I was born on Cabanocey
Plantation in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Although I didn't know
it at the time, just to be born there made a person part of history.
I was by no means part of a great plantation family like the Romans,
Cantrelles, Bringiers or Kenners. Quite the contrary, I came at
a time when men were land poor. The plantations were gifts from
our grandfathers and fathers before, handed down from one generation
to another. In many cases, a French Creole or Antebellum mansion
was considered an albatross for the family who inherited it. We
certainly did not consider it part of a great legacy. My great grandfather,
Victorin Zeringue, purchased Cabanocey in the early 1900s. With
over 750 acres, he and his wife, Evelie Robert, thought they were
destined for greatness. If anything, they were great landowners.
They made a good living, and in those days that was a triumph.
Victorin and Evelie went on to have many children, one of them
my grandfather, Albert. Albert married Regina Waguespack, and together
they produced six more heirs to Cabanocey. One of them, my mother,
Therese, married Royley Folse and eight more heirs were born. My
mother, father and ancestors before were all good cooks. How could
they not be, having been reared in the heart of Cajun country. This
area of the United States somehow produces good cooks. There is
the Gulf of Mexico with its abundance of salt water seafoods, an
array of fresh-water lakes and rivers and of course, the lush, green
and tropical swampland. Each of these contributes equally to the
bounty that is Cajun and Creole cuisine.
As a Cajun first and a chef second, it's important to remember
that culture is the cuisine of a people.
Often, young culinarians search for a base of good cooking while
failing to simply look at their own culture and environment. I have
come to realize that no cuisine can develop or expand where there
isn't a strong foundation of regional culture and ingredients. We
are fortunate, here in Bayou Country, to have the very best gift
that God has given anyone in ingredients destined for the pot. My
philosophy on cooking is just as simple. Choose first the heritage
of your people. Herein lies the spice and flavor of your very palate.
Choose secondly the ingredients of your area. Herein lies the uniqueness
of your creations.
Lastly, practice simplicity.
There is an old jazz saying here in Louisiana, "mo is betta!"
In the world of cooking, this is the greatest fallacy. "Simplicity
is betta." The simple flavors are the ones we long for day
in and day out. Like all great artists, chefs must create a style
that is recognizable. In order to stand out, you should stay true
to your roots, stay true to your region and stay true to your heart
and soul. But most of all remember simplicity! In the words of Edith
Stern, builder of Longue Vue Gardens Plantation in New Orleans,
when asked what would be served to a great statesman coming to visit
her home, she replied, "The more important the guest, the simpler
and more regional the dish."