Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou

Ken Wells. Norton, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-25483-9
Journalist and novelist Wells (Crawfish Mountain) serves up a piquant history of gumbo, a quintessential Cajun dish and “the Zen food of an otherwise un-Zenlike culture.” There are few rules about what makes a gumbo a gumbo, and Wells covers myriad origin stories and myths (was it brought by the Acadians or slaves? Or derived from Native American cuisine? Perhaps all of them?) in arguably too great detail. Once the history, theories, and counter-theories are dispatched, Wells hits his stride and takes readers to, among other places, the annual gumbo cook-off in New Iberia, La., where cooking and copious drinking begin before dawn; a factory that churns out gumbo by the ton for supermarkets; plenty of gumbo-serving restaurants—from neighborhood joints to the esteemed Commander’s Palace in New Orleans; and into his family history and, specifically, his mother’s kitchen. In Wells’s telling, for every cook in Louisiana, there’s a different gumbo recipe, and each can only hope to be second best in the world. The best, of course, is mama’s. Wells clearly knows his stuff, and his enthusiasm for the region and cuisine is palpable, though he can veer into Rockwell-on-the-bayou style nostalgia overkill. This is required reading for gumbo aficionados and addicts, and those who aspire to be. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/19/2018
Release date: 02/26/2019
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