Our final day finishes with a trip to the Dooky Chase Restaurant where Chef Leah Chase will share her famous Gumbo des Herbes that she customarily makes on Holy Thursday. Among those who have dined with Chef Leah Chase are President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, Hank Aaron, Earnest Gaines and Quincy Jones. Dooky’s is the premier restaurant for authentic Creole cuisine and remains a gathering place for Politicians, musicians, visual artists and literary giants.
I have had the privilege of documenting several living legends but spending time with Chef Leah Chase will go down as one of the highlights of my career. There are times when covering someone with such a rich history, that you almost forget to shoot, or maybe you forget that you are shooting because you are so enthralled in the moment. For me, listening to Leah Chase’s stories and also watching the reverence that this celebrated group bestowed on Chef Chase, was one of those times.
Conversation with “little John Kennedy” about segregation and integration of schools …
“God gave you this earth.
He put you here.
Do what you want to do.
But he wants you to make it move.”
Chef Leah Chase
In 2005 Dooky’s didn’t stand a chance against Katrina. 5 ½ feet of water flooded the restaurant and everything was lost. Family, friends and several of the chefs that Leah had mentored helped and Dooky’s was reopened in 2007.
… just have faith and do what you have to do…just put your heart into it.”
Now as a complete departure, we enter into what can only be described as a “Gone with the Wind” moment. Mint juleps on a silver tray, a refined gentleman to escort us for a tour of the mansion and grounds, and we are educated on the history of this cotton plantation in Sunset, Louisiana. Civil wars were fought on this site and the front door still bears a battle scar. Again, a photographer’s dream as the light is getting a little lower in the sky. Time, I just wish that I had more time but these are the parameters of the project. So, no mint julep for me … it’s shooting time.
This has been a long day and the drive takes us a little longer than planned so the light is getting low when we arrive at White Oak Plantation in Baton Rouge, LA. Chef John Folse has planned a Fête de Boucherie.
Before we lose the light I capture some shots of the group and the grounds and food presentation. This is frustrating as I’m left just craving one more hour of light to document this beautiful display. While the lighting is far from ideal, I’m able to capture the essence of the evening and Chef extends an invitation to come back in the future. I may have to take him up on this.
Cracklins are fried pieces of pork fat with a small amount of attached skin …
There is a brief moment when the intensity in a person’s eyes makes a significant portrait. One of the workers at the Poche’s Market allowed me to take this quick photo during a brief break from the steaming hot work environment.
Above (L to R): Boudin (a combination of cooked rice, pork, onions, green peppers and seasonings); Mr. Floyd Poche'(the owner of the market);Prep for Boudin; Alligator;
It’s Gator Season in Louisiana and we are heading to Riceland Crawfish (above) to see how the gators are cleaned, skinned and processed.
And this is why I love what I do … every day is different. One day I’m photographing the leader of the free world and the next …. Well you get the picture.
Above shows the crawfish cages and the “beer bottle” method to make the indentation in the cage.
Today is the morning of the planter’s breakfast at Rural Life Museum – 7:45 AM is board time for the coach so this is when traveling with a running partner makes all the difference in the world … I am so much better shooting if I can log a few miles first, we start the day with a very early morning run ( 3 miles = 1 biscuit). There will be a lot of food at this planter’s breakfast – so Lisa and I are out early. Look who is watching us …
You cannot help but feel transported to another time when walking the grounds of the Rural Life Museum. Chef John Folse has arranged a planter’s breakfast and how he managed to organize the weather to so stunningly cooperate I haven’t quite figured out.
Knowing that the light just grazing the tops of the buildings soon would be too harsh, I felt the pressure of slowing myself down long enough to really see and compose … I knew that I couldn’t capture everything but I wanted you to feel the warmth of the sun on your shoulders when you looked at my opening shot. I wanted you to crave those biscuits and well, then there is the bacon ….
The cottages of the sugar barons at Houmas House Plantation served as our home for the next two evenings. The Plantation is located alongside the big bend in the Mississippi River on 38 acres of gardens, ponds and majestic live oaks.
The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board sponsored a Plantation Seafood dinner. The issue here is trying to shoot the food before it is consumed. For this group food is their passion, so I quickly make a circle documenting the different dishes and then work back through the group a second and third time.
We ended our evening trying not to watch the political debates going on in the Turtle Bar … no one wanted to spoil the warm feelings that the shared experiences with both food and friendship had created.
an expert on Louisiana history, leads our trip to the first stop at Tony’s Seafood. He explains that before the civil rights movement, dining while traveling by train was a challenge for black people. Although white train passengers were served in dining cars, Jim Crow laws barred black passengers. Thus, the shoe box lunch, a meal in a box packed before boarding, became common for traveling black families.
So a side note on the “skinning of the fish” shot, I didn’t just take this once, No — I had the stomach clenching opportunity to document this activity twice – so close you could smell it and step in the slick surface from the operation. And, that is because I smiled … yes there are times when a smile is not the answer and this was one of those times. It was very noisy at Tony’s Seafood, with orders being placed, and people everywhere and the motors in the refrigerators humming loudly. When this very proud fishmonger asked me something, as my stomach was turning over from the first episode of “how to clean a fish” … I just smiled because I couldn’t hear him and I was trying desperately not to throw up … and then voila’ before I knew what was happening … another fish, another hook, the knife and well you get the idea … No More Smiling!!!
We had a rather surreal experience to begin this project focused on food and the cross over of cultures. While walking through the Quarter we found ourselves joining the second line March for Chef Paul Prudhomme. Members of the restaurant business and other local dignitaries gathered at St. Louis Cathedral Monday for the funeral of Chef Paul Prudhomme.
”I was struck by the reactions to my food from people all over the country,” he said. ”I began to understand how unique the traditional foods of my family were. I came to realize that the joy of cooking Cajun and Creole food was not just that I appreciated its goodness so much, but that there was this great pleasure I got from watching other people eat it and seeing the joy in their eyes.”
Following the funeral mass, a procession and second line went from the Cathedral to K-Paul’s restaurant.