Writer Aimee Brown is traveling along the Gulf Coast and reporting on the effects of the oil spill and its recovery. Last week she shared her love affair with gumbo. Today she sees how the delicious dish is made. This is her seventh post in the series; read her other posts here.
Debbie Duplantis stands over a single element stove in the back kitchen of the Bon Creole Lunch Counter wielding a spoon like a scepter. On the burner is a burbling pot of dark, mud-brown seafood gumbo.
We’d been in Bon Creole for dinner two nights before, and while Justin had feasted on a shrimp and oyster po’boy, I had opted for the gumbo. The meal was quick to eat, but for hours after we left the soup’s flavor and scent haunted me. I called the restaurant the next day to ask if we could come back and learn how it was made.
Duplantis, 47, has been making the gumbo at Bon Creole Lunch Counter for more than a decade. In her eyes, there’s no secret to the dish.
She just takes really good, locally caught, super fresh seafood, a dark roux, onion, bell pepper, a little celery and spices, and cooks them together. It’s simple, or it has been for the 13 years she’s been making it.
Bon Creole depends heavily on Gulf caught seafood supplied by local fishermen, many of whom port just down the road in Delcambre, La. When the oil began rushing into the Gulf many fishing grounds and fisheries were closed.
“We stocked up as soon as the oil spill hit,”
said Duplantis, talking about the shrimp that is an integral part of the gumbo and po’boys. “We started putting it up in cold storage.”
The small restaurant had received its last shipment of fresh oysters the morning before, and while we were in talking with the employees, owner Randy Montegut walked in the back door and headed straight to the phone. He was talking with different suppliers and canneries, trying to get a line on shrimp.
“My father-in-law will not sacrifice consistency and quality for price,” said Adele Montegut. “We’re not raising the prices on the menu and we’re not going to sacrifice our standards because somebody dropped the ball.”
When the restaurant doors open for lunch at 11 a.m. there’s already a line of people waiting. Most order the plate lunch – today it’s spaghetti – but a few go in for the gumbo or a sandwich.
“We see the same people every day,” said Adele Montegut. “It’s not because the food is cheap. It’s because it’s good.”
As I watch the hungry diners fall to their lunches one after another I can’t help but agree.
Bon Creole Lunch Counter, 1409 E Saint Peter St., New Iberia, LA 70560; +1 337 367-6181
Photos: Justin Bailie