day in the kitchen. I’ve used them for years.”
Blue Runner products are now in Texas at a major grocery chain based there, and they can also be found in Florida and in some areas in St. Louis. Besides their red and white beans, Blue Runner now has a variety of other products from a jambalaya base to shrimp etouffee base in stores in New Orleans.
Please join The New Orleans Tribune in celebrating and recognizing these products and companies that help to make New Orleans’ cuisine supreme.