Ken Wells grew up in Bayou Black, Louisiana, fishing, wrangling snakes and eating his momma’s gumbo. His first writing gig was covering car wrecks and gator sightings for his hometown weekly before going on to a journalism career that included 24 years on The Wall Street Journal. In his spare time, he has penned five well-received novels of the Cajun bayous. Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou, is his third book of narrative nonfiction.
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Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou
A sprightly, deeply personal narrative about how gumbo―for 250 years a Cajun and Creole secret―has become one of the world’s most beloved dishes.
Ask any self-respecting Louisianan who makes the best gumbo and the answer is universal: “Momma.” The product of a melting pot of culinary influences, gumbo, in fact, reflects the diversity of the people who cooked it up: French aristocrats, West Africans in bondage, Cajun refugees, German settlers, Native Americans―all had a hand in the pot. What is it about gumbo that continues to delight and nourish so many? And what explains its spread around the world?
A seasoned journalist, Ken Wells sleuths out the answers. His obsession goes back to his childhood in the Cajun bastion of Bayou Black, where his French-speaking mother’s gumbo often began with a chicken chased down in the yard. Back then, gumbo was a humble soup little known beyond the boundaries of Louisiana. So when a homesick young Ken, at college in Missouri, realized there wasn’t a restaurant that could satisfy his gumbo cravings, he called his momma for the recipe. That phone-taught gumbo was a disaster. The second, cooked at his mother’s side, fueled a lifelong quest to explore gumbo’s roots and mysteries.
In Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou, Wells does just that. He spends time with octogenarian chefs who turn the lowly coot into gourmet gumbo; joins a team at a highly competitive gumbo contest; visits a factory that churns out gumbo by the ton; observes the gumbo-making rituals of an iconic New Orleans restaurant where high-end Creole cooking and Cajun cuisine first merged.
Gumbo Life, rendered in Wells’ affable prose, makes clear that gumbo is more than simply a delicious dish: it’s an attitude, a way of seeing the world. For all who read its pages, this is a tasty culinary memoir―to be enjoyed and shared like a simmering pot of gumbo.
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