Side Dish: Remembering Johnny Percle

Louisiana cooking lost a wonderful ambassador Sept. 10.

Our staff was saddened to learn of the passing of chef John Talbot Percle, 63, of Thibodaux, who was longtime executive chef at Nottoway Plantation Restaurant & Inn near White Castle until returning to his hometown after Hurricane Katrina.

Percle got his nickname, “Johnny Jambalaya,” from Dr. John in 1969. The pair remained friends, and Dr. John even recorded a jingle for airing on radio stations in the New Orleans area to encourage people to buy Percle’s herb dressing and marinade product.

Percle, president of the Lafourche Parish Tourist Commission, was always willing to help out the staff.

Tommy C. Simmons, retired food editor of The Advocate, recalled meeting Percle “when he was executive chef at Nottoway Plantation. He was proud of the team he had working with him at Nottoway and wanted to tell their culinary stories as well as promote Louisiana food and music. Humble, enthusiastic and talented — he was fun to interview and write about. He volunteered to be part of the Food Focus shows The Advocate sponsored and brought his band with him to sing along as he talked about cooking with soul; putting ‘soul in your bowl,’ was his term.

“He introduced a BLT soup to the Food Focus audience, which he claimed to have created as a special soup of the day to use salad bar leftovers,” she continued. “The soup was rich, creamy, delectable and I recall readers suggesting the soup be featured as a ‘Best of the Best’ recipe selection that year.

“I’m going to miss reading his Facebook posts and seeing what he and his musical friends were doing. I have no doubt his soul is in the right place.”

Columnist Corinne Cook said Percle “always made time to sit and talk with us about food. I fondly remember walking the grounds of Nottoway Plantation or sitting in the kitchen hearing his food and music stories.

“My most unforgettable memory was a night at Nottoway when Johnny was teaching Tommy Simmons and me to prepare Bananas Foster for a crowd,” she said.

“We almost set the dining room on fire when we lit the banana liqueur and rum for the dessert.”

Chef John Folse couldn’t believe it when he heard the sad news. “I was just with him last week at the Tourist Summit … ,” Folse told me. “He was always so excited to chat about food and travel. He was a great ambassador for our food and culture and will be missed. His enthusiasm was contagious for sure!”

Condolences to his family.

Advocate-tested recipe

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Soup

Serves 10 to 12. Recipe is by Johnny “Jambalaya” Percle.

3 13 lb. bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter

6 large tomatoes, cut into wedges

2 tbls. Pickapeppa Sauce

2 tbls. Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce

2 tbls. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning

1 (10.5-oz.) can cream of asparagus soup

1 qt. half-and-half

1 head lettuce, cut into 1-inch pieces

31. Cook bacon in large saucepan. Remove bacon before crisp and set aside.

2. Add butter to bacon drippings and tomato wedges. Add Pickapeppa, Worcestershire sauce and Tony’s seasoning. Simmer 30 minutes.

3. Blend in asparagus soup and simmer 10 minutes. Add half-and-half and heat through, but do not allow to boil. Add bacon back to soup. Serve in bowl over lettuce wedge.