Learning the Langlois way
Clutching cocktails in plastic cups from Iggy’s Bar around the corner, Greg and Cathy Heitman climbed aboard stools at the gleaming stone counter at Langlois Culinary Crossroads for a dinner class.
Owner Amy Cyrex Sins, a Gonzales native, evolved the elegant hybrid cooking school/restaurant at 1710 Pauger St., New Orleans, out of the bones of a turn-of-the-century space that was most recently Dave’s Bar and before that Ferarra and Sons Italian Grocery.
As a gift, Greg Heitman organized for his wife of 27 years her first visit to New Orleans from their Boston home. Knowing she is a passionate cook, he sought out the opportunity for them to learn together to cook some of Louisiana’s iconic dishes. His Internet research led him to the Langlois website.
“I saw that Travel & Leisure magazine named it one of the ‘Top Cooking Schools in the World,’ but nothing about it said ‘tourist’ to me,” he said. “It seemed intimate and personal and I liked that. I had the feeling we would be learning the real deal. I think I was right.”
Chef-instructors Sins and Tess Connors spent the next three hours leading the Heitmans through a crash course in Louisiana history, customs, and cooking techniques with a level of casual banter and engagement that comes with a mastery of subject matter.
As she chopped ingredients for the mirepoix of carrots, celery and onion that is the basis for much traditional French cooking, Connors explained the history of Louisiana’s version, the Holy Trinity of bell pepper, celery and onion.
“We cook with the Holy Trinity — bell pepper, celery and onion — because carrots do not grow in the swamp, so the bell peppers introduced through trade with Spain took their place,” she said. “But when French women first arrived in the colony with their native cooking techniques and no idea what to do with the things they found here, they became pretty angry.”
Sins picked up the narrative: “They revolted by banging pots and pans on Gov. Jean-Baptiste de Bienville’s lawn.”
Bienville asked his French-Canadian housekeeper, Madame Langlois, to introduce the new arrivals to the local produce, game, spices and seafood, as well as the techniques she had learned for cooking them from local native tribes.
“Madame Langlois was the mother of Creole cuisine!” Sins said. “In teaching those women, she had the first cooking school in North America!”
The Heitmans, clearly charmed, spent the evening sipping the Champagne Sins poured for them, cooking in the kitchen, and enjoying the fruits of their labors as they were set before them.
The repast the Heitmans assisted in creating included Langlois Salad With Spiced Pecans & Cane Vinaigrette, Louisiana Cassoulet, Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding and Praline Pecan Bites.
“You guys are awesome!,” Greg said, watching Sins toss ground cinnamon into the flames atop a boozy, fire-lit dessert sauce. When the fragrant spice hit the flames, the dazzling effect was what one would expect of stardust. “We used to do that in Boy Scouts, only with cocoa powder in a campfire. Too cool!”
Sins was born to a family of proud cooks. She said she always found her greatest joy in the kitchen.
“Food has always been my passion,” she said. “I always wanted a career in food, but did not want to have a restaurant because I wanted to see people eat what I cooked. I wanted to witness their ‘ah-ha!’ moment, but you don’t get that if you are back in the kitchen cooking. So I kept on trying to figure it out.”
Sins spent 18 years in a sales career, first in pharmaceutical, later in technology.
In 2006, she published the “Ruby Slippers Cookbook: Life, Culture, Family and Food,” a cookbook and memoir she wrote after her family lost their cherished recipes in Hurricane Katrina.
The book won the International Gourmand Cookbook Award.
She traveled extensively after the book’s publication, taking cooking classes as she went. Her time abroad served to enlighten her to the rarity of what we have in Louisiana, she said.
“ That’s when I figured it out,” Sins said. “I knew I wanted to share our food and culture at home and educate people to share with others so I created Langlois,” naming it for the mother of Creole cuisine.
Opened in November 2012, Langlois Culinary Crossroads offers hands-on and demonstration classes in authentic Cajun and Creole cuisines as well as modern interpretations of popular dishes; culinary tours; and a retail store stocked with local products, a small selection of wine and spirits, and specialty cookware.
Brunch, lunch and dinner classes and a Friday afternoon cocktail and appetizer class are taught by appointment to groups ranging from two to 40.
For information about the classes, call (504) 934-1010 or go to langloisnola.com