Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Cajun fever and all that jazz

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTOS COURTESY OF AIT

Hurricane Katrina. Mardis Gras. A Streetcar Named Desirea. Is this all you know about the southern US state of Louisiana? Not to worry. The American Institute in Taiwan and US trade groups are organizing the New Orleans Jazz and Cajun Flavors Promotion, a Taiwan-wide event that's shaping up to be one of the larger food promotions the country has recently seen.

Starting next week there will be cooking classes in Taipei 101, a live video conference with jazz experts, and chances to sample Louisiana Cajun cooking at dozens of restaurants across Taiwan. The goal is to promote trade with a part of the US that is still reeling from the hurricane that barreled through New Orleans and devastated the surrounding area less than two years ago.

Most events that the public can access focus on Cajun cooking and are centered around the two-week visit of chef Roy Lyons, a Louisiana native and traveling culinary ambassador of sorts for southern US cuisine. Roy led Cajun cooking activities in China last year and first visited Taiwan in 2005.

Organizers hope people will come away from the festival knowing there's more to American food than hot dogs and hamburgers. "Ask any American what American food is, and you'll get a different answer," said Keith Schneller, director of the American Institute in Taiwan's Agricultural Trade Office. "Like Taiwan, it's a fusion" and "Cajun and Creole cuisine is a special and unique part of that fusion."

The word Cajun refers to the area around New Orleans settled by French-speaking Acadians. Cajuns, as they are now called, came to Louisiana after the British kicked them out of eastern Canada.

Cajun cooking lacks the African and Spanish influences of New Orleans Creole cuisine and is more rustic. It's flavored with the "Holy Trinity" of chopped onion, celery and bell pepper, and seasoned with parsley, bay leaf, scallions and cayenne.

Typical dishes include andouille and boudin sausages, seafood such as crawfish, catfish and blue crab, and hearty rice concoctions like jambalaya and gumbo.

Chef Roy will be giving free public cooking classes at Jason's Supermarket in Taipei 101 and teaching his tricks to chefs at the Taipei Vocational Cooking School and Kaohsiung Hospitality College. Many of these chefs will then serve Roy's Cajun recipes at their restaurants through the end of May.

Unlike most food promotions, the restaurants participating in New Orleans Jazz and Cajun Flavors Promotion include mid-range places like G'Day Cafe as well as five-star hotels like La Brasserie at the Landis Hotel. One participant, the Cosmopolitan Bar and Grill, already serves Cajun food.

Since April is Jazz Appreciation Month in the US, AIT is also holding a live video conference Tuesday morning at the American Cultural Center with the creative director of a New Orleans jazz club and the program director for a New Orleans jazz radio station. Local jazz bands will also be performing live at Capone's restaurant in Taipei next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

ICRT's Rick Monday, one of the festival's promoters, said Cajun food is appealing to Taiwanese because the ingredients are similar to those used in Chinese cuisine and because Taiwanese associate Cajun food with the New Orleans jazz scene.

"Cajun cuisine and jazz music go hand in hand, especially around Mardi Gras," said AIT's Schneller. "[We] hope to bring some of this cultural diversity to Taiwan."

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