“Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking” by Isaac Toups and Jennifer V. Cole; Little, Brown and Company; 240 pages; hardcover; $35
Award-winning New Orleans chef Isaac Toups describes himself as “100 percent Cajun, born and braised.” Now, in a colorful cookbook co-written with journalist Jennifer V. Cole, Toups shares his experiences growing up in the Cajun culture of Acadia Parish.
Cajuns “cook from the land,” taking whatever is available and working with it, Toups says in the book’s introduction. He notes that Cajuns have been borrowing ingredients and culinary techniques from their French, Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, Vietnamese and Creole neighbors for 300 years.
“Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking” isn’t a history of old-school Cajun food, Toups says, but the “story of a young wild Cajun and the experiences that made me the cook I am today.” (He began working at Emeril’s Delmonico in 2001, and he and his wife, Amanda, have opened two restaurants in New Orleans since 2012.)
The cookbook reflects his Prairie Cajun and Coastal Cajun heritage — his mom is from Oakdale, where residents raised pigs, hunted and grew rice, while his dad’s family was from Thibodaux, where seafood was a mainstay of the diet. The book’s 100 or so recipes are divided by how his Cajun family eats: The Boucherie, The Community Table, The Homestead, The Fish Camp, and The Hunt Camp plus a first chapter called Cajun 101 that provides information on ingredients, how to make roux and stocks, and preparing basics like rice, crawfish boil spice and mayonnaise. There are recipes for boudin, cochon de lait, Toups’ grandmother’s seafood stew which he calls a “couvillion,” lacquered collards, chicken liver mousse, tarte à la bouille, Southern Comfort peach jam and smoked turkey legs.
This fun-to-read — with a bit of gratuitous profanity — cookbook captures Toups’ personality and Cajun heritage. Its chapters open with Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes, there are side notes on Cajun games and stories about Toups’ upbringing. It is illustrated with terrific full-color photographs by Denny Culbert.
If you don’t want to prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving, you might want to try Toups’ recipe for roast duck.
Cheramie Sonnier is a food writer and columnist. Contact her at email@example.com, and follow her on Twitter, @CheramieSonnier.