The first thing you notice about Lili Courtney is her genuine smile. Then you'll quickly see her passion for food.
A culinary instructor, Courtney hosts cooking classes in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Covington, and with more than 25 years of cooking experience, she knows her way around the kitchen. Courtney loves to pass on that knowledge to others.
Originally from Alexandria, Courtney spent her 20s in New Orleans before moving back to her hometown, where she started teaching cooking classes. In 2013, she started a salad dressing company, Delightful Palate — earning her the nickname "Queen of Condiments" — and manufactured the product at the LSU food incubator.
Opportunities to teach began to come up in 2017, when chef Anne Milneck, the owner of Red Stick Spice Company, started to offer cooking classes and approached Courtney about leading lessons. About the same time, Melissa Marley, owner of Simplee Gourmet in Covington, opened a specialty kitchen store in New Orleans and asked Courtney to teach a series of classes there. Courtney also leads a small group class at her home, which she calls "In the Neighborhood."
In this new edition of Let’s Dish, we asked the “Queen of Condiments” a few questions about her background, starting her business and tips for pursing a career in the culinary world. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where did your passion for cooking come from?
My passion for cooking started with my Daddy. There were eight children in our family and that was a lot of mouths to feed. After Sunday morning mass, my parents would get in the small kitchen at our home and fill a 12-inch skillet with enough water to poach eggs for 10 people for eggs Benedict and stir up a pitcher of milk punch made with ice cream.
Can you tell us more about how you grew into your role?
I lived in New Orleans in my 20s and took cooking classes from Lee Barnes, who had studied in France at Le Cordon Bleu, one of the world's most distinguished centers of culinary education. When she returned to New Orleans, she opened up her own cooking school on Maple Street. When I moved back to Alexandria, I joined a friend, who was already teaching cooking classes at her home, and then continued teaching cooking classes for the next 20 years.
What does the term "chef" mean to you?
Becoming a chef involves several years of studying and internships. I believe that it is a title you should not banter about lightly, so that’s why I call myself a “culinary instructor.”
What was the hardest part of starting your food business?
The different parts of how a food business works: finding sources for ingredients, inventory, labor, financing and product distribution.
What advice would you give others pursuing a culinary career?
A few things: As there are so many different avenues for a culinary career, find your niche. Things will be difficult, so work very hard to maintain a positive, “get it done” attitude.
What do you have coming up in 2019?
I have started a new website, kitchenconfidencewithlili.com, where I post my cooking classes and recipes. I have also started the “Food Farm Cooking Tours” with Anne Milneck through Red Stick Spice in Baton Rouge. These are daylong food and farm adventures that end with a cooking class. You hop onboard our chartered van and we take you on a tour of the best farms and food artisans in Baton Rouge.
If you can eat one Baton Rouge dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
The Cajun brisket sandwich at City Pork, because it is juicy and delicious.