I’ve just returned from spending a few days in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, where I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Waters — the great chef, cookbook author and inspiration for the good food movement. Waters was in central Louisiana to celebrate the first harvest from the Avoyelles Charter Public School “Edible Schoolyard” — one of many such school vegetable gardens that have opened around the country since Waters first developed the program for the Berkeley, California, school system.
Waters shared top billing at this event with the Parish’s best known native-son chef – Joe Truex of Repast Restaurant, whom I accompanied. (Joe and his wife/co-chef Mihoko Obunai are my neighbors and good friends, which is why I have never shared any opinion about their restaurant in this blog and always disclose the relationship when his name comes up in a news story).
I’ll write a piece about this event next week, but in the meantime I wanted to share some images of the food I tried along the way.
We were trying to make tracks, but hunger pangs hit as we were passing through Jackson, MS. On the advice of a friend, we stopped at Mayflower Cafe — a Jackson institution that has been around since 1935 and claims to be the city’s oldest restaurant. It looks like a funky, old diner, with wooden booths and a tile floor.
The broiled oysters were what I’d call meunière — floured, sauteed and sauced with spiced butter. They were fantastic, so fresh and juicy-wiggly in the center, but crisp on the edges. On the waitress’s recommendation, we got the daily special soft-shell crab with the same preparation. Best, freshest soft shell I’ve had in years.
Once in Louisiana, we had to hit Daiquiri Island and get some drive-thru daiquiris or, channeling the inner Dude, White Russians. The blender drink comes in a styrofoam cup with a straw. As Joe explains, they don’t open the straw so this doesn’t break the area’s loosely defined open container laws. We drank them at a friend’s house.
We stopped in the next town of Cottonport and went to a fantastic meat market called T-Jim’s for some hot boudin. It was mighty tasty just squeezed from its gut tube, but Joe says the best thing to do is crisp it in a skillet and serve it with syrup. We also picked up a slab of spicy, fantastic hog’s head cheese for a mere $1. I have to admit that I don’t like eating obvious chunks of things that look like they were once inside a head, but this coarse, spreadable pate didn’t make me at all squeamish.
The next day we went to the event at the school, where we watched a presentation by students. Joe Truex and Alice Waters both made speeches. Pictured above, left, is Paige Rabalais, the Slow Food dynamo who spearheaded the Edible Schoolyard initiative here. Next to her are Waters and Truex.
After the speeches and performances, we went to the garden where local cooks had set up tasting stations of local foods. WesMar Farms of Moreauville brought some sweet fresh goat’s milk. They also brought along some baby goats and bottles for the kids to try feeding.
That evening, Joe and I visited an old high-school friend of his who raises his own pigs and cows on a small farm on the outskirts of town. He gave Joe a frozen bag of mixed offal to make grillades. Unlike in New Orleans, grillades here are served with rice, not grits.
On the way home, we stopped at the original Dreamland BBQ in Tuscaloosa for a mess of ribs and a smoked sausage. The ribs are better here than at the Roswell spinoff. I wonder why.