Usually, when a restaurant is dubbed “Mom’s Cooking,” or in our Francophone case, "La Cusine de Maman," the standard advice is run, run, in the opposite direction. No home cooking there. It took an act of desperation — too much Jameson’s Irish whiskey on an empty stomach — to nudge me into buying a bowl of gumbo at the last Louisiana Crossroads concert held at Vermilionville. I spooned in a mouthful and did a culinary double take.
“Who made this gumbo?” I asked. “We make it here,” said a cheery round-cheeked woman who was serving bowls of the dark brown stuff. “At Vermilionville?” I think I responded. “But it’s good.”
Attempting to make amends for my rude faux pas, I slurped down another spoonful. That sip was better than the first. It was so good, I made my buddy, chef Pat Mould, take a taste. “Where’d you get that?” he asked, eyes wide. I just pointed, slunk off and downed the rest in a dark corner. And then had to admit to myself I had eaten the best bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo in town, brewed in the kitchens of Vermilionville’s restaurant, La Cusine de Maman. Talk about eating crow, er chicken.
A day later, I called Vermilionville’s Food and Beverage Operations Coordinator, Debbie Angelle, to confess and to ask for a recipe. Angelle peeled with laughter, she remembered my astonishment from the night before, and invited me to meet the cook, her dear friend and colleague Connie Landry.
Angelle and Landry are quite a team. Both born in the Cecilia area, they each found their way into cooking through their mothers and grandmothers, women who worked without recipes, who cooked by intuition, experience and taste.
Angelle started her culinary odyssey at Pat’s Riverside Inn in Henderson, then did a stint at Mulate’s before she wound up as manager at Miss Helen’s in Scott. Landry was a prep cook at Lafayette General, moved into “pot cooking when they saw what I could do,” and then left for the Acadiana Catfish Shack before she too entered the kitchen at Miss Helen’s. The year was 1995. Angelle and Landry recognized a culinary soulmate in the other and began to build a repertoire based on a shared view of how good food comes about.
“We were always taught never to cook with recipes,” says Angelle, of her growing up. “Cooking is an art. Any menu that I put together — she can execute it without a recipe, she has that true cooking touch.”
“If I’m cooking gumbo,” adds Landry, “I know the flavor I’m looking for. I do it by taste. They say ‘why are you so small?’ cause I taste my food so much.”
Angelle decided to hone Landry’s talent by entering cooking competitions. “The first time I entered a cook-off,” says Landry, “I came in third. I came home and cried.” Angelle kept after her, and in subsequent years they started winning the New Iberia Gumbo Cookoff in the professional category. Chicken and sausage one year, seafood the next.
“When they’d see me get out the truck in New Iberia, them chefs would throw their aprons down. They’d know they weren’t going to win that year,” laughs Landry. They challenged themselves, upped the ante, and a few years later swept both first place categories. Then they entered the Eunice Crawfish Etouffee Cookoff and beat renowned chef James Graham with their first place dish.
Eventually, both women moved on from Miss Helen’s. They worked together at the Catfish Shack, then Angelle left to manage River Oaks Catering and Landry manned the pots at Shiney D’s. Last year, Angelle landed a job at Vermilionville, Landry called her friend looking for work, and the team was back together again.
Angelle revamped the entire menu, Landry executed it.
As to be expected in mama’s kitchen, Cajun comfort food reigns. Etouffee, macquechoux, jambalaya, rice dressing, red beans and rice, fried seafood, poboys, bread pudding (Miss Helen Burch’s recipe), and gateau sirop abound. That extraordinary gumbo bubbles on up on the menu every day but Monday, when the restaurant is closed.
Aside from the great food, Vermilionville may have the most beautiful dining room in Acadiana. The back, glassed-in porch, overlooks the Vermilion river and a garden of native plants, which are in full flower right now. We locals tend to overlook what’s right under our noses, mistaking Vermilionville as an attraction only for tourists. But think again. What is richest and best about our Acadiana culture — the language, the historic architecture, the crafts, the native plant lore and of course our cooking tradition are being practised daily right there, in the middle of town.
There’s no admission charge if you’re headed to the restaurant, though it’s well worth taking a postprandial stroll through the village. You’ll get a good dose of heritage and culture under the spring sunshine. You’ll get more than you bargained for in visiting Vermilionville except for one thing — the chicken and sausage gumbo recipe. That’s not because Angelle and Landry are loathe to share. It’s just that there isn’t one.
Vermilionville’s La Cuisine de Maman is located within the property at 300 Fisher Rd., Lafayette. Restaurant hours are Tues-Friday, 11 a.m.- 2 p.m., Sat-Sun, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, check out the Web site, or call 233-4077.
WaPo Watergate editor Ben Bradlee dies; Clintons stump for Dems; Liberians stranded and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 22, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Law firm unveils newly renovated 200-year-old building.
UL grad named web developer at BBR Creative
Lafayette-based emergency department staffing and management company raises $120 million in senior credit facilities through GE Capital, Healthcare Financial Services.
High-rise apartment building, parking garage, hotel and retail part of new development.
A common thread runs through many of those we oppose: Enshrining in the Constitution protections on programs and their funding sources has had a disastrous effect on Louisiana’s most important economic development engine.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
The number of Louisianans with jobs continued to set records in September, but the state's unemployment rate kept rising as new job seekers keep entering the market.
Three bedroom cottage or three bedroom ranch
Sheer lace perfection
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Louisiana is drowning, quickly.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
Three bedroom in Lawtell or two bedroom in Rayne
Fall's new darling
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
An investment group led by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets will buy the Louisiana power company Cleco for $3.4 billion.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
"I feel it is appropriate to speak up when there are topics that are being bandied about with little or no factual data to back them."
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.