City gumbo for country folks

Toya Boudy dishes on her new book

Photo by Karolina Grabowska
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
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New Orleans native Toya Boudy is a chef, cooking instructor, and cookbook author. Her latest book, “Cooking for the Culture,” features recipes and personal stories, from struggling in school to having a baby at sixteen, growing confidence in the kitchen, and competing on “Food Network Star.”

“This book isn’t just a cookbook. I didn’t do it just for the recipes. I took meticulous time planning and revealing certain things about myself and my journey. I wanted people who didn’t even want to cook to be like, ‘Damn, I’m glad I got that book,” Boudy said.

Do you have any favorite food memories, or a moment that you knew you wanted to be a chef?

I think it felt like this is what I want to do with my life when I started teaching cooking classes and talking about the history of food. The history of gumbo and how it started with okra, and how people now travel from all over the world to taste this meal. It’s really just a history lesson about struggle, pain, the one thing they can get right that day, or could have control over that day as slaves. Before that I was kind of angry with my journey with food, because I was acting and felt like I was gonna be trapped in a kitchen.

Cooking wasn’t a gift until I noticed it was. Food was just kind of a way of life in our household growing up. I never thought once about being a chef.

I had no thoughts about doing a cookbook either, but then I went to “Food Network Star” and got eliminated. Immediately when I got home, even through the funk of being sad, I told my husband, ‘I wanna do a cookbook and I want to put it out before the show airs.’ That was three months, and we did it. I wanted to put out the very first interactive New Orleanian cookbook. [Boudy’s first book, “Cook Like a New Orleanian,” includes links to video tutorials, like how to shuck an oyster.]

What is it about Louisiana’s food scene that you love?

New Orleans is its own world. Because of the port and the types of people who come through. It’s like city versus country. New Orleans food makes you understand the term soul food. You say it freely, but when you see the way people cook it’s almost like a worship, or religious experience with cooking here. People take it so seriously.

Anything you think people get wrong about it?

I think people think we eat those staple foods every week. There’s no way you can live long and eat some of this food. This is like holiday food. At Thanksgiving we eat certain foods, Christmas, Easter…. I have crawfish in my freezer right now so I can make crawfish bisque with the stuffed heads, but that’s only for Easter.

Photo by Dinielle De Veyra

I saw an interview with Jamie Foxx when he was filming something down here. He said, ‘Can we get something that’s not fried?’ I’m like, ‘Man, who is taking you around? Who is taking you to only these spots?’ We have a plethora of different cultures, different foods. So many things are healthy, good quality. You need not just a Cajun/Creole guide. People need to seek out someone actually from New Orleans.

If you were hosting a dinner party, what would you cook and who would you invite?

I just hosted one for my birthday and it was the first time I ever had something in the house. I turned my living room into a pop-up and cooked my favorite meals: red beans and rice, fried chicken, and gumbo with grilled cheese. At public school in New Orleans, we eat gumbo and grilled cheese. I would invite people I feel safe with. My inner tribe, the people I don’t mind sharing my wins with.

If you have visitors in town, where do you take them?

Neyow’s. I like that place a lot. We even took our mama there for Mother’s Day. My mama can cook somebody under the table, so if you’re taking her to eat New Orleans food, in public…. That’s how good it is. The New Orleans original beignet place. The one right next to Cafe du Monde, under the same color green-and-white awning. If you’re in town, go to that one. They do puff pastry beignets.

Is there a kitchen tool you can’t live without?

A whisk. You can make a perfect roux with a whisk and get lumps out of anything with a whisk. There’s so much you can do that saves you at different times.

Photo by Castorly Stock

Let’s talk gumbo. Any rules? Thoughts?  

I think what people forget––and I get it, because not everyone knows the full history, they just know their family or the area they live in, and that’s all subjective because it’s actually a struggle meal, from scratch––BUT, and this is my one but: do not call it New Orleanian style gumbo if it’s not. Locals do not put giant snow crab legs, whole crawfish in their gumbo. That’s the craziest thing. A whole crawfish? So wait, I got a meal that came to the table with a spoon, because I didn’t want to eat the crawfish? You can still make that food look good [without that.]  If it has that it’s not a New Orleanian gumbo, but people do that often.

Everybody else got their own type of gumbo, but ours is different. I did a competition in an outskirt area. All the locals would come taste our gumbo and they would say, ‘Man.’ Because city people have different things they do. It’s more blended, more refined layering. I put shrimp crawfish boil seasoning in my gumbo, to give it a boil flavor, like a back note.

Go-to hot sauce?

Louisiana

Do you have a favorite recipe from your new book?

Eggs and rice, because that’s one of the main recipes New Orleanians talk about when they see me. They feel seen because that was like a hood classic. You got eggs, rice, a little butter, salt, pepper. My family now, obviously we’re in a position where we can afford different things, but anytime, if I throw out eggs and rice, the pan’s gonna be gone.

Toya Boudy’s Eggs and Rice

Yield: 3 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons salted butter, more if needed

¼ cup chopped green onions

4 eggs

1 tablespoon milk

4 cups cooked rice

Salt and pepper to taste

Cajun or Creole seasoning (optional)

Instructions

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet and add the green onions. Sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and milk in a bowl. Add to the butter and onions in the skillet and begin to scramble.

Halfway through being done, add the rice and begin to scramble them all together until the eggs are fully cooked. This should take 6 to 7 minutes to make sure the rest of the egg is cooked and the rice is fully heated.

Season to taste with salt and pepper or Cajun seasoning, if using. You can also add extra butter if you like at the end; that’s fine too! Serve and enjoy!

Follow Toya on Instagram and purchase her book here.

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