Where were you born and reared?
I was born in St. James Parish, 60 miles west of New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi River, in the middle of Plantation Country. This area is extremely rural and is the heart of sugarcane growing and processing in South Louisiana. I was brought up in a home with five brothers and two sisters. My father was plant manager of St. James Sugar Co-Op and my mother's family, the Zeringues, were sugarcane farmers on Cabanocey Plantation. I attended St. James High School and then went off to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.

What influenced you to join the culinary profession?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family of great cooks in Cajun country. Having been born 20 yards from the swamp floor pantry of South Louisiana's Bayou Country, I was inspired as a young cook. Our semi-tropical climate, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, all help to deliver the finest raw ingredients to anyone wishing to create a meal in Louisiana. It was only natural that cooking would be a major part of my life.

What was your first step into the food and beverage industry?
I started my career at Howard Johnson's Restaurant in Baton Rouge in 1970. I went on to work in the hotel business for many years before opening my first small restaurant in 1976. My Lafitte's Landing Restaurant in Donaldsonville, La. opened on Bastille Day, July 14, 1978. In the mid-1980s I took possession of my White Oak Plantation catering facility in Baton Rouge, La. Chef John Folse & Company Manufacturing came aboard in the mid-1990s and by 2001 was by far the largest and fastest growing division in our company. This segment produces more than 60 tons of processed foods weekly for industry. Television, radio and publishing soon followed. The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University opened its doors in 1996. After a devastating fire leveled the original Lafitte's Landing Restaurant in 1998, the new Lafitte's Landing Restaurant at Bittersweet Plantation opened its doors to the public in May 1999. However, having come from a family of good cooks, I feel that I have somehow always been in the restaurant business.

What is your motto in life?

I actually have two. The first is: "Risk is the tariff paid to leave the shores of predictable misery." Never be afraid to take risks. It's the foundation for success. The second is: "The more important the guest, the simpler and more regional the fare." As a chef, I wish to really impress my guests. If they are from out-of-state or abroad, I should stick to the simple, regional dishes that have been a part of our culture and history from the beginning. These are the dishes that guests long to sample, and no one creates them better than the people of that region.

What is unique about your cooking style?
As previously mentioned, I like to use the ingredients of my area first. We are probably best-known for the use of wild fruit such as persimmons, muscadines, wild quince, etc. We grow most of our own ingredients in our gardens and even whip our butter at home. Our rabbit, quail and all of our seafood is local. However, I think it is our responsibility to prepare quality ingredients from other areas of the nation and world so our local diners can experience these unique items. Named "Indigenous Cuisine" by the food press in the mid-1980s, Louisiana food is best defined as the marriage of the ingredients, flavor and technique of Cajun and Creole country, with a classical plate presentation. Crawfish Stuffed Rack of Lamb on a Wild Dewberry Glace . . .Tuna and Salmon Tartar spiced with Tasso Ham . . . Boiled Crawfish, Corn and Potato Soup...doesn't it make you hungry just hearing the names?

What is a typical day for Chef John Folse?
Being the owner/executive chef and CEO of six food companies, my day begins at about 6:30 AM at my home computer. I read and answer e-mails or search for information needed sometime during the day. Normally, I arrive at our corporate headquarters between 7:00 and 8:00 AM. A series of meetings are usually scheduled with department heads, ranging from sales to research and development. Of course, there are numerous phone calls to make, letters to write, interviews to conduct, products to test, menus to evaluate and strategies to review. Often, I must read menus at property functions, visit with guests, perform cooking demonstrations or simply tour the facilities and say hello to staff and employees. At certain times of year, I produce 26 television shows, publish cookbooks and travel to various conferences, conventions, seminars or lecture sites. Serving as a board member or chairman of organizations is a huge commitment as well. Then of course, there's my restaurant where customers expect to see me in the evening or on weekends with suggestions for their dining experience. Although much more can happen, this wraps up a typical day fairly well.

What is the difference between Cajun and Creole?

Very simply stated, Cajun is the French Country Cuisine that established itself in the bayous and swamplands of Louisiana in 1785. Cajun cooking is characterized by simple "one pot meals," which use ingredients from the swamp floor pantry. Creole is an aristocratic "melting pot cuisine" that developed in New Orleans. Creole, which means "mixture," was the product of the intermarriage of the seven nations that settled the city in the late 1600s. (For in-depth information about Cajun and Creole cuisine and culture, look for additional information on this website.)

Is Cajun food always spicy?
Excellent question! Cajun food is certainly not hot and spicy. Cajun food is well-seasoned, with a wonderful blend of fresh onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, green onions and parsley. These seasonings along with the dark brown Cajun roux are the basis of flavor. It was the blackening phenomenon in the late 1970s that gave Cajun food the reputation of being hot and spicy cuisine.

What is the hottest cooking trend in America today?
Trends come and go. Probably by the time you read this document, a new trend will loom on the horizon. Personally, I think you should study the exciting regional American cuisines that are identifying themselves nationwide: Cajun and Creole, Southwest, Heartland, Pacific Northwest and Low Country Cooking. These are great examples of culinary trends that are certain to remain forever. Although you will read about Latin, South American, Indian and Middle Eastern foods, it is imperative that you study these cuisines to learn the philosophy and techniques before cooking. A trip to the country is extremely important to experience the culture and the landscape prior to preparing the cuisine.

Where is the best place for a student to get chef training?
Prior to entering any culinary program, I suggest that you spend at least a year working in a restaurant. Too often, youngsters are inspired by our industry and the glamour of celebrity chefs on TV. Until you have worked on Saturday nights and Thanksgiving Day, you'll never know if this business is really for you. Once you have invested a year in the kitchen, I suggest that you contact one of the culinary schools in the country such as: the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in the heart of Bayou Country; Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island; California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, California; or The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Great culinary education programs exist at local vocational schools or through apprenticeship programs at local restaurants as well.

What can a first year culinarian expect to make in salary and benefits?

As with all things, experience and stability dictate the bottom line. Chefs entering the kitchen immediately following culinary school graduation with no experience except an externship can expect a starting salary ranging from $18,000 to $24,000 depending on the size of the property, region of the country and work schedule. Culinarians graduating with a few years of experience can expect more depending on that experience. I recommend starting your career at a site that is chosen for a specific purpose. It may be the status of the executive chef, the style of cuisine or the type of facility you wish to gain experience in. Although the starting pay may not be as competitive as that of a casino property in Las Vegas, you may gain quality experience and build a better resumé by hand-picking your opportunities. This direction will pay off in the future.

What about the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute?
The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., opened in October 1994. Offering a four-year Bachelor of Science degree, the culinary program is dedicated to the preservation of Louisiana's rich culinary and cultural heritage. In March 2013 ground breaking ceremonies were held at NSU on the site of the new culinary arts building, which is projected to open in Sept. 2014. This new building will provide state-of-the-art facilities for the growing number of culinary students representing every state in the union and several countries around the globe. While the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute teaches the traditional classical art of cooking, it also specializes in Louisiana regional cuisine. Students learn the basic skills of every discipline from soups to desserts while obtaining a working knowledge of Cajun and Creole cuisine. For more information visit the website at Chef John Folse Culinary Institute.

What is the American Culinary Federation and how do I join?
The ACF, located in St. Augustine, Fla., is a federation made up of 300 chapters of professional chefs nationwide. Local chapters hold monthly meetings in cities throughout America with continuing education, camaraderie and networking as the main objectives. Naturally, civic and professional involvement is a major theme of these monthly meetings. In a recent survey, certification and education were listed as the primary reasons to join the ACF. For more information about local chapters, contact the National Office at (904) 824-4468. Ask for Suzanne Bohle, Membership Director. For more information visit the website at http://www.acfchefs.org

Why did you elect to diversify your company?
As opportunities presented themselves, I reacted. My criteria for diversification is simple—it must be food focused. Diversifying meant expansion into areas that widened our base and, in most cases, represented vertical integration. From the restaurant grew the catering division. From television grew publishing. From publishing grew radio. From radio grew the recording studio. From public relations and marketing grew our manufacturing division. Additionally, our growing visibility created an interest in youngsters seeking information and a culinary career, thus the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute.

What was the most exciting place you ever visited?
It's probably a toss up between Beijing in 1987 and Moscow in 1988. Each year, my company opens a Louisiana restaurant for two weeks, promoting Cajun and Creole cuisine in other countries. Opening the first American restaurant on Soviet soil in 1988 during the Reagan-Gorbachev summit or walking the Great Wall of China in a white chef jacket makes it difficult to decide which place was better. Of course, visiting the Pope at his residence in Rome in 1989 wasn't too shabby either!

Have your own question?
Each day throughout the country and around the world, chefs and cooking enthusiasts wish to ask questions of their favorite chefs. If you have a particular question about recipes, cooking techniques or just wish to chat a little, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at folse@jfolse.com. I will be happy to discuss cooking or anything else with you!

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