This will be my last post from Unscene Shreveport. Actually, I am already home, but I wanted to describe the final event for Sarah and Evan. Now, after two weeks of looking after a three-year-old and a three-month-old, my wife and I plan to rest.
On Saturday night, the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium became the focus of the food week. There was a small farmers market set up in the lobby, and fifteen local chefs joined Sarah and Evan to prepare an amazing array of dishes that were supposed to focus on the farm-to-table concept. Most, although not all, used products from the farmers market as the main ingredients in their foods.
As well, one local artist was assigned to each of the chefs to capture the food in images. Then there was music, bright lights, colored lights, and wine to establish a party atmosphere. And it was a party – about 600 people showed up.
The Municipal Auditorium is a classic Art Deco building that was completed in the late 1920s or early 1930s. For many years it served as the home of the Louisiana Hayride, a strong radio competitor with the Grand Ole Opry. Many of the greats of country music performed at the Hayride, including Hank Williams and even Elvis Presley. In fact, the street in front of the building has been renamed Elvis Presley Avenue. After the Hayride shuttered its doors, the auditorium fell on hard times. Paint peeled, plaster became loose, and windows got broken. Except for high school graduations, the space was on its way to becoming derelict. In recent years, however, the buildings around have been cleaned up or knocked down, and the Municipal Auditorium has had lots of love and care to restore it to its original grandeur.
Here is the menu for the evening:
- Sarah, Evan, and their Shreveport host, Chef Jason Brady served pork panzanella using the hog that they had butchered on Thursday.
- Chef Carolyn Manning of Blue served goat’s milk grits
- Chef Pansou served creole maux chow
- Chef Hardette Harris made a green garden salad
- Chef Charlie Reed from Superior’s Steakhouse prepared Toulouse beef striploin canapés, duck, and gravlax
- Chef Giuseppe Brucia of Giuseppe’s made cheese ravioli
- Chef Jason Reynolds of Zocolo prepared a chilled field pea salad
- Chef Tootie Morrison of Abby Singer’s Bistro served gumbo balls
- Chef Cedric Williams made chicken meatballs
- Chef Kevin Bourg from Wine Country Bistro had a refreshing chilled cucumber soup
- Tina Palmesano of Jester’s Catering served fresh shrimp tamales
- Chef Conrad Patterson provided individual pecan pies
- Chef Andrew Parsons of Lagniappe Foods made crostini topped with fig jam and pork liver paté
- Chef Eddie Mars from the Petroleum Club served pork cheek bahn day
- Chefs Lisa and TK Tike of Lilah’s made tres leches cake
- Chefs Scott Roebuck and Liz Bowen of Serendipity served veggie sliders
Sarah serving panzanella
Individual pecan pie
Part of the hungry crowd
After all of that, there was no reason that anyone should go away hungry, but there was one more opportunity for food. Sarah and Evan served their gourmet popcorn to those who wanted to stay for a showing of the movie, Ratatouille.
Last night we ate at our apartment after Sarah, Evan, and Van went fishing with Jason Brady and his family. It seemed like a perfect time to cook up some purple hull peas I had bought at the farmers market. I went to the grocery store to get some salt pork and tasso, but I probably could have found those at the farmers market, too.
You can’t have peas, tasso, and collards without some cornbread to sop up all of the juices, but none of us was in the mood to bake cornbread in our understocked apartment kitchen. Fortunately we had some leftover corn muffins that had been served with our chicken fried steak at Strawn’s for lunch. The muffins were sweet (Yankee cornbread in Louisiana!?) but they would have to do.
I cooked the meal while the fisher persons were out on the lake.
Purple Hull Peas, Tasso and Collards
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 8 ounces salt pork, cut into a large dice
- enough water to cover the salt pork in a small saucepan
- 32 ounces chicken stock
- 1 quart shelled purple hull peas, fresh or frozen
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and chopped
- 14 1/2 ounces canned, diced tomatoes (fresh tomatoes would be great, but I forgot to buy them at the farmers market)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- 8 ounces Cajun-style tasso ham, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1 large bunch fresh collard greens, washed, trimmed, and cut into a coarse chiffonade
- Louisiana Hot Sauce to taste (optional)
- In a large, covered pot heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover, and sweat until the onions are soft and translucent. Transfer to a bowl.
- Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the salt pork. Return to the boil and boil for 5 minutes to remove any excess salt.. Drain and transfer to the large pot over medium heat. Stir frequently to allow light browning.
- Return the onions to the pot. Add chicken stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the peas, bell pepper, and garlic. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Return to a boil and then adjust the heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered for 1 hour or until the peas are soft.
- Stir in the tasso and simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Add the collard greens and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the greens are thoroughly cooked but not limp. Adjust the seasoning. Be sure to use hot sauce if you like it.
- Serve in large soup bowls.
Today is the day of the amateur cook-off. The contestants have had the weekend to think about what they would cook, using either tomatoes or squash. There have been over seventy entrants, more than twice as many as anyone thought. Even at that, there were several who chose not to enter because they couldn’t think of anything to make with tomatoes or squash. One woman asked what the ingredients were. She declined tomato. When she found out the other choice was squash, she said, “I don’t do vegetables,” and left. So much for the farm-to-table movement.
Our guess was that there would be a lot of stewed tomatoes and okra (This is Louisiana, after all.) There would also be a lot of zucchini bread. We’ll see. Turn in time was 5 PM and at 3PM entries were already starting to arrive.
On the way to the place where the contest was to be held, we stopped for barbecue. Big D’s Barbecue has been smokin’ for over 30 years. It is quintessential Louisiana barbecue although too much ketchup for my taste. Still, it is worth the trip. I’ve included an image of their smoker and outdoor dining area (if you can stand the heat) along with their delivery vehicle.
Sarah and Evan’s menu included:
- Sliced tomatoes with grilled corn, popped sorghum, and white chocolate
- Green bean salad with raw pecans, coffee vinaigrette, and green-bean chimichirri
- Honey-roasted potatoes with sunflowers
- Plum-glazed pork roast
Popping the sorghum
Popped sorghum seasoned with sea salt (Say that ten times as fast as you can)
Sliced tomatoes, grilled corn, popped sorghum, white chocolate
Green bean salad, raw pecans, coffee vinaigrette, green-bean chimichurri
Honey-roasted potatoes, sunflower petals, leaves, and seeds
Plum-glazed pork roast
Chefs Sarah and Evan Rich, Jason Brady
The contest turned out to be an exciting event. Over 70 cooks along with families showed up, so there were nearly 300 people jammed into the hall. The contestants were intense and clearly there to win. Contrary to our expectations, there was not a single serving of tomatoes and okra or zucchini bread, although a 10-year old girl made an elegant squash cake with an elaborate squash glaze. Choosing winners turned out to be more difficult than anyone had thought, but among the winners were a fancy pizza with lots of toppings, a tomato pie, and a squash appetizer. After the judges – Sarah, Evan, and Jason – had sampled everything. (Yes, you read that right.) everyone in the audience stormed the tables to get their own taste of the various entries.
Following the announcement of the winners, Sarah and Evan’s dinner was served, and folks were still hungry! Then there was a lively panel of local food experts talking about the next steps toward getting Shreveport more farm-to-table friendly.
A long evening, but everyone went home well-fed and happy.
Today we went to the Farmers Market at the Festival Plaza in downtown Shreveport near the banks of the Red River. We arrived at 7 AM, but there was already a long line of customers waiting to buy fresh corn from the Bailey Farms trailer filled with sacks from the fields of the Mennonite colony in Arkansas. The crowds were otherwise fairly light, but within a short time, the plaza was filled with folks of all descriptions, and the vendors were busy selling their wares. Unscene Shreveport is an ongoing project of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, who are trying to revitalize the riverfront while bringing new ideas about art and food to the community. The executive director, Pam Atchison, met with Sarah and Evan, along with local chef, Jason Brady, to plan events of the day and to talk about the cooking challenge.
Amateur cooks were encouraged to participate in a free cook-off using a “secret” ingredient from the farmers market. The entrants drew their assignments from a big basket – either tomatoes or squash. It was interesting to see how many were puzzled about what to do with tomatoes, which were in abundance – ripe or green, big or small, heirloom or otherwise. There were lots of choices for squash as well.
On Monday evening, contestants were to return with eight helpings of their dish. Sarah, Evan, and Jason would be the judges and also cook a meal from market selections. Then there would be a sort of covered-dish supper with all the entrants invited to sample their competitors’ offerings. Extra points for using more ingredients from the market. As we wandered around the plaza we saw the bounty of the Ark-La-Tex (the region where the three states come together with Shreveport as the unofficial capital) There were berries of all kinds, fresh watermelons, authentic Louisiana pralines by Dardie, fried pies, fresh and pickled quail eggs, hen’s eggs, meat of several varieties, cookies, cupcakes, bread, goat cheese, and on an on.
I’m looking forward to Monday.