Champagne, Zigzags, and Crawfish Étouffée
From the time I was a young girl growing up in California, I’ve been enchanted by Southerners and their charm. Not until my mid-twenties did I bite into anything Southern, but it was momentous. My husband, Danny, and I had been invited to a dinner party by a co-worker. The Walkers had recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Lafayette, Louisiana. They were making Crawfish Étouffée. Admittedly a bit apprehensive at the thought of eating food I could barely pronounce, that dinner turned out to be one of the most delicious, memorable, and poignant meals I’ve ever had in my life. Coincidentally, a few months after that dinner my husband received a job offer in Houston, Texas.
First item on my agenda when I arrived in Houston: you guessed it, Crawfish Étouffée. I had been gifted the Walker’s recipe but hadn’t yet tried my hand at making it, so the first chance we had we headed straight to New Orleans. It was that weekend trip I fell for all things Southern, particularly the food.
We spent only a year in Houston before returning back to the Bay Area where we lived, off and on, for the next twenty years. What I found in my seasonal tryst with Southerners was hospitality and a graciousness that would later prove to be the hallmark of my affection for them. I also found I had amassed quite a collection of Southern recipes given to me by friends and colleagues during our brief sojourn in Texas.
Although I had officially left the South, the South never left me.
Back home in my California kitchen, I cultivated a true passion for cooking. I loved trying new recipes and continued perfecting some of my Southern favorites--Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice, and Squash Casserole. Fortunately, Danny and I often had the pleasure of traveling back to the South for business, and it was then that we’d stock up on Southern ingredients so I could host Cajun Night every January for his birthday. And not a holiday went by without my mother requesting Smothered Green Beans on the family dinner table. Although I had officially left the South, the South never left me.
And so it was through life’s sometimes unexpected zigs and zags, perhaps it was even by fate, that I found myself living in Perth, Australia decades later. It was summer of 2016 and, after having spent two and a half years there, my husband’s company needed him in Beaumont, Texas. Although I wasn’t familiar with Beaumont, once I realized its proximity to the Louisiana border, I was elated! I could not wait to experience all the Southern food my heart desired, and I was absolutely thrilled to introduce my children to a culture unlike any other in this country.
The New Southerner was a lifetime in the making, I just didn't know it.
Shortly after moving here and with both of my kids in school full time, I began thinking about a second career (actually a third, but that’s a blog post for another time). Without any clear ideas of what that third career would be, I asked myself: What do I love to do? What makes me happy? What talent or skill can I offer? I realized that all of the answers held a common denominator, food. The New Southerner was born.
What began as a business selling my famous coffee cakes, The New Southerner has since evolved in ways I had always hoped it would. The New Southerner was never just about coffee cakes, chocolate cookies, and lemon bars, it was so much more. I saw a window in the market and envisioned ways in which I could grow The New Southerner over time. I wanted to combine my experience as a former wedding photographer and the inspiration I drew from years of photographing glorious food displays to create enticing imagery. From childhood summers spent in Germany with my grandparents, learning how to peel potatoes and hunt for wild mushrooms in their backyard woods; to watching my mother make three meals a day, seven days a week (she’s a fabulous cook); to my obsession with cookbooks and my own epic failures and achievements in the kitchen; to cooking lessons in Vietnam; to my love of wine and sipping it back home in Napa Valley all the way to Australia’s famed wine country, Margaret River; to fine dining in many parts of the world; to eating from food trucks in the hood, what I came to realize was that so many experiences throughout my life and my love for food had led me to The New Southerner. I had been creating The New Southerner my entire life, I just didn't know it.
Today, I work with clients to create menus that are both delicious and beautiful. It’s with honor that I’m invited into the most exquisitely decorated homes (often designed by the utterly talented Ann Hayes) where generations of entertaining and style are taught from a young age. With heirloom silver trays, vintage crystal, and monogram napkins set on antique buffets from France, Southern women really are the pioneers of American entertaining. What I learned from some of the most graceful, classic, and refined women I’ve ever met is that entertaining is not just an expression of style, it’s an expression of love. My friend, Sarah, is the epitome of just that. I’ve been her only guest and I’ve been among guests of many at her elegant home, nestled in one of Beaumont’s loveliest historical neighborhoods. Each time I step through her door I’m greeted with a glass of champagne, handed a monogrammed linen cocktail napkin and offered an appetizer from a gorgeous silver tray.
She’s wearing her signature look, black dress, fabulous earrings, stylish heels--and yet she’s telling me how fabulous I look. We talk about orchids, cake decorating, and our latest chinoiserie finds. We talk about where we can find myrtle topiaries, and how to raise third grade girls. We talk about life and long conversations ensue. The champagne sets in and we laugh comfortably. I depart feeling cherished, and a bit like the Queen of England. It’s how she entertains, it’s how she shows love. What may be seen by Southerners as just the way it is here, the sustained value of tradition, heritage, family, and culture is something I feel deeply grateful to be a part of. Equally and perhaps even more appreciated, of course, is the food.
To this day the Walker recipe for Crawfish Étouffée is the number one requested dinner by Danny and our kids. Cooking for them is my favorite way to show them love. To put it simply, The New Southerner is about love. Not just love for the South or for its food but also love for family and love for friends, love for travel, photography, culture, and the place I will always call home, California. The New Southerner is how I love bringing all those pieces together. It is my homage to an already impeccable way of Southern entertaining and living, and the consummate expression of my love for it.
Cheers to you, Southerners! Cheers to new beginnings and new adventures! Cheers to what started it all--Crawfish Étouffée!
The New Southerner