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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Joey K’s

One of the challenges of visiting your children once they are off to school is that you have to adapt to their schedule – which is chaotic, involved, and long. It means that you never get anything done on time.

Tulane’s homecoming weekend is also parent’s weekend and there are a lot of activities and entertainments planned to occupy parents while their spawn are busy studying or whatnot. I looked these over and marked the ones that looked interesting. We didn’t do any of them.

There was a trip planned for all the parents to go to Joey K’s – a fairly well-known traditional New Orleans eatery on Magazine Street. I thought it would be fun to sit down and commiserate with some adults in the same condition as we are, but it was not to be.

Much, much later, however, Candy and I found ourselves seeking sustenance and casting about for ideas. She wanted Rice and Beans, so we decided on Joey K’s. We took the Saint Charles Streetcar down to about sixth street and walked to Magazine, passing the little cluster of shotgun houses that I like on the way. Walking in this part of New Orleans is always a treat, even in the dark.

We didn’t have to wait for a table and the food was delicious. Hearty, traditional, New Orleans style home cooking. Candy had her red beans and rice and I went with a bowl of Gumbo and the Creole Jambalaya. I have had a soft spot for Jambalaya ever since I worked a train derailment in Livingston, about twenty years ago. A large group of us were out there working for a long time and they hired a local man, Jambalaya Joe to do the cooking.

But the gumbo was the star. Gumbo isn’t really a single dish – everybody does it different.

Joey K’s does it just right.

The late night crowd gathers outside Joey K's on Magazine Street in New Orleans.