Making food fresh to order as a vendor is not easy. And doing it over 50 miles away from your food distributors or any food market that you frequent is even harder. What if you run out of your specialty ingredient? Well then, you’re stuck. In my opinion, whatever idea that you come up with you should always try to stand out. Anytime I prepare for a festival I always ask myself if my menu pops. Meaning, can it hold up its own. Without relying heavily on a niche. I don’t really think about competitors around me I just focus on my ideas at hand and if they are realistic in execution, will they keep a customer’s attention and will I still be able to put out the quality that I’m used to putting out.
When you’re cooking in faraway locations where people may not have the access to the type of food that you are providing, I think you have a responsibility to serve them something as authentic as you can. Of course we’ve all frequented restaurants where we felt the cooks didn’t try because maybe they thought they could get away with it. If you call yourself cooking original Mexican cuisine in a restaurant and you are serving it in an area that where people may not have exposure to authentic Mexican cuisine then maybe you can get away with serving subpar food because people may not know the difference. BUT I don’t think it’s right. Besides, there will always that someone who has tried authentic Mexican food and believe me; they will call you on your bullshit. Which leads to my chicken story. For some dumb reason I decided to do a bunch of festivals back to back (I’m still sore). I added a few new menu items. My chicken sandwich was partially new because I served it (with success) at Bierwax. I came up with the idea of making my own gourmet version of the popeyes chicken sandwhich and not so cleverly naming it the “Not Your Popeyes chicken Sandwhich”
I thought to myself. What the cluck? Does it taste like my Mothers and Grandfathers version? Hell, I’m actually Creole with New Orleans roots and I’m a chef. Shouldn’t I know what this damn sandwich is supposed to taste like?
This was my rebellious response of people going apeshit over a $6 chicken sandwich which has led to mania, violence and potential world wars. Yes, Friends. All of this over a freakin chicken sandwich. Depending on the frustrated hungry person you ask. Not to throw shade on popeyes because I think they’re great and they have good products but why should they be the only people capitalizing off of a similar chicken sandwich recipe that has been passed down my family for generations?
I thought to myself. What the cluck? Does it taste like my Mothers and Grandfathers version? Hell, I’m actually Creole with New Orleans roots and I’m a chef. Shouldn’t I know what this damn sandwich is supposed to taste like? Isn’t it my duty to school the masses and actually let them know what a really good Creole chicken sandwich is supposed to taste like? I know. I sound cocky but something had to be done. So, I made my own gourmet version of a chicken sandwich. And at the end of it all. I just called it a –Wait for it. Creole Chicken Sandwich. This wasn’t about the batter. It was about the bun, how the chicken was prepped hours before and the aoili. I did have reservations though because I didn’t want to be forever known as the chicken man. Use your imagination here.
I wanted to make something that people could remember. Also when your cooking chicken breast to order it takes a long time to cook. Well, it takes a long time for people who think all food should take a minute to cook.
It takes a real chicken breast About 7 to 8 minutes. And that can vary based on the size. Customers were shocked that they had to wait that long. But I stuck to my guns because I didn’t want to make preorders and loose quality. Having cooked fried chicken sit does some something to the texture and if you’ve been to any fast food place, you know what I mean.
My next “smashingly Brilliant” (or Dumb) idea was to make Gumbo using an age-old recipe. And if you know about gumbo. It takes a long ass time to make and requires at least 22 ingredients. So I had to prep for days so that set up would be easy during the festival and customers would receive their orders quickly!
And this goes back to me saying that if you call yourself authentic, represent it, to it’s fullest. There aren’t a lot of Creole Cajun places in New York so my goal is to make sure that people were delightfully surprised when they tasted my Gumbo. After eating it a few customers told me that they had no idea that Gumbo tasted so rich and good. My Gumbo started with a visit to my fish market (1:30 am) and getting fresh Crab and Wild Shrimp but what was different is that I chose to cook a Roux for 2 1/2 hour in a HUGE cast Iron Skillet. People who make real gumbo know that this is common.
I also used Butter to add to the richness and flavor of the Roux. A more expensive choice but well worth it. I realized that Andouille sausage is hard to purchase in NYC. I mean, you can get it but usually, it’s in small portions or only sold in specialty stores. So I had to hustle a bit more in order to get the right quality sausage. What’s funny is after all of that. My Gumbo was our top seller and sold out early. It’s the little things and I think people notice that.