photos by Drew Belle Zerby 
Assembling a muffaletta was one of the lessons at the New Orleans Soul Food class at WTAMU.

Soulful Spice

Amarillo Magazine cooks, and chows down on, New Orleans cuisine

I walked away from this past Fridayís New Orleans cooking class more soul-food savvy, reeking of potent spices and completely, utterly and miserably stuffed.

Letís just say that Michele and I ate our fill of south-Louisiana cuisine at WTAMUís Department of Continuing Educationís event. Iíll take it to the grave how many servings of pain perdu Michele and I consumed. I swear we didnít lick our plates Ė just our forks.

I couldnít have asked for a more heartfelt bear hug from Chef Emile Stieffel upon my entrance to the class; I now understand what my arm goes through when the doctor takes my blood pressure.

This embrace, and Emileís generosity, warmth toward his attentive audience and enthusiasm of Louisiana cooking and New Orleans history made this a wonderful experience that I will always relish. While the food was insanely amazing, it wasn't the only aspect Michele and I enjoyed.

Michele is already a learned cook, so cooking down mustard greens at her cooking station was no sweat for her. I, on the other hand, opted for the beginner class and assembled a bona fide New Orleans submarine sandwich.

And I must admit, I make a mean muffaletta. Emile was taken aback at my and three othersí overzealous portions of ham, salami, provolone cheese and olive salad, and while he flinched and widened his eyes in total shock, he never once scolded us for our lack of culinary skill.

As a cooking class neophyte, I walked into the course without any knowledge of how it would pan out. My main concern was not starting a fire and burning the university down, but my biggest fear was ruining everybody's Louisiana feast. Turns out, those fates did not come true!

I have a feeling not all cooking classes are this fun as thoughts of a curtly French culinarian cursing me in unintelligible French, catapulting pots and pans against the kitchen wall and spitting out my concoction with disgust and disapproval flutter through my head.

But Emile was kind to all of us, and I think he was actually proud of our efforts made at the catfish courtboullion, muffaletta, mustard greens and pain perdu stations. And from what Michele and I tasted, we did pretty darn well.

Michele and I are so grateful to have been invited to participate in the soul food cooking class. Although this cuisine is familiar to me, Emile introduced me to new dishes, such as tasso ham, which incidentally set my taste buds on fire. With gulps of water only amplifying the heat, I donít think Iíll put my mouth through that torture again, but at least I tried it.

But the andouille? Well, that was on a spice level I could appreciate and handle.

Michele and I couldnít have asked for a better instructor, or better company. The group of participants ranged from seasoned cooks that traveled from all over the Panhandle to college students seeking a new experience to WTAMU President Patrick OíBrien and his wife Karen supporting their friend, Emile.

Thank you, Emile, and to everyone involved with the cooking class! This one will go down in the cookbooks!



by Drew Belle Zerby

After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.