The Cook Shop : Now and Then
by Kara Johnson
Let me take this opportunity to formally introduce myself. My name is Kara Johnson, and as the saying goes, I was born and raised in New Orleans. I’m an attorney, entrepreneur, food and lifestyle writer, Zach’s mom and God’s daughter. Growing up in this city, I consider my heritage, the fact that I’m from this mysterious place that grew from the banks of the Mississippi, a unique gift. It’s a circumstance and a privilege most people in the world don’t get to experience. We gave birth to both jazz and bounce, Creole cuisine and the po boy. Anything not actually invented here that we’ve endeavored to undertake, we’ve dominated- Mardi Gras, beignets, and cocktails such as my favorite, and one of the first ever invented, the Sazerac. We always do the most here. New Orleans cultivates a passion for the decadent as a matter of one’s birthright.
In fact, I’m writing this article now because of a passion my family heritage has cultivated in me. It’s a passion for amazing food, and it has led to my own contribution to all things NOLA. I bring to you, The Cook Shop Seasoning Blends. There are two flavors, Cajun which is holy trinity based, (onion, bell pepper and celery), and Creole which has a tomato base. Because these seasonings are primarily comprised of vegetables, not salt, they are full of flavor with only 3% sodium. You can use them alone, mix them together or add whatever you like. If you’re heavy-handed, it’s okay. These seasonings won’t make your food taste salty. They go on everything and make cooking easy. All the ingredients you usually use to season your food are already in the blends. The Cook Shop Seasonings are all you need. You don’t have to add anything else. No more chopping onions if you don’t want to.
I teamed up with renowned Chef Gason Yen Nelson to bring you a taste of what I loved about my childhood and this great city. Gason Nelson is one of the best chefs in the business. The two-time James Beard Scholar and 2017 Top 25 Chef of Louisiana has cooked for celebrities such as Oprah, Francis Ford Coppola, the Kardashians, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Matthew McConaughey, 50 Cent, Reggie Bush, DeMarcus Cousins and many others. We’ve been friends 17 years, and he was the first person who came to mind when I decided to create the Cook Shop seasonings.
I knew I wanted the main ingredients of my seasonings to be vegetables, not salt, and they would come from family recipes passed down for generations, dating back to the 1700’s. That’s how long my family has lived in New Orleans. My great great grandmother, Marie Meteye Reveal and her husband, Joseph Reveal, owned a restaurant in the French Quarter at 532 Toulouse Street. They called it The Cook Shop. The little restaurant bustled, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to the riverfront workers in the early 1900’s. For those unable to leave their positions along the river at lunchtime, my great grandmother, also named Marie and her sister, Rachel, brought lunch to them. They walked along the river carrying baskets of sandwiches made with French bread. A bestseller was the ham salad sandwich, made the same way chicken salad is made today.
For me growing up in this city, every day was magical. With three generations of women in the kitchen, there was always the most incredible food at my great-grandparent’s home. Dinner was an event. Staples included the richest ochre gumbo and caouanne soup in tomato gravy, Tuesday red beans and rice with hot sausage or paneed pork chops, and seafood every Friday, whether it was during the Lenten season or not. My great grandmother, also named Marie Marguerite Victor Johnson wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything was made from scratch. Homemade peach cobbler that has never been duplicated, bread pudding with the most amazing rum sauce, homemade king cakes, pralines and chocolate covered turtles… My family even made all of our Easter candy. Instead of gold brick eggs with a few pecan shavings, ours were filled with large chunks of pecan and other nuts. We had heavenly hash eggs loaded with almonds and beautifully decorated white chocolate bunny rabbits. Life was layered with delights for all the senses. In my family, we celebrated every birthday. There were so many aunts, uncles cousins, great aunts and uncles that practically every weekend there was a party or family gathering, and often, more than one. My great-aunt Velma made melt-in-your-mouth birthday cakes with your choice of jam separating the layers and the icing flavor of your choice to top it off. My aunt Marilyn’s cakes were always white almond and intricately decorated- a spun sugar woven straw basket filled with ample roses, gardenias and peonies flowing over its sides, each flower painstakingly created. My mother’s cornbread and oyster dressings, stuffed mirleton and paneed chicken are the best I’ve ever eaten, ever! And with all of that, we looked forward to those special occasion cold, rainy days when dinner was shortening bread with hot coco.
Looking back on my childhood, it took many loving, helping hands to make the magical days that were my every day. I want my 10-year-old son to experience this. I want you and your family and friends to experience this. This is what The Cook Shop Seasoning Blends help to do. They make cooking great food easy. Laissez les bon temp roulez! It’s a New Orleans thing.
Please visit my website at ACasualConnoisseur to order product and get more information