WTAMU

Canyon News, Sunday Paper Lead Article

Canyon, Texas

By: James Barrington

Sunday, July 24, 2011

NOW, this is cool!

There’s Cajun, and then there’s Creole. Chef Emile Stieffel of New Orleans, is making a tradition of an annual pilgrimage to Canyon to share his knowledge of both styles of cooking.

A long-time friend of West Texas A&M University President J. Patrick O’Brien and his wife, Karen, it was Karen who hosted the Creole cooking class for about 50 budding chefs from college aged on up to “seasoned” veterans of the culinary arts. She told The Canyon News, “While Pat was at Loyola, we met Emile’s first wife, who also worked there. Through her, we met Emile. We hired his catering business on several occasions and became good friends. Now, when we visit, Emile and Pat have ‘gourmet golf’ outings where Emile brings food and they eat while golfing.” When questioned, she confessed that such outings are probably more about the food than the golf.

Jambalaya Cooking StationBefore the crowd gathered, four tables had been prepared with four workstations each, containing all the ingredients for the table’s featured dish. Recipe sheets for the menu items were prepared for the participants, who filled the 16 workstations with volunteers from the crowd. One table prepared “Creole shrimp, sausage and chicken jambalaya.” That was complemented by a second table preparing a “Remoulade sauce” that was partially served with chilled jumbo shrimp, with the remainder of the sauce going into the jambalaya as it boiled like a witch’s brew in a large pot over a propane fire. The third table was where four chefs in training prepared “Crawfish etouffee,” and the final table provided the dessert, a “Mostly Traditional Bananas Foster,” complete with flaming rum and served over ice cream.

With recipes in hand and step by step instructions being given by Chef Stieffel, the class participants who were not actively engaged in the actual preparation were encouraged to move around and get a close look at how each dish looked during the different stages of preparation.

All the while, Stieffel was giving a running dialogue with audience members about the differences between Cajun cooking, that he had presented during his visit last year, and Creole cooking, the subject of this year’s workshop.

During the short history lesson, Stieffel told of the Cajuns brought from France, but rejected by the English, who ruled the colonies in the 18th century. Over a period of years and numerous hardships, including losing two of the seven ships that originally took them away, they eventually worked their way down the east coast to Georgia and then across to French-controlled Louisiana. The Cajuns settled outside the cities in the rural areas to avoid persecution from the native “Creoles,” – a Spanish term that meant “born here.” They were proud to be “from here,” not from “the old country.”

Because the Cajuns lived primarily in the rural areas, their diet was rich in pork, because pork could be smoked, salted and preserved. The Creoles, living in the cities, had easy access to fresh seafood and markets that could easily dispose of a beef carcass in a day, eliminating the need for preservative measures.

According to Stieffel, the city-dwelling Creoles also had the advantage of beautiful gardens located in shady courtyards where they were able to grow a variety of herbs and vegetables that could not stand the harsh sunlight in the rural fields. Therefore, the Creole cooking became more complex, including herbs, spices and even cream.

Because of plentiful salt domes and salt water, the Creoles would add vinegar and spices and make hot sauces. “Not all were hot,” Stieffel said, “but they all had distinctive flavors.”

While waiting for the shrimp, the last ingredient added to the Jambalaya, to cook in the residual heat of the boiling mixture that had already cooked the rice in a sealed pot, Stieffel explained how he had prepared to be a chef.

“I was a mechanical engineer,” he said. “In 1975 I graduated from New Orleans University. I built the space shuttle gantry and figured out how to disassemble it and move it to Florida.” Stieffel later went on to work on the energy management systems for the Superdome before opening his own company for about five year. “Then I went into Cajun cooking,” he said.

It began as a hobby with much trial and error looking for the right combination of ingredients, but as he worked on it, people began to ask him to cater for them. So, enjoying being a Cajun chef more than being a mechanical engineer, he began a catering business. “I don’t have a restaurant,” he said. “All my work is strictly catering.”

Activities were scheduled through the end of the week, culminating in a brunch today from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Through his friendship with the O’Brien’s, Stieffel’s annual pilgrimage to Canyon and the campus of WTAMU holds the continuing promise of delicious Louisiana cooking.

Mr. James Barrington of the Canyon News graciously allowed me to use these pics!  He took them with a slightly wide angle lens, that technique really shows the groups of people well. Check out his website at www.BarringtonArtOriginals.com

 

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