Tooker Takes Tujague’s History, Creole Gumbo To TODAY

         To mark the 160th anniversary of Tujague’s, New Orleans’ second oldest continuously operating restaurant, the birthplace of brunch and home to the oldest stand-up bar in America, Poppy Tooker, culinary historian and author of Tujague’s Cookbook, will join Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on NBC’s TODAY Show Tuesday, September 13, 2016, from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. EST.

         “Appearing on the TODAY Show is huge for me,” Tooker said. “I saw WWL-TV reporter Meg Farris in the grocery store earlier this week, and she was so excited. She said ‘Hoda and I were great friends when she was here. Please give her my love!’”

         In addition to regaling Gifford and Kotb (a local WWL-TV anchor/ reporter for 6 years) and TODAY Show viewers with Tujague’s rich history, Tooker will prepare Tujague’s famed Creole Gumbo on-air (see recipe below).

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         “I’m looking forward to talking with Kathie Lee and Hoda about New Orleans and one of its most important culinary landmarks, Tujague’s,” Tooker said.

         When it comes to Tujague’s, located at 823 Decatur St., Tooker wrote the book, literally. Tooker’s “Tujague's Cookbook – Creole Recipes and Lore in the New Orleans Grand Tradition,” was published by the Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. last October.

         “Writing the Tujague’s book was the most difficult task I ever tackled,” Tooker said. “In fact, the concept of the cookbook was born in the spring of 2013 when the restaurant’s future was uncertain due to the death of [now-owner] Mark Latter’s dad, Steven. It took two years to complete the project and involved doing a culinary, archeological dig as Steven had kept everything, every bit of paper, every article and all of the amazing historical things that dated back to the time of [famed proprietor-chef] Madame Bégué. He’d stashed the stuff all over the building – in the attic, even under a raised floor he’d installed on the second floor when he created a service kitchen up there in the 1970s.”

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         In a continuation of the research begun for her first project with Pelican, “Mme. Bégué’s Recipes of Old New Orleans Creole Cookery,” Tooker provides an intimate look at the history and family behind one of New Orleans’ defining restaurants.

         “[Tujague’s] is the original site of Madame Bégué’s famous restaurant of the late 19th and early 20th century; the place where she created the meal we know today as brunch, but that she called the ‘Butcher’s Breakfast,’” Tooker said.

         Tooker’s 192-page Tujague’s Cookbook takes readers on a 160 year journey from eerie ghost stories, including one about the cross-dressing ghost of Julian Eltinge who was America’s premiere celebrity of the early 20th century, to a look at the menus that created the international tradition that is now the Sunday staple, brunch. Tujague's Cookbook showcases food and drink recipes from the 1850s to today, along with memorabilia from the restaurant’s archives and 97 photographs including ones taken by local food photographer Sam Hanna and French Quarter preservationist/ photographer Louis Sahuc.

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         “Tujague’s is truly a neighborhood restaurant, located in America’s oldest neighborhood – the French Quarter,” Tooker said. “Its story needed to be told, its recipes shared and its history remembered.”

         Tooker’s collection of close to 100 recipes, each with a story behind them, showcases quintessential New Orleans Creole cookery, such as Chicken Bonne Femme, Shrimp Remoulade with ½ & ½ sauce, Trout Meunière Amandine, Fried Soft Shell Crabs with Creole Corn Maque Choux and Classic Bread Pudding with Holiday Cranberry Sauce. Cocktails, served to guests including former Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and France’s Charles de Gaulle, as well as Cole Porter, O. Henry, Ty Cobb and John D. Rockefeller, feature the classic Pimm’s Cup, Sazerac, Whiskey Punch and the Grasshopper, which was created at Tujague’s.

         “The biggest reward [from writing the book] has been how happy the book has made people,” Tooker said. “So many people have approached me at cookbook signings with photos and amazing stories of important family memories that had been created at Tujague’s. For instance, one woman bought the book and told me that her husband’s grandfather had been stationed in New Orleans during WWII. He and the grandmother would eat bologna sandwiches all week so they could afford to dine out at Tujague’s on Friday nights.”

         “Poppy Tooker shows us why Tujague’s role in shaping New Orleans’ culinary history has been and continues to be a significant one,” Priscilla Lawrence, executive director of The Historic New Orleans Collection, said. “The cookbook is a delightful combination of mouth-watering recipes and an illustrated tribute to a New Orleans dining tradition.”

         “In New Orleans, it is the preservationists – everyone from Mardi Gras Indians to high school marching bands – who keep the city’s culture alive and afloat,” author and historian Rien Fertel said. “Poppy Tooker is our premier culinary preservationist, and in Tujague’s Cookbook she rallies to rescue a two-century old restaurant from extinction, while keeping its history and recipes from being lost.”

         Earlier this year, Tooker donated her personal collection of 400 cookbooks, wine and food documents to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum’s (SoFAB) John and Bonnie Boyd Hospitality and Culinary Library. “We are excited about Poppy’s generous and meaningful gift, and are looking forward to sharing this collection with the interested public,” Liz Williams, President and Director of SoFAB, said.

         Last May, SoFAB, located at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., unveiled “Tujague’s: 160 Years of Tradition,” a retrospective exhibit featuring photos, awards and memorabilia. The restaurant was also added to the National Culinary Heritage Register, an expansive list of culinary products, processes, inventions, traditions and establishments that are at least 50-years-old and have contributed significantly to the development of American foodways.

         “Tujague’s has played a pivotal role in New Orleans cuisine, from serving Butcher’s Breakfasts in the 1800s to introducing the famed garlicky Chicken Bonne Femme in 1914,” SoFAB’s Williams said.

         Culinary activist Tooker also hosts the popular weekly radio show “Louisiana Eats!” on WWNO 89.9 FM, and she competed on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” where her seafood gumbo was deemed better than his.

         “The secret to preparing the best gumbo is really the roux,” Tooker said. “I believe it must be cooked until milk chocolate brown and then, although most recipes call for adding the seasoning vegetables of celery, bell pepper and onions all at the same time, it’s vitally important to add the onions first, all by themselves. The natural sugars in the onion juices exude into the hot roux, cooling it down so it doesn’t burn and making the roux darken from milk chocolate to bittersweet chocolate brown.”

         The International Association of Cooking Professionals recognized Tooker with its first Community Service Award in 2008, and Southern Living magazine named her a 2012 “Hero of the New South.” 

         Tooker also wrote “Louisiana Eats!: The People, the Food, and Their Stories,” a companion to her radio show. It received the Literary Award of the Year in 2014 from the Louisiana Library Association.


         Click here for more information about all of Tooker’s books.


         Catch Tooker on the TODAY Show Tuesday, September 13, from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. EST on NBC/ WDSU-TV (COX – Channel 7; DIRECT TV – Channel 6).


Tujague's Creole Gumbo

(serves 10-12)

  • 4 qt. Shrimp Stock (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • ¾ lb. smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1 lb. frozen gumbo crabs, defrosted
  • Salt and pepper or Creole seasoning
  • 2 lb. Gulf shrimp, peeled
  • ½ lb. claw crabmeat
  • 1 pt. Gulf oysters
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ cup sliced green onions (white and green parts)
  • 1 tbsp. file powder or more to taste
  • Hot cooked rice

         Add the Shrimp Stock to a large stockpot or Dutch oven set over medium heat. If the stock comes to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest possible temperature while keeping it hot.

         Heat the oil until shimmering in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until a dark roux is achieved, about 10-15 minutes, depending on how high your heat is. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the celery and green pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the Shrimp Stock to the roux and vegetables, then bring the mixture to a boil. Add the sausage, gumbo crabs, and salt and pepper or Creole seasoning to taste. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook until the mixture is thickened and fragrant, about 1 hour.

         Add the shrimp, crabmeat, oysters, parsley and green onions. Cook until the shrimp are pink and the edges of the oysters ruffle, about 5 minutes. Stir in the filé powder.

Shrimp Stock

Makes 3 qts.

  • Heads and shells from 2 lb. fresh Gulf shrimp
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 gal. cold water

         Place all of the ingredients in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming any foam as necessary. Continue to boil until reduced by one-fourth, 15-20 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the solids. Chill the stock.

         Serve the gumbo over rice.



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