By Terrance Porter
Chef Hardette Harris, most famous for creating the state official meal of North Louisiana in 2015, believes that cooking without beef or pork as much as we used to will change tradition. The founder of the UsUpNorth Restaurant and Food Tours offered vegetarian dishes on her pop-up Sunday dinner menus separate from her main menu. I can’t help but wonder what consisted of that vegetarian dish. Chef Tootie Morrison, of Earnestly Tootie’s Chef Services, formerly of Abby Singer’s Bistro, uses turkey meat instead of pork in her traditional Southern dishes, some are vegetarian altogether. I asked Chris Jay, Social Media & Public Relations Manager of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau, what he thought about a different take on North Louisiana food: “I do believe that healthy takes on traditional Louisiana food will become more common in the future. Louisiana does have some culinary traditions that are already optimized for healthy eaters. I think about the late, great Chef Leah Chase’s gumbo z’gerbes, for example. Many of the indigenous fruits and vegetables that grow best in our soil are extremely healthy, from collard greens and sweet potatoes to figs and blueberries.” Chef Tootie presents an idea of a missing element from this fantasy being a fruitful reality; we are missing education to know beef and pork are not permanent staples. “Most people cook that way because of their parent’s or parents’ cooking style. I do cooking demonstrations and tell people, trying something new won’t hurt you, it may just heal you…” Those are wise words from a culinary expert unafraid to experiment and adapt.
Pork and beef shouldn’t be abolished from all restaurants, but choices should be available for dietary reasons. I want to keep tradition and myself alive. Jay agrees; “Your inquiry gets at the heart of a matter that challenges all of Louisiana, not just North Louisiana: As popular tastes shift towards more health-conscious dining, will Louisiana follow suit? Visitors, after all, are often lured here by the state’s decadent, “forget the consequences” approach to food and drink (think beignets, boudin balls, frozen daiquiris, etc) Eating and drinking to excess has, historically, been apart of the draw of Louisiana, But I think there’s a middle ground that we will see more and more of. I don’t believe that healthy options will ever replace the kinds of decadent, deep-fried, butter-smothered Southern goodness that we specialize in, but I do believe you’ll increasingly see healthy takes on those dishes sharing menu pages with their less-healthy counterparts.” I can remember ten years ago when grilled options became rampant at several fast-food places. Food culture made a shift a decade ago and North Louisiana needs to move closer to the future instead of staying ten toes down in the past.