Learning to Cook Authentic New Orleans Gumbo


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Frank Brigtsen at the stove. (Photo: New Orleans Cooking Experience)

“And what is the color of flavor?” Chef Frank Brigtsen asks. “Brown,” we chorus, for already the twelve of us perched at the cooking school counter have learned from Chef Brigtsen that a deep brown-colored roux (pronounced “roo” ) is the essential first step in the layering of flavors involved in the creation of the dish that shouts “New Orleans” – gumbo.

Chef Brigtsen should know. Emerged in 1986 from seven years of training in classic South Louisiana cookery under internationally known Chef Paul Prudhomme, he opened Brigtsen’s restaurant, applying a personal touch to what he’d learned. Today, he remains in the forefront of New Orleans’ chefs revitalizing Creole/ Cajun cookery.

Making Gumbos Essential Ingredient, the Roux


Flour and oil are whisked into  gumbo’s essential ingredient, a perfect roux. (Photo: Ellen Clark)

Brigtsen places a well-worn cast-iron skillet on a burner. Deeming it hot enough, he adds what strikes me as an alarming measure of vegetable oil – a cup and a quarter. “Gumbo for twelve,” he reminds, noting my questioning expression. Whisking constantly he gradually adds a cup and a half of flour to the skillet, commenting that the result of the heat and whisking should resemble grainy peanut butter. “There it is,” he says, taking the skillet off heat and continues to whisk. Grains miraculously turn smooth and the roux begins to thin. Brigtsen turns up the heat and returns the skillet to the stove, continuing to whisk as the roux turns deep brown. “Burn it and you start over,” he says, pulling the roux off the burner at the optimum moment

Ingredients Precisely Pre-meaured

He turns our attention to an array of little dishes and measuring cups set to one side filled with prepped and pre-measured ingredients. Fresh okra, sliced; diced tomatoes; celery and yellow onion, cut into fine pieces; bay leaves; minced garlic.

White, black, and cayenne pepper stand ready in their own teeny dishes; others contain salt; thyme, oregano, and basil. Measuring cups hold shrimp stock and liquid from shucked oysters. Peeled Louisiana shrimp and oysters await in the refrigerator.

“This is what all of you do before starting a recipe” Chef says with a wave of his hand toward the lineup of ingredients ready to go. Right?” Twelve faces silently plead guilty to last-minute cupboard rummaging.

In Your Bucket Because …

  • You understand that the food of an area reveals much of its history and culture.
  • You like to cook.
  • The use of local products in food preparation is important to you.

Another large skillet receives a measure of oil. With heat turned high, okra is dumped in. “Okra is often dismissed as slimy,” he notes.  The okra experienced among the gathered twelve  nod “Yes”. Not so, Chef Brigtsen instructs. When sautéed for four or five minutes, “slimy” turns into a natural thickener. In go tomatoes, joining the natural thickener. After three minutes of stirring, the second skillet joins the roux skillet next to the stove.


Okra, a natural thickener when brown. Diced tomato adds color and flavor.           (Photo: Yvonne Michie Horn)

A large pot hits the burner. More oil. Celery and onion are added , but only three-quarters of the pre-measured amount. As the onions turn light brown, the twelve at the counter chorus, “And the color of flavor is brown!” with no need of a prompt from Chef Brigtsen.


Onion and celery add a layer of texture. (Photo: Yvonne Michie Horn)

Heat is turned low. Herbs and seasonings from the teeny dishes are added. Three minutes later, half the okra-tomato mixture, along with the shrimp stock and oyster liquid, join in for a ten minute simmer.

Gradually the roux is incorporated. A ten-minute simmer and the remaining tomato-okra enters the mix for an additional ten minutes.  Followed by the peeled shrimp. As they turn pink, the shucked oysters are plopped in, becoming plump and succulent in an additional two-minute simmer.

Results of the Class Become Lunch in the School’s Elegant Dining Room

Dining room

The elegant dining room awaits the results of our cooking class.  (Photo: NOCE)

Chef Brigtsen’s authentic New Orleans-style gumbo is brought to us at an elegantly set table in the cooking school’s dining room.  New Orleans culture and history ladled into a bowl — dark, rich, layers of flavor and texture.

New Orleans cooking school

Gumbo – dark, rich, full of flavor.                       (Photo: Yvonne Michie Horn)

Along with more learned from the day’s cooking class:  Chef Brigsten’s “perfect rice,” mounded in the center of the shallow bowls in which the gumbo was served. Followed by trout meuniere, New Orleans style, finished off with shrimp and pecans.For desert, a decadent white chocolate bread pudding, made more decadent than called for in the recipe by Chef Brigtsen deciding, “What the heck,” and throwing “pre-measured” to the wind and dumping the entirety of his white chocolate cache into the mix.

Ingredients: Okra Gumbo for Twelve

  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 3 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 4 cups sliced fresh okra
  • 1 1/2 cups finely diced canned tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil
  • 4 cups finely diced celery
  • 6 cups finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried sweet basil
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 8 cups shrimp stock (shrimp shells boiled 15 minutes and drained)
  • 4 cups oyster liquid (from shucked oysters)
  • 3 cups peeled Louisiana shrimp)
  • 3 cups shucked Louisiana oysters


  • New Orleans Cooking Experience  is dedicated to South Louisiana’s kitchens, with a focus on authentic Creole and Cajun cooking. Five acclaimed chefs make up the faculty. Day classes – 2 1/2 hours, $165,  and three and four-day cooking vacations are offered. Classes are limited to 12. Perched at a counter, each participant is guaranteed a close up view of the chef.
  • Founder Judy Jurisch, a new Orleans native, opened the school in 1994 with the philosophy that learning to cook New Orleans-inspired food should be as much a feast for the eyes, nose and mind as for the palate.
  • The school is housed in a circa 1790s Creole plantation house at 2275 Bayou Rd., New Orleans, 70179-1170. Information and reservations at 504 945-0992, www.thenoce.com.


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