Some enterprising culinary entrepreneurs are spreading awareness one gourmet meal at a time.
The rapidly evolving slow foods scene in Acadiana just developed a new niche: Local foods leaders are beginning to showcase how locally grown foods can be prepared, with Lafayette business owners offering special gourmet dinners that use local foods as the main ingredients. Among the people on the forefront of this movement are Paul Ayo, Jonathan Kastner, and Denny and Katie Culbert.
"I have been looking for a way to connect more people to the [local foods scene]; then Paul Ayo asked me to do the Chef's Choice
Dinner," says Kastner, executive chef and owner of EAT Food Coaching Services. "I [used] the dinner as an opportunity to use all locally sourced ingredients in ways that many people may have never seen or tasted. The idea is to create a heightened level of curiosity of what food can be."
Photos by Lucius A. Fontenot
Paul Ayo, left, and Jonathan Kastner lead a demonstration at E's Kitchen.
With the start of the Chef's Choice Dinner, Ayo, owner of E's Kitchen, joined the ranks of Denny and Katie Culbert's Runaway Dish dinner in offering multi-course dining experiences, which allow top chefs such as Kastner, Marc Krampe and Justin Girouard to create menus that highlight the bounty of locally grown and raised foods in Acadiana.
"This past October, [we] went to Oxford, Miss., for the Southern Foodways Alliance's annual symposium," says Katie Culbert, co-owner of Kiki. "The SFA is an amazing organization rooted in preserving Southern food culture. [At the symposium] I had the most memorable meal of my life: a sit-down, 10-course lunch for 400 people, all vegetable dishes passed around family style, in an art gallery. We got back from Oxford and I was like, I want to do that!' Then we started meeting with Krampe and Justin and Margaret Girouard, and Runaway Dish was born."
For both the Chef's Choice Dinner and Runaway Dish, Kastner along with Krampe and Girouard sourced ingredients such as Brookshire Farm beef, Isle Navarre Farms lamb, Bread and Circus Provisions' 15-month cured ham, Mary Mary Markets' edible flowers, Louisiana Gulf of Mexico oysters, Gotreaux Family Farms vegetables and eggs, and many more.
Using locally produced ingredients not only educates patrons on the diverse options we have in Acadiana but also provides insight on how to cook locally grown foods. Brian Gotreaux, owner of Gotreaux Family Farms, adds that "chefs incorporating local food into their menu options bolsters community connectivity." Connectivity is a common theme in the local foods movement, as the dinners feature local farms, which is good for the farmers and ultimately good for the community and environment.
In addition to providing a unique culinary experience and supporting local farmers, all of the profits for each Runaway Dish event go to charity. Not only do attendees get to take pride in the culinary delights they are served and the local farms they are supporting, but they also support local charities with their dinner ticket purchases. The first dinner benefited Louisiana Folk Roots.
"Folk Roots seemed like a good fit for the first one since the dinner took place on the Tuesday before Festival International. Next up, the Children's Museum in August and the Southern Screen Film Festival in November," says Katie. "Our mission is to give to very localized, maybe under-served charities or non-profits in the area where $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 can really make a difference and you can see directly where the money is going."
Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist and president of Acadiana Food Circle (www.AcadianaFoodCircle.org), a community-based nonprofit that connects local food producers to consumers.