The First Time

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Two, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One snippet of what I wrote that day.

The first time Jambalaya Joe cooked for us he made – of course – jambalaya. A great black cast iron kettle, suspended over a ring of roaring blue gas jets fed by a rusty steel bottle mounted on his trailer, bubbled furiously and steamed like a witch’s cauldron into the humid Louisiana air.

Rice, mysterious lumps of meat, and bags of vegetables went in – to roil and cook.

Then Jambalaya Joe looked around as if to make sure nobody was watching (though we all were – ravenous after a long, hard working day) extracted a large tin box from a stained canvas bag, lifted it over the boiling pot, and opened the lid with the creak of old hinges.

A cloud of red spice tumbled out to disappear into the boil below. It changed the color of the stew from a flat brown to a fiery red.

“That’s his famous secret spice mix,” said some random stranger next to me, complete with a wink and a subtle elbow to the ribs.

Jambalaya Joe cooked the evening meal for us every night, hired by The Company to feed the work crew until the job was finished.

He made something different each night. Jambalaya became gumbo, then red beans and rice, Irish stew, chili, then spaghetti and meatballs… on and on – visiting every cuisine of the world. I never imagined a cast-iron kettle could be so versatile.

But every meal he dumped the exact same tin box filled with the same secret spice mix into the pot.

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