Louisiana Gumbo Rich In History And Flavor

SHREVEPORT, LA (AP) — To an outsider, gumbo is a mix of hearty meats and vegetables typically served over rice — and that's it. To Louisianans, the food is much more. It's a staple at gatherings, a secret family recipe passed down through generations.

         Each family and region has its own way — the right way — to make it.

         Without revealing their secrets, three local gumbo experts spoke to the Times about the history of their recipes and how they arrived at the perfect gumbo.

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         "Here, gumbo is a religion," said Carolyn Manning, owner and chef at Blue Southern Comfort Foods. "You think about religion when you talk about the trinity but in Louisiana you're talking about gumbo."

         Her recipe starts the way most do — with the trinity of onion, celery and peppers.

         "I put my gumbo over cheese grits, which shocks people. For a while they said it's not gumbo if it isn't served over rice. Others say it's not gumbo without okra in it but everyone has their own way," she said. "South Louisiana people put gumbo over potato salad. It's a popular small-town way."

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         Manning's gumbo is 20 years in the making. As a college student, she and friends visited a New Orleans home turned restaurant, where she had a life-changing bowl of gumbo.

         "It was wonderful, rich gumbo. The taste was so deep and rich. It had a depth of flavor. It was wonderful, and I spent years trying to recreate it," Manning said.

         "And finally I have recreated the taste that I remember from college."

         Manning shares her gumbo journey with students through gumbo cooking classes. Her restaurant on Louisiana Avenue in Shreveport is host to gumbo students Wednesday and Thursday nights.

         "People love my gumbo. I've even had people tell me they dream about it at night," she said.




         At Herby K's, gumbo is a tradition shared with family and a couple of close friends. The popular restaurant's recipe originates with John Bean, a Vietnam veteran medevac pilot who learned how to cook gumbo from the Cajun and Creole residents who he'd pilot to and from offshore oil rigs after the service.

         "His mother was an incredible cook, and he was too. When he was in South Louisiana flying, he learned gumbo. Flying the guys out to oil rigs, he'd hang out with them, fish off the oil rig and then they would cook together," said Angela Doe, Bean's stepdaughter.

         Bean and friend Gary Hines worked together at Herby K's to blend the two's methods. Hines was Creole, and his family from South Louisiana was the type who put potato salad in gumbo, Doe explained

         "Gary and John worked on that recipe, and to this day — after John and Gary passed away, I took over the gumbo. I passed it to Brandy Bryant," Doe said.

         Bryant is a third-generation Herby K's cook.

         "You're dealing with four people in a restaurant who are very close to one another. The recipe is what all four of us have done together over the years. Brandy's gumbo is Heaven. It's very special to us," Doe said.

         Depending on who is cooking the gumbo at Herby K's, it comes out a little bit different, but the recipe has remained the same.

         "There's a part of your soul and heart that go into it. We make it from scratch, so whoever is making that gumbo is making it — it won't be exact the same every single time. We adhere to a recipe that's tried and true but the truth is it could have a slightly different flavor," Doe said.




         Gumbo shouldn't be limited in its ingredients, according to Panderina Soumas, private chef and owner of Soumas Heritage Creole Creations. The New Orleans native and Shreveport resident said there's no wrong way to make gumbo and encourages others to experiment.

         The mixes she sells through her small business can be added to, based on preference, but boiled eggs is as far as Soumas will go from her own definition of gumbo.

         "I tried it, it was different. I still haven't gotten eggs in my head for gumbo, but I don't think that just because this recipe puts boiled eggs in it means theirs is wrong," Soumas said.

         "Everyone has their own way that's indigenous to them — mine is ancestral."

         Gumbo does have to start with the trinity, Soumas said. And in her family, using her great grandmother's recipe, the base, or the roux, has to be the color of a penny.

         "I remember hearing my great grandmother say if the roux isn't dark, if it's not the color of a penny — it's not gumbo. But it's not always what I strive for," Soumas said.

         Soumas starts with a roux that's at least dark and velvety. Her recipe uses several herbs that others do not, and her base involves plenty of garlic.

         If she has access to fresh seafood, she will stick to her family's original recipe of seafood gumbo — with shrimp, oysters and crawfish tails.

         "That's not how restaurants do it, but that's my family. That's how we do it," she said.

         – by AP/ Reporter Courtney Spradlin with The Times

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