By Terrance Porter
Before the Louisiana Food Prize hosts its annual live cook-off, Battle of the Golden Fork, this fall, I spoke with its chef liaison, Melissa Brannan, founder of the personal chef service, Now You’re Cooking, about encouraging chefs to be creative. “I guess at the end of the day, I’m a big believer in celebrating tradition and the original dish, but at the same time, giving room for creativity and the dish to evolve. You will always have nay-sayers and resistance, but I think there are definitely chefs in the area who would be open and interested. And if you look back, there even is a tradition for some of these dishes. For instance, the gumbo z’herbes, which was a meatless gumbo made with greens that Catholics ate during lent. And I’ve certainly seen turkey gumbo on menus… I would make the argument that this is another reason to support local small businesses. I think it would be difficult for a customer to get much traction with a larger national chain. And I’m not sure it’s necessarily an either/or situation, but more making the ask for healthier options. And when those options are available, supporting them. At the end of the day, these are businesses, and if there is no demand, there is very little incentive for restaurants to eat the cost and labor of dishes that aren’t selling.” We have the ingredients and willingness, all we’re missing is the call for action.
The final reason why we’ve seen an overall stagnant response to healthier options in our local restaurants is the lack of demand. Jay, the co-host of the ‘All Y’all Podcast,’ a live storytelling event series based on tales from the Deep South, explains what is needed to be done, “Ultimately, I think the best thing that folks can do is let restaurants know that there’s demand for vegan and vegetarian options in Shreveport-Bossier. Talk to your server about it. Ask to speak to the manager about it. Send messages to the social media pages of businesses that you’d like to see offer a vegan option. If restaurants get the sense that there’s an increasing demand for vegan menu items, I believe that’ll move the needle, I really do, they just have to hear it from more than one person-they need to see evidence that there is widespread consumer demand for vegan options locally. Increasingly, people want those options. Restaurants will have to learn to offer them or face unhappy customers, I believe.” North Louisiana, it is time for us to start cooking with different meats and ask for our favorite local restaurants to add varieties and healthier options to their menus. Tradition and/or innovation, whether it is me asking my oldest sister to make Dad’s gumbo recipe with turkey sausage or leaving a comment on my cousin, Reath-Ann Jefferson-Blake’s Facebook page for her food truck, Girline’s Home Cooking, to see if the dirty rice is made with ground turkey, it all starts at home to keep traditions alive and better for the next generation.