A powerful crawfish connection binds one Louisiana family together like a rich roux. The recent 2014 Suane Family Crawfish Bisque Cook-off in Baker proved that a cooking tradition and mud bugs are a heritage that can’t be beaten.
Descendents of Victor and Ida Suane and their six children, all of New Orleans, compete to win the title of “best cook,” and a door prize or two. Taking part in the cook-off and multigenerational gathering are the McKenna, Davis, Rose, Suane, Ferrier and Harrell families.
“When we all get together, there are about 60 people,” said Elren Davis Waddell, who was host for the event at her Baker home.
Co-hosts were her brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Marian Davis, also of Baker. Honored guests were Janet Harrell, the last living child of the Suanes, and her husband, Calvin Harrell, of Benecia, California.
“We are all originally from New Orleans,” Waddell said. “We grew up in the Seventh Ward. I’m a Katrina transplant. The move gave my brother and me a chance to increase our personal bond, and we’ve grown more close. We both have a love of cooking.”
Waddell explained that she was the only girl with five brothers. Their mother, Elvina Davis, taught all of them to cook and sew.
“It was a rule of the house,” she said. “And we have always been competitive.”
The first crawfish bisque cook-off took place last year when their brother Warren, who lives in Houston, was recuperating from an illness.
“We cooked everything here in Baker, put it in big pots and took it to Houston.”
The family loved being together, so they decided to continue with an annual crawfish bisque cook-off.
“Our family has strong traditions, and we’re tied together through the generations,” Waddell said.
There are only two special requirements to participate in the cook-off. Each cook must prepare a minimum of 80 stuffed crawfish heads, and they must use only Louisiana crawfish. Starting with basic ingredients, each cook has developed his/her own subtle use of spices and cooking techniques.
Waddell says her recipe is a combination of love and history.
“I make the traditional crawfish bisque with a red gravy made like my mother’s,” she said.
She calls her brother William Davis the “herb master” because he uses more herbs. Brother Daniel Davis is the “grill master” because he grills the crawfish heads. Cousin Ernest Ferrier, the “spice master,” adds more spice and simmers his bisque in a big Dutch oven.
Serving as this year’s judges were Ennix Smith, Anthony Hall and Jonathan Wilson, all nephews-in-law. They based their decisions on “texture, taste and spice.” Declared this year’s winners were Daniel Davis, first; Elren Waddell, second; and William Davis, third. In truth, all thick, luscious bisques were delicious. The differences in taste were subtle, none overpowered by peppery spices. All spiced to perfection.
The rich crawfish dish is spooned over a generous helping of fluffy rice. It’s served with another family favorite, New Orleans 7th Ward Potato Salad.
The salad is a luscious combination of cooked Idaho or red potatoes, dill relish, celery, parsley, bell pepper and green onion seasoned with Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning Morton Nature’s Seasoning and tossed with Blue Plate Sandwich Spread and Blue Plate Mayonnaise.
Elren said, “This year, I made 13 pounds of potato salad and 13 pounds of rice.”
As an added treat, the family serves pralines. Sharing their recipes with each other and with friends is all part of the fun and continuing family traditions.
The winning ribbons were handed out, and then everyone lined up in the kitchen to pick up their plates and join in the outdoor picnic on the lawn.
To commemorate this year’s cook-off, Waddell also made a memory trellis for the garden adorned with ribbons containing names of deceased family members.