New Orleans ‘Soul Food’ comes to WT campus



Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 3:06 pm

New Orleans chef Emile Stieffel was back in Canyon over the weekend for his third annual installment of “Buffs on the Bayou.”


Friends of West Texas A&M University president and Mrs. Pat O’Brien from their days at Loyola in New Orleans, this is the third summer Stieffel has come to Canyon to offer classes and a presidential dinner serving up his own style of New Orleans cooking.

In the 2010 version, the specialty was Cajun cuisine. Last year it was Creole, along with a history lesson to spell out the differences. This year’s installment of excellent food and New Orleans history served up New Orleans Soul Food.


With a map of New Orleans, lying low in the Mississippi delta between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain, Stieffel related a brief history of New Orleans back to the late 18th Century. With an influx of Irish settlers in the early 20th Century, the stage was set for Cajun and Creole cooking, built around the French and Acadian cooking to adapt to the poor Irish immigrants. Using inexpensive ingredients, the Po’ Boy was born.

The cooking class, with about 40 – 50 participants, began with previously prepared and sliced Po’ Boy sandwiches as an appetizer dish. The flavor held the distinctive influence of New Orleans cooking and began an afternoon of gastronomic delights whose only problem was the resultant overstuffed stomach.


Calling forth volunteers to help with the preparation, Stieffel reminded participants of the “holy trinity” of New Orleans cooking – bell peppers, celery and onions. He also called to mind that whenever a recipe called for “water,” it should be replaced with “stock.” That stock might be chicken, pork or seafood, depending on the desired dish.


Since the flavor of the day was Soul Food, the first taste was for catfish and what to do with the leftover catfish from a huge catfish fry. While one crew of class participants prepared the Creole sauce to bring flavor back to the day-old fried catfish, another crew was preparing Muffalattas and a third crew worked on the Smothered mustard and collard greens together with Andouille and Tasso topped with lump crabmeat.


As “soul food” prepared for the poorest residents of early 20th Century New Orleans, the plentiful availability of crab made the dish relatively inexpensive. The less prime cuts of meat often when into the original versions of the dishes.


Stieffel noted that catfish were often served with dill pickles, but he often flavored his catfish with dill mustard.


The class participant volunteers had “hands-on” experience with the ingredients, all of which should be measured, Stieffel said as he liberally added ingredients. Spicing his class with humor while spicing his food with exotic flavors from New Orleans, he noted that a chef should recognize the amounts of ingredients, but an experienced chef doesn’t necessarily have the need to use precise measurements.


The class ended with a sweet dessert called “Pain Perdu,” meaning Lost Bread or French Toast. It began as a way to reclaim stale bread for a delicious use. The end product, soaked in a rich concoction of heavy whipping cream, whole milk, eggs, sugar and butter, was given a treatment of dark molasses syrup and dusted with powdered sugar before serving.


All of these recipes, and others, are available at Stieffel’s website,


The cooking and eating continued through a Saturday evening reception and dinner at the president’s home followed by a Sunday brunch.


After three installments of New Orleans, one can only wonder what new culinary delights Stieffel will bring for next year’s treat.


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