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The two Louisiana styles of cooking go head to head in both homes and restaurants.
Story by Erin Z. Bass
In Louisiana, Creole and Cajun food often get blended together, but the old timers will tell you they are not the same at all. First, they come from two different regions of the state and, second, they include different ingredients. The main distinction between the two is that Creole food has tomatoes and Cajun doesn’t, but of course it’s a bit more complicated than that.
As Chef and TV personality Jay Ducote explains on Louisiana Travel, “a vastly simplified way to describe the two cuisines is to deem Creole cuisine as ‘city food’ while Cajun cuisine is often referred to as ‘country food.’”
This “city food” hails mainly from New Orleans, where Creoles were the descendants of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city in the 18th century. Today, Creole food is a mix of Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American and Portuguese cuisines. Spices from these various regions flavor creamy soups and sauces, like remoulade and meunière. New Orleans Chef Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for remoulade sauce contains Creole mustard, horseradish, lemon juice and ketchup. Cajuns use a version of remoulade as a dipping sauce for boiled crawfish, but otherwise these Creole-type sauces don’t factor into Cajun food.
Photo Credit: LA Gourmetreise_Antoines
Creoles had more access to exotic ingredients, like tomatoes, butter and cream, while Cajuns made do with basic staples. Roux as the basis for gumbo and stew consists of just oil and flour, ingredients Cajuns had on hand, in addition to the water or stock, crawfish, rice and peppers that were plentiful. Tomatoes are often found in Creole gumbo, along with okra, items that Cajuns wouldn’t be caught dead putting in their gumbo.
Photo Credit: Supreme Rice
Of course, the best place to get authentic Cajun or Creole food is in a home cook’s Louisiana kitchen, but many restaurants have elevated the cuisines to both casual and fine dining. Sassafras restaurant in New Orleans has coined the hashtag #Creolelicious, and its Sassafras Gumbeaux features shrimp, crabmeat and smoked sausage, along with filé, a spice made from sassafras leaves. At Prejean’s restaurant in Lafayette, the gumbo features a dark roux and either seafood, chicken and sausage or duck and andouille. Cajuns don’t like to mix meats with seafood.
Photo Credit: Lafayette Travel
Late Chef Paul Prudhomme is credited with starting the Cajun and Creole food frenzy in the 1980s and included both cuisines in his iconic Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen cookbook. He was raised Cajun in Opelousas but operated a Creole restaurant, K-Paul’s, in New Orleans. He also served as head chef at Commander’s Palace, where haute Creole cuisine has been served since 1893, and developed his own line of Magic Seasoning Blends, which includes a cayenne pepper version and Gumbo Filé.
In Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, recipes for shrimp creole and jambalaya include tomatoes and tomato sauce, while etouffée and pork backbone stew are spiced with cayenne pepper. Even though the hard and fast rule of the inclusion of tomatoes for Creole and lack thereof for Cajun still holds true in most situations, Prudomme points out in his introduction that “Cajun and Creole cuisines share many similarities. Both are Louisiana born, with French roots…Today, in homes, there is still a distinction between Cajun and Creole cooking; in restaurants, little distinction remains,” he wrote.
That’s why Prudhomme referred to his cuisine as simply “Louisiana cooking,” which remains synonymous with lots of flavor, spice and authenticity—tomatoes or not.
While Chef Paul Prudhomme passed away in 2015, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen remains open on Chartres Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. Chef Paul Miller worked with Prudhomme in the early days of the restaurant and carries on the philosophy of authentic Louisiana cooking through dishes like chicken and andouille gumbo and fried green tomatoes with shrimp chipotle remoulade. K-Paul’s is open for dinner Monday through Saturday.