Bam! How Did Cajun Flavor Take Over The World?

If "Cajun-style" only makes you think of spicy chicken sandwiches and popcorn shrimp, you need to join us in the Big Easy this episode, to meet the real Cajun flavor. Cajun cuisine and its close cousin, Creole, were born out of the unique landscape of the Mississippi River delta, whose bounty was sufficient to support large, complex Indigenous societies, without the need for farming or even social hierarchies, for thousands of years. Europeans were slow to appreciate the wealth of this waterlogged country, but, as waves of French, Spanish, and American colonists and enslaved Africans arrived in Louisiana and the port of New Orleans, they all shaped the food that makes it famous today. But it would take a formerly enslaved woman turned international celebrity chef, a legendary restaurant that's hosted Freedom Riders, U.S. presidents, and Queen B, and a blackened redfish craze to turn Louisiana's flavorsome food into a global trend. Come on down to the bayou this episode, as we catch crawfish and cook up a storm to tell the story of how Cajun and Creole flavors ended up on home-cooking shows, in Disney movies, and at drive-throughs nationwide.

The Louisiana bayou, home to many culinary delights, at dusk. (Photo by Nicola Twilley)

Episode Notes

Boyce Upholt

Boyce Upholt is an environmental journalist and the author of The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the Mississippi, which will be published in June 2024.

Zella Palmer

Zella Palmer is a food historian and author, and the chair and director of the Dillard University Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture.

Left, Cynthia hard at work snagging crawfish pots as Barry Toups drives; right, the crawfish bounty. (Photos by Nicola Twilley)

A traditional crawfish boil, made from the fruits of our labors in Barry's ponds. (Photo by Cynthia Graber)

Barry Toups

Barry Toups is the owner and operator of Crawfish Haven, which offers both lodging and guided crawfish-catching excursions in Kaplan, Louisiana.

Marcelle Bienvenu

Known as the “Queen of Cajun Cooking,” Marcelle Bienvenu is a chef, cooking educator, and the author of multiple cookbooks, including Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine.

Crawfish etouffee (left), cooked with Cajun chef and writer Marcelle Bienvenu (right). (Photos by Cynthia Graber)

Dee Lavigne

Chef Dwynesha "Dee" Lavigne is the director of programming at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, where she also offers cooking classes through her Deelightful Roux School Of Cooking.

Making classic shrimp creole with Chef Dee. (Photo by Nicola Twilley)


Click here for a transcript of the show. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.