Celebrity sightings are pretty common in the Red Stick. You see, we have a fairly large movie studio here in town so the celebs come and go with some regularity. But I don’t really get very excited about seeing them around town. Patrick Dempsey in Whole Foods? Yawn. Tom Cruise with Katie and Suri (pre-split) in a local brunch place? Snore. Ashley Greene and whichever Jonas she was dating at the time having dinner at California Pizza Kitchen? Boring! But when I see a celebrity chef, I have to say I can get a little verklempt.
Such was the case a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to attend a cooking demonstration by the one and only Marcelle Bienvenu. If you don’t know who Marcelle Bienvenu is, you really should. In addition to being just about the most engaging, endearing and down-to-earth woman you’d ever want to meet, she is also an extremely prolific author and the Queen of Cajun cooking. She has written numerous cookbooks, both alone (Who’s your Mama, Are you Catholic and Can you Make a Roux?, Cajun Cooking For Beginners and the latest, No Baloney On My Boat!) with Emeril, Eula Mae Dore, and several others.
On the day that I met her, Marcelle had just been to the Red Stick Farmer’s Market that morning. Because the corn was just starting to come in and the creole tomatoes were beginning to get good, she decided she would make maque choux. She explained that it means “false cabbage” and that it was more likely than not a derivation of a Native American indian dish. Did I mention she’s also a food historian?
If I know anything about Cajun cooking, it’s that they use what they have on hand. So that’s what I did here. Marcelle’s recipe calls for fresh corn (check), onions (check), tomatoes (check) and a bell pepper (whoops!). But I did have several jalapeños on hand and hey, they’re peppers. I just cut back a tad on the cayenne.
Marcelle Bienvenu’s Maque Choux
- 12 ears of cleaned fresh corn
- 3 Tble vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 3/4 cup chopped bell peppers
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp sugar, or to taste
- salt and cayenne pepper to taste
With a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cob and scrape to remove some of the tender pulp and the milk. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil, then add the rest of the ingredients. When the mixture begins to boil gently, reduce to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes or until the mixture is creamy.
The above picture is of the maque choux Marcelle made at the demonstration. It was sweet, creamy and delicious. In addition to making the maque choux, she gave us a few tips about various things. She suggested that when slicing the kernels from the cob to place the stalk end of the cob into the hole of a Bundt pan and use the pan to catch the kernels as they fall. It’s still a messy job that should be done outside, but it does make it easier. Secondly, she said that she saves and freezes her naked cobs to make corn stock at a later date. She said that the corn stock was perfect for a corn-based soup. Mind blown. Why had I not thought of this before? I guess it all goes back to that cajon philosophy of using all of what you have. She also told a lot of really funny stories. She mentioned that she has a sister who cannot cook at all and it’s sort of a running family joke that she uses condensed Cream of Mushroom soup in everything. She also told a story about her niece who was living in Hawaii at the time and tried to make a roux in a wok. Upon further investigation by Marcelle, she also found out it was to be a tofu gumbo that her niece wanted to serve to her friends. Some things are better left unmade. In the end, she was lovely, entertaining, knowledgeable and enchanting. It was a really nice day.