A Cajun Dinner with Paul Wilson at Lunabread

By on April 13, 2011

Paul Wilson was not born in a big ol’ country shack hard by a Louisiana bayou. Paul Wilson did not learn to cook at his Cajun mamma’s knee, stirring smoky complex roux by the fire. Paul Wilson did not help his daddy steer the motorboat and trawl for crawfish in a trackless Louisiana swamp. Paul Wilson did not grow up speaking Cajun French and singing in a Zydeco band. I tell you all of this, but take one taste of the fabulous Cajun food that Paul has been cooking up at Lunabread and you’ll swear I’m a flat-out liar.

But it’s true. Paul Wilson is a chef from Minneapolis who is trained in classic French cuisine. He learned it in the old-fashioned way, becoming an apprentice, which pretty much means unpaid kitchen slave, and slowly working his way up. He landed a job working with renowned master chef Rene Bajeux, who was born in France but ended up in New Orleans. Though Rene’s cooking was classic French, Paul picked up a love for Louisiana and its food — not the prissy pretentious Creole cuisine of the big city, but the Cajun food of the backwoods bayou.

“This is what I cook when I’m not doing arty food and painting sauces on the plate,” said Paul when I saw him at Lunabread. Of course if you remember Paul’s work at The Kitchen (and if not, just look at the photos here http://tulsafood.com/dinner/the-kitchen-restaurant-brookside-tulsa ) you’ll know he can make the best arty food around. That’s why, when I heard that Paul is now cooking dinner 5 nights a week at Lunabread, I made sure to be there for opening night. Yes, it’s an all-Cajun menu, and we ordered. The entrees are normally served over rice, but for me that ruins it… the rice absorbs the sauce and you can’t appreciate its full glory. So I asked for the rice to be served separately, and I strongly recommend that you do so too. They ended up serving it family style.

As we waited, I talked to Lunabread’s owner, master baker Chris Foster, who cooked at Bodean and Flavors and trained with Tom Farrell (not a bad resume at all!) before opening his own place. And I also watched Paul at work. I could see each of our dishes cooking in cast-iron skillets.

Man I got hungry just watching. And then… it arrived! They set it before us, I took photos, we said grace in record time, and off we went. I started on this.

Rabbit Sauce Piquant ($14). Ohhhh just loaded with flavor. Paul had made an incredible roux. Now I have to digress and tell you of the glory and importance of the roux. From what I know about Cajun food, it involves this. First, you make a roux. The joke is that a Cajun begins to make a chocolate cake by making a roux. That’s not true but I think it is used for just about everything else. It’s not your classic Julia Child French roux. In fact, it’s so hard to do that ol’ Julia would have a hissy fit if she tried. Basically, you stir flour and some oily thing (preferably the fat from whatever meat you’re cooking) around for half an hour or more over a flame and if you stop stirring for even a second, you get burnt stuff in the roux and you have to throw it out and start again. (Down in backwoods La., people with phones just unplug them and I’ve heard of people parking their cars far from their house so no one rings the doorbell and messes up the roux and then they’d have to kill him.) Then you sauté celery, onions and green bell pepper (they call it the Holy Trinity, it’s a lot like a Spanish sofrito) and stir that into the roux. Then you slowly stir in some sort of stock (if it’s a gumbo you might add either okra or sassafras powder to thicken it) and then you put in the meat or seafood, let it simmer and that’s it. What you don’t do is make like Emeril Lagasse on TV and say BAM and thrown in hot chili powder and all sorts of crap, you just let it cook and it just brings out the natural flavor of the ingredients and make them sing. And that’s what happened here. Paul made that dish sing. Lots of rich rabbit meat too. I can’t believe how much I ate!

Meanwhile Cathe had a seafood gumbo ($13).

“Now THAT’S a real gumbo!” she said. She knows. She’s from down south too. Rich, just incredible. That roux must have been stirred a full hour. Looking at that photo just makes me hungry. Ohhh and I mustn’t neglect the sides. You get one side dish with each entree. The sides aren’t strictly Cajun, they capture the soul of the South, and I think they’re the best sides around. Just look at these mess greens.

Chewy, bursting with flavor, and cooked with Paul’s homemade tasso ham. Finest greens I’ve ever had. And even better is this… maque choux. Now this IS a Cajun dish, corn and that Holy Trinity slowly braised and simmered, but Paul departs from tradition by adding cream and lots of white wine.

I just can’t tell you how good it was. Suffice it to say I ate just about all of this huge dish. And now I want more. I wish I were going back there tonight.

Lunabread Local Foods
3144 E 15 St
794-500
http://www.lunabread.com
Cajun dinners served 5 PM to 9 PM Mon-Fri
If you’re there between 6 AM and 2 PM Mon-Sat, Chris Foster will serve you a great lunch.

Brian Schwartz:

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Comments

comments