"Louisiana Cooking in a way you'll never forget."

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"New Orleans TV chef Kevin Belton dishes on Thanksgiving sides"

"New Orleans TV chef Kevin Belton dishes on Thanksgiving sides" - Press

BY:ANN BENOIT

Clever you.

For years, you have avoided hosting the Thanksgiving dinner. But you do have to bring a side dish. Tired of buying packaged rolls, a bottle of wine or that pre-made green bean something from the deli aisle?

No worries.

Kevin Belton is here.

The New Orleans TV chef is a highly skilled, massively entertaining, family friend who can guide you past the treacherous passageways to the victorious advent of the glorious side dishes, which elevate an ordinary bird to greatness at Thanksgiving dinners from LaPlace to Lafitte.

First though, a little about the chef.

He's physically imposing -- a 6-foot-9, 400-pound former football player who now scores with his skillet.

A Brother Martin graduate, Belton played football for LSU before transferring to Xavier University. Injuries at the San Diego Chargers training camp cut short his potential NFL career. Belton worked in the tourism industry for several years.

But his heart was always in the kitchen.

Like many great New Orleans chefs, Belton learned to cook from his family. His dad's mother from Lafourche Crossing near Thibodaux in Cajun country spoke French. His mother's family came from the French Caribbean island of Martinique

"I started when I was 6-year's old chopping vegetables for my mom," Belton said.

In 1991, he began working at the New Orleans School of Cooking, where he teaches today. As instructor at the New Orleans School of Cooking for over 20 years, Belton has taught 7,000 lessons and developed a warm, fun connection with his audiences.

But he can do more than talk the talk, though. He can cook. In 2014, the American Culinary Federation named Belton one of the top 30 chefs in Louisiana. And he's been able to blend the two talents into television.

His ability to connect with people has led to many cooking demonstrations and public appearances including Emeril Live, Ready Set Cook, Live Love Lunch, Food Fighters, Taste of America, and Eating in the Bayou.

Belton's first big TV success was with the BBC.

In 1999, he co-starred with British chef Kevin Woodford in the hit Big Kevin, Little Kevin. Part travel show part cooking show, the dynamic duo cooked in the U.S. and Britain in each episode.

The show aired in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. But his biggest hit has come locally "New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton" on WYES and Create TV.

Its syndication airs on 295 stations.

"I want people to know, we live in New Orleans and we live in South Louisiana because we love it." Belton said. "Yeah we go through a lot of stuff, but we eat good, we have a lot of music and we are all friendly. I get to show people what New Orleans is all about."

Belton is a hit on the radio too. He hosts a radio program "Out and About in the Big Easy" at 9 p.m. on Thursday nights on 990 AM-WGSO. He also has hit success with cookbooks. His latest cookbook, "Kevin Belton's Big Flavors of New Orleans" currently ranks as the No. 6 cookbook in the category of Southern cookbooks and is the bestseller in the subcategory Cajun & Creole Cooking.

With the biggest food holiday in the country hitting us Thursday, some of us could use his help. The first step in any culinary experience is this base question, Belton said.

"Does it taste good?"

"We don't worry about calories (in New Orleans). We are more concerned with mental health than physical health," Belton said. "Physical health is park all the way at the end of the parking lot. Walk all across the parking lot, walk all across the grocery store, walk all the way to the back to the donuts, then walk all the way to the other side of the store for some milk. Then you have to walk all the way back to the other side of the parking lot. There you go. You've got the walking in and then you got the physical health and the mental health all at once."

Witty, down to earth, and always laughing, Belton celebrates Thanksgiving with the local side dishes we all crave like stuffed mirliton and dirty rice-- distinctive dishes that seamlessly blend into the traditional Big Easy Turkey Day spread. He has some recipes to share there and this tip for those who want to bring desserts.

"Make your bread pudding (or other desserts) in small individual disposable mini-loaf pans," Belton said. "By the time you get to dessert, you have seen these people enough. Tell them, 'I know you have eaten so much, you can't eat dessert, so here it is. Good seeing you. Take it home. I'll see you next year.'"

Side dishes and sweets aside, once the food hits the table, something magical takes over in this area.

"This is what we do here," Belton said. "We visit over food. We sit and visit over food. It doesn't matter what's on TV, what's on the table, where we are eating, it's all about hanging out and visiting with people and we just do it over food. No matter how busy a schedule we have, we have to find at least 10-15 minutes to sit with the kids at the table with no TV on to visit. We have to get back to the table and spend that little bit of time without the TV, without the radio, with just family and friends."

Here are some side dishes to make and take to any Thanksgiving celebration in this part of the country.

Stuffed Mirliton

Serves 4 to 6

4 whole mirlitons
1/4-pound medium Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, divided
4 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2-pound fresh crabmeat
1/2 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

In a large soup pot, bring mirlitons to a boil and boil until you can slice without getting them over-cooked, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and cool.
Chop the shrimp and place in a nonreactive bowl. Season with half the Creole seasoning, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Remove seeds from the mirlitons. Scoop out pulp, removing as much as possible, leaving about 1/4 inch to make a shell with just enough flesh inside to hold form. Reserve pulp.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a large saute pan and saute onion, celery, and bell pepper until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add mirliton pulp. Sprinkle with remaining Creole seasonings, salt, and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes on very low heat to marry flavors. Add shrimp and crabmeat and cook for 6 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

Season inside of mirliton shells with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Fill mirlitons with stuffing and top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until breadcrumbs brown.

Dirty Rice

Serves 6


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground pork sausage
1/2-pound chicken livers
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
3 cups cooked long-grain rice
1/2 cup chopped green onions

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and add the pork and livers. Saute until browned, about 10 minutes. Add vegetables and saute until browned, about 10 minutes. Add vegetables and saute until browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder and oregano and stir. Allow the mixture to continue to cook and the meat to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of the broth and cook down, about 10 minutes.

Add rice, remaining broth, and green onions. Continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

"NOLA chef Kevin Belton adds to WYES' cooking-show legacy with 'New Orleans Cooking''

"NOLA chef Kevin Belton adds to WYES' cooking-show legacy with 'New Orleans Cooking'' - Press

By: Mike Scott, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

This being a show featuring Belton, there's another key ingredient: his oversized personality, which matches the former NFL football player's 6-foot-9, 400-pound frame. In his 25-years plus leading classes at the New Orleans School of Cooking, it's that personality as much as his kitchen prowess on which he has built his name.

That's not by mistake. Early on, he said, he realized that learning is more effective when it's also fun.

"I've got to give credit to my mom," he said. "My mom was a teacher. She taught at a business school. And every once in a while, I would get to go with her and I would sit there and I would watch her teach in class. And I remember how she just looked like she was enjoying herself. So if she was enjoying herself, that means the people she was teaching were able to absorb and enjoy themselves as they learn it."

While that comes across in "New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton," viewers of the show shouldn't exactly expect a culinary comedy routine. With just 30 minutes per episode, and three episodes to cover each time out, the New Orleans School of Cooking's Round Mound of Clowning Around decided with the show's producers that the focus should remain on the food, with Belton's goofy side coming out only occasionally.

The result is an efficient, down-to-business half-hour of chopping, beating, browning, stewing and, of course, frying -- although every show ends with an outtake reel, in which Belton's silly tendencies get a chance to shine through.

"It's a balancing act of being entertained as well as being knowledgeable and learning from it," Belton said. "Even if there's one thing you might pick up in an episode, that means it was successful. At the same, it's something that can be entertaining. Hopefully, kids might watch and get that little interest early on and (say), 'Ooh, can you help me make this?' Or: 'Can you try this with me?’"In other words: Although Belton is the star of "New Orleans Cooking," he recognizes full well that the food is the thing.

"I've gotten to do a lot of different types of shows, but the really neat, neat thing that I really love about PBS is that usually folks tune into PBS and watch when they want to learn something," he said. "There's no drama, no this or that. It's just flat-out (instruction) -- and that's what I think is really great: the fact that I get to take Louisiana cooking and kind of break it down and simplify it to make other people around the country, when they see it, to want to go in the kitchen and use what they have and at least try.

"I just hope that people enjoy what I do," he added. "I am so blessed that people enjoy what I do. Hopefully they'll learn something, hopefully they'll enjoy and be entertained by it, but also just want to go try it."

Chef Kevin Belton is well aware of the rarified cooking-show tradition at PBS, from Julia Child to Graham "The Galloping Gourmet" Kerr and all points between. Having grown up in New Orleans, Belton is just as aware of the tradition at local PBS affiliate WYES -- a legacy that includes shows featuring the likes of Justin Wilson, Paul Prudhomme and John Besh.

And so, as he launches his new cooking show this weekend -- the WYES-produced "New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton," debuting Saturday (April 16) on PBS stations nationwide -- the jovial Belton has developed a strategy for coping with the headiness of it all.

"I don't want to think about it," Belton said, punctuating his sentence with a characteristic laugh. "Somebody said, 'You know if you do this, this is like keeping the flame. So you're kind of becoming the keeper of the flame. I'm like, 'What? OK. No, no, no!"

"I don't think it's sunk in yet," he continued. "I think the first cooking show I've ever watched on PBS was Julia Child. I remember watching Julia Child, and I remember a little bit of Graham Kerr. Remember the Galloping Gourmet? And then to watch the local folks like Justin Wilson, and when WYES did the 'Best Chefs' series -- the best chefs of New Orleans and the best chefs of different cities -- and to realize that I'm asked to stand with them after watching them, and actually getting to meet them, it truly hasn't sunk in yet."

Ready or not, Belton joins the ranks of Child, Kerr, Wilson, Prudhomme, Besh -- and all the rest -- when "New Orleans Cooking" debuts Saturday with the episode "Classic New Orleans," the first of 26 episodes on tap. Locally, Belton's show will air Saturday mornings at 9:30 and Sundays at 1 p.m. on WYES.

The ultimate goal, as the title suggests, is simple: to showcase a broad spectrum of New Orleans dishes that speak to local culture in some way. Some of the recipes served up are downright iconic (such as the beignets and seafood gumbo featured in Episode 1). Some are less so (the sweet potato gnocci from Episode 23 and Irish Channel Soda Bread from Episode 25). But Belton makes it a point to lay out a very Crescent City reason for featuring each, with themes for each episode that run the gamut from "Jazz Brunch" to "Soul Food," from "Irish New Orleans" to "Italian Specialties," and from "Wash Day" to "Reveillon Dinner."

While steps are taken to ensure that the show will appeal both to entry-level home chefs as well as those who might be more experienced in the kitchen but unfamiliar with the culinary traditions of South Louisiana, the self-taught Belton said there's also plenty there for locals who grew up with stuffed mirlitons (Episode 20), Oysters Rockefeller (Episode 19), jambalaya (Episode 3) and the like.

"I try to do some things that, even here in New Orleans you would go, 'You know what? I remember Grandma used to make that,' or, 'I remember an uncle that used to make that -- I forgot about that dish!,'" Belton said. "So I don't know if there's a target (audience), but I just think it's a little thing for everybody. Because that's what I try to do with the recipes: I try to take the recipes and remember things I grew up eating as a kid, or places when I would go out to eat, and kind of incorporate all of that together so everybody can enjoy."

Day Trips & Beyond: New Orleans School of Cooking

 Day Trips & Beyond: New Orleans School of Cooking - Press

BY:GERALD E. MCLEOD

It was a rainy weekend in the French Quarter. Showers and lightning had canceled the last acts on Saturday of Jazz Fest. The Sunday shows at the Fairgrounds went on despite heavy flooding.

On Monday, between showers and under threatening skies, with a group of friends, I ducked into the New Orleans School of Cooking (NOSOC) for a class in classic Louisiana cooking. What I got for fewer than three Hamiltons was a class act and lunch.

First off, let me say that I think Cajun food is a culinary nirvana. Southern Louisiana cuisine is a world treasure among the best regional cuisines. Jambalaya is nearly a perfect food. Cooking jambalaya or gumbo is basic and the foundation for so many other dining experiences. Cajun cooking is more art than science. I have had excellent results with several complicated recipes that are more science project than art project. Anyone could get the same results.

The class at NOSOC was a small epiphany for me. I learned a few things that my grandmother should have taught me, if she had known what Cajun food was. Instead, I was lucky enough to have Chef Kevin Belton demonstrate the finer points of Creole cooking. (To clarify, Creole cooking is “city food” and Cajun is “country food.” Because he grew up in New Orleans, Chef Kevin prefers to call his cooking “Creole.”)

Big Chef Kevin

The New Orleans School of Cooking is hidden on St. Louis Street between Chartres and Decatur streets around the corner from the courthouse and Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter. The front part of the building is a tourist souvenir store of Louisiana spice mixes, kitchen tools, and a woman in the front window making pralines (pronounced “praw-leens”).

Day Trips & Beyond: New Orleans School of Cooking
Cajun cooking made simply good
BY GERALD E. MCLEOD, 9:00AM, WED. MAY 18, 2016

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It was a rainy weekend in the French Quarter. Showers and lightning had canceled the last acts on Saturday of Jazz Fest. The Sunday shows at the Fairgrounds went on despite heavy flooding.

On Monday, between showers and under threatening skies, with a group of friends, I ducked into the New Orleans School of Cooking (NOSOC) for a class in classic Louisiana cooking. What I got for fewer than three Hamiltons was a class act and lunch.

First off, let me say that I think Cajun food is a culinary nirvana. Southern Louisiana cuisine is a world treasure among the best regional cuisines. Jambalaya is nearly a perfect food. Cooking jambalaya or gumbo is basic and the foundation for so many other dining experiences. Cajun cooking is more art than science. I have had excellent results with several complicated recipes that are more science project than art project. Anyone could get the same results.

The class at NOSOC was a small epiphany for me. I learned a few things that my grandmother should have taught me, if she had known what Cajun food was. Instead, I was lucky enough to have Chef Kevin Belton demonstrate the finer points of Creole cooking. (To clarify, Creole cooking is “city food” and Cajun is “country food.” Because he grew up in New Orleans, Chef Kevin prefers to call his cooking “Creole.”)

Big Chef Kevin

The New Orleans School of Cooking is hidden on St. Louis Street between Chartres and Decatur streets around the corner from the courthouse and Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter. The front part of the building is a tourist souvenir store of Louisiana spice mixes, kitchen tools, and a woman in the front window making pralines (pronounced “praw-leens”).

In the back of the building, separated by a wall of windows from the store are a large dining room with a half-dozen big round tables and a kitchen counter with a large mirror on the ceiling revealing the action on the stove top and the counter.

Big Chef Kevin is the kind of guy who takes charge of a room like a former professional football player – which the self-taught, 330-plus-pound cook was at a young age. Now he has found his calling in teaching others how to prepare the food that his mother and grandmother cooked.

From the start of the cooking demonstration Chef Kevin joked, prodded, and teased the packed dining room. The students were from all over the U.S. and several countries. The arrangement of the class was quite simple. We watched as Chef Kevin nonchalantly made gumbo, jambalaya, and pecan pralines. With a Larry Wilmore-like delivery, Chef Kevin was entertaining and informative, but never condescending unless you took yourself too seriously.

Day Trips & Beyond: New Orleans School of Cooking
Cajun cooking made simply good
BY GERALD E. MCLEOD, 9:00AM, WED. MAY 18, 2016

print
write a letter

It was a rainy weekend in the French Quarter. Showers and lightning had canceled the last acts on Saturday of Jazz Fest. The Sunday shows at the Fairgrounds went on despite heavy flooding.

On Monday, between showers and under threatening skies, with a group of friends, I ducked into the New Orleans School of Cooking (NOSOC) for a class in classic Louisiana cooking. What I got for fewer than three Hamiltons was a class act and lunch.

First off, let me say that I think Cajun food is a culinary nirvana. Southern Louisiana cuisine is a world treasure among the best regional cuisines. Jambalaya is nearly a perfect food. Cooking jambalaya or gumbo is basic and the foundation for so many other dining experiences. Cajun cooking is more art than science. I have had excellent results with several complicated recipes that are more science project than art project. Anyone could get the same results.

The class at NOSOC was a small epiphany for me. I learned a few things that my grandmother should have taught me, if she had known what Cajun food was. Instead, I was lucky enough to have Chef Kevin Belton demonstrate the finer points of Creole cooking. (To clarify, Creole cooking is “city food” and Cajun is “country food.” Because he grew up in New Orleans, Chef Kevin prefers to call his cooking “Creole.”)

Big Chef Kevin

The New Orleans School of Cooking is hidden on St. Louis Street between Chartres and Decatur streets around the corner from the courthouse and Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter. The front part of the building is a tourist souvenir store of Louisiana spice mixes, kitchen tools, and a woman in the front window making pralines (pronounced “praw-leens”).

In the back of the building, separated by a wall of windows from the store are a large dining room with a half-dozen big round tables and a kitchen counter with a large mirror on the ceiling revealing the action on the stove top and the counter.

Big Chef Kevin is the kind of guy who takes charge of a room like a former professional football player – which the self-taught, 330-plus-pound cook was at a young age. Now he has found his calling in teaching others how to prepare the food that his mother and grandmother cooked.

From the start of the cooking demonstration Chef Kevin joked, prodded, and teased the packed dining room. The students were from all over the U.S. and several countries. The arrangement of the class was quite simple. We watched as Chef Kevin nonchalantly made gumbo, jambalaya, and pecan pralines. With a Larry Wilmore-like delivery, Chef Kevin was entertaining and informative, but never condescending unless you took yourself too seriously.

A Few Basic Rules

Having taught classes at NOSOC for more than 20 years, Chef Kevin’s delivery was as smooth as the pound of butter melting in the big stock pot on the stove. It was like sitting in a friend’s kitchen listening to him tell culinary heritage stories and give cooking tips.

To Chef Kevin, Creole cooking is simply adapting the recipe to what you have available. Even if that means making a gumbo with Kentucky Fried Chicken. “I’m going to teach you a few basic rules,” he said. “Then you go home and make it like you like it. No matter where you are, you can take what you’ve got and make a gumbo.”

Without much chance of giving away too many of Chef Kevin’s secrets, here are a few of the things I learned from him in less than three hours:

• Making a roux is like making gravy. You’re basically cooking flour in oil. The length of time you cook it depends on how dark you want the roux. Stir it continuously.
• Paprika is dried red bell pepper.
• Andouille is a firm, smoked German sausage like the kind popular in Central Texas.
• Frozen okra is less slimy than fresh. Sauté fresh okra to remove some of the sliminess.
• Filé is fine green powder of young dried sassafras leaves. Don’t add it during cooking. Place it on the table to be added just before eating and to personal preference.
• Never cook with plain water; always use a stock.

It’s All in the Roots

New Orleans cooking is so unique because of its roots, Chef Kevin said. “French, Spanish, Native American, African; everyone contributed from their home and replicated what they knew as best they could with what was available.”

The time seemed to fly by in the cooking class. It was a fun way to learn some basic cooking techniques that work in all kinds of dishes. Included in the price of admission were a couple of pitchers of Abita beer and a generous sampling of the gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines. “The most important part of Louisiana cooking is sitting at the table, visiting, and eating. It doesn’t matter what’s on the table,” Chef Kevin said in summation. “It’s who’s at the table that matters.”

The New Orleans School of Cooking and Louisiana General Store is at 524 St. Louis St. in the French Quarter. The school offers morning and afternoon classes with a rotating lineup of instructors. The classes range from relaxed demonstrations to intense hands-on instructions. Reservations can be made atwww.nosoc.com or by calling 800/237-4841.

Look for Chef Kevin Belton on his new public television show New Orleans Cooking With Kevin Belton or pick up one of his Creole cookbooks.

"3-Course Interview: Anne Leonhard A Food Network cooking champ talks about making New Orleans holiday meals"

By Helen Freund | Gambit

A kindergarten teacher turned tour guide turned culinary instructor, Anne Leonhard, 72, recently won the "Clash of the Grandmas" and a $10,000 prize on a Food Network cooking competition. The show featured four grandmothers in a series of challenges culminating in a Thanksgiving Day throwdown, which Leonhard won with her apple brioche bread pudding with Calvados. Leonhard spoke to Gambit about learning to cook and holiday meals.

How did you go from being a schoolteacher to a culinary instructor?

Leonhard: My whole family — they were all good cooks on both sides of the family, but my mother never encouraged us to come into the kitchen. Teenagers are messy, and she didn't want any of that in there. So (when) I was about to get married, I still didn't know how to cook. The day before I got married, I went to my grandmother's house with a notebook and pen and she just talked me through it all while I wrote it down. Unfortunately, I lost that notebook during (Hurricane) Katrina, but (the information) stayed with me.

I taught school for 20 years and then when I retired, I started working as a tour guide. I'd always take my groups by the (New Orleans School of Cooking) and realized one day ... that I could do this. It's a lot like being a tour guide, just in the kitchen. They call us chefs, but we're not really chefs — we're just really good cooks. I've always been good at public speaking; it's always come natural to me. That was 13 years ago.

How was the competition?

L: I've been on the Steve Harvey Show a lot... but the competitive thing? Let me tell you, that was something else. It was a real experience. I had no idea what to expect. I don't watch food television shows — I guess I should have, maybe then I would have been more prepared. I didn't really enjoy the competition part, but I did enjoy the experience. I was the oldest in the group and up against some (women) who had professional experience. One of them had been a private chef for 15 years. Honest to God, when I saw what I was up against, I never, ever, ever thought I'd end up winning. I just said, "Don't make a fool of yourself and don't get kicked out." That would have been so embarrassing.

What's special to you about New Orleans holiday food?

L: I've never lived anywhere else, but I think because we're surrounded by seafood here in Louisiana, (many) people have that as a part of their holiday meals. I think that's something really unique about us. In my family, there's always oyster soup and oyster patties ... maybe a type of oyster dressing. And we love gravy, dark gravy. In our family, gravy is considered a beverage.

We're also not afraid to use seasoning in New Orleans. (On the show) they'd watch me season things and gasp. (At the New Orleans School of Cooking), we get a lot of elderly who say, right away, "We don't like spicy food." But it's not spicy; it's just well-seasoned.

They think it's going to be so complicated, but it's really very basic. We teach them how to make gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp Creole, crawfish etouffee, pralines. It's fun watching people who don't have a clue how to cook realize it can be so easy.

New Orleans cooking teacher wins "Clash of the Grandmas"

New Orleans cooking teacher wins "Clash of the Grandmas" - Press

Judy Walker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Yet another New Orleanian has proven the superiority of the city's cooks on national television. Anne Leonard, an instructor at the New Orleans School of Cooking, took home the $10,000 top prize on the Wednesday (Nov. 18) "Thanksgiving Throw Down" episode of "Clash of the Grandmas" on the Food Network.

"The camaraderie among the women was really wonderful," Leonard said in a press release. "Overall, it was an incredible experience."

Leonard went through four rounds on the show, competing against four other grandmothers in making the best Thanksgiving meal. Her winning dish was Apple Pie Bread Pudding.

A portion of her winnings will be donated to a girls' home in Haiti, Shelby's House, established in 2013 in memory of her granddaughter Shelby, who died from lymphoma at age 15.

Leonard has been on network television several times. She and lifelong friend Harriet Robin, also an instructor at the New Orleans School of Cooking, have appeared several times on the Steve Harvey show. Harvey calls them his New Orleans Grannies. They will appear again on his show on Nov. 24 (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. on WDSU-TV, the NBC affiliate, on a Thanksgiving show.

You can see the Food Network show as well to see Leonard in action. The episode of "Clash of the Grandmas" will air again at 3 p.m. (CT) Sunday.

"Ian McNulty: After a year of delicious dining, gratitude for those who make our food scene a true food culture"

"Ian McNulty: After a year of delicious dining, gratitude for those who make our food scene a true food culture" - Press

IAN MCNULTY| The New Orleans Advocate

Clearly, a job covering restaurants in New Orleans brings its own particular pleasures. The longer I pursue this work though, the better I understand how these pleasures go beyond the delicious food.

Working this beat means talking with New Orleanians about their ideas and their ambitions, their cravings and obsessions, their discoveries, their memories and their family stories, all through the lens of food.

It means spending time with people who contribute to the character and personality of a living, changing food culture. It means learning from people who makes New Orleans a truly great food city, not just a city with many great restaurants.

In 2015 I was fortunate to make many new acquaintances, and I had the chance to get to know others better. Some are new to town or just beginning their careers; others are New Orleans to the core and have distilled their perpsective over generations.

Each deepened my appreciation for the many subcultures in this city’s famous food scene, for the new ideas and energy invigorating it, for the tenacity required make it on the business side and for the rewards that this calling can bring beyond the bottom line.

Their stories filled my notebooks, and they fueled my columns and features and reviews. Today, they fill my memories of another fulfilling, enlightening year.

This is a column of gratitude, so let’s hear from them directly.

The pace of Commerce

You could see Majoria’s Commerce Restaurant (300 Camp St., 504-561-9239) as a time capsule in the middle of the rapidly-changing CBD, with its well-worn sandwich board, swivel stools at the diner counter and mechanical cash register loudly ringing up every po-boy and red beans plate.

But proprietor Brett Majoria sees the story of his family, and to him the vintage fixtures are fully-functional tributes to his father, the late John “Chance” Majoria, who never replaced anything at his little diner when he could fix it instead.

“That’s history, that’s part of my father’s history and the history of this place,” said Brett Majoria, working that register during a typically busy weekday lunch. “When I see it, I see him standing behind it. I can’t change that.”

The Commerce quietly marked its 50th anniversary this year. Longevity extends to the staff too, and the cooks and counter staff contribute to the character of the place with their easy efficiency and quick familiarity with daily regulars or the tourists wandering in.

“We’re pleasurable people, and this is a pleasurable place,” said Jean Robinson, who’s worked here for 24 years. “We don’t care where you’re from or what you’re doing, we’re here to make sure you get a good meal and people like that.”

Under Ella’s watch

Ella Brennan celebrated her 90th birthday this year, which provided the opportunity to talk at length with this legend of New Orleans dining about her career and her approach to the restaurant business.

She shared some tips (one fundamental: “You have to know your locals. No one should feel like a stranger in their own hometown;” and a more personal one: “The easiest thing in the world is to make a customer. You come up and say, let’s go to the bar. I’m having a Sazerac, what’ll you have?”).

Her exacting standards and high expectations are well known, though during our interview she also shared some of her love for the business and the people it attracts. She talked about her old habit of setting up a bar stool in the kitchen at Commander’s Palace to watch the chefs closely during a dinner rush. It could be seen as micro-management, but Brennan herself compared that perch to having box seats to her favorite show.

“People asked us why we’d sit in the kitchen,” she said. “Well, don’t you think I get an absolute charge from out of watching professionals do what they do at that level? It’s like going to the ballet. I love watching a kitchen like that in action.”

The proof on the plate

Nina Compton came to town this year riding a wave of fame from her star turn in “Top Chef: New Orleans.” But from the start, she and her husband Larry Miller have developed their first restaurant Compère Lapin (535 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-599-2119) with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

“It’s so much work to build this, and being a woman in the kitchen, I learned you have to work 10 times harder, because if you show one weakness or a shred of doubt, you’re dead meat,” she said before Compère Lapin’s debut in the spring. “I know the buzz will only last so long, so it’s about building a culture with your staff, not just saying things but following through.”

The performance of Compère Lapin, easily among the most exciting new restaurants in town, has put the proof on the plate.

“A come back business”

In April the long time restaurateur and host extraordinaire Joe Segreto closed his restaurant Eleven 79. During a long talk about his life in food he expressed hope that he would be back soon with another project.

He died in October at age 75. But the thoughts he shared about his chosen profession during that interview still resonate.

“This is a come back business,” said Segreto. “In other words, once you’re in this business, it’s something you always come back to. You have to. What’s more wonderful than pleasing your guests? What’s better than seeing that people want to come back because of what you provided? It’s like show business. Once you get a taste of that, you’re always coming back.”

“You Can’t Beat…”

The 24-hour Eighth Ward eatery and washateria Melba’s (1525 Elysian Fields Ave., 504-267-7765) is relatively new. But it’s actually the continuation of a local brand that was a household name in pre-Katrina New Orleans, the Wagner’s Meat grocery chain of “You Can’t Beat Wagner’s Meat” fame (or infamy, depending on your sense of humor), as well as the Chicken Box, known for its 1,000-piece fried chicken promotions. Both were created by Jane and Scott Wolfe.

Pursuing their story led to the unlikely tale of how the Wolfes made their place in New Orleans food lore, starting when they married as teenagers and took over a bankrupt grocery called Wagner’s in the poverty-stricken Desire neighborhood to make a go of it on their own.

“It was the only opportunity I could afford and it turned out it was a sleeping giant,” Scott Wolfe said. “We had our backs against the wall. We had to make it work or it was back to minimum wage.”

For their new venture Melba’s, they even tracked down their longtime cook from the Wagner’s days, Lois Thomas, whose gumbo and baked macaroni are again in rotation after her long post-Katrina exodus. A huge photo of Thomas in her apron now adorns the Melba’s façade, and it’s been proving how durable New Orleans food memories can be.

“People say they noticed the pictures, then they’ll make the block and stop in,” said Thomas. “They come in saying, ‘look, she’s back.’”

The fishmonger of Hollygrove

Valdrie Collins used to sell seafood from his pick up. Now he has his own shop, From the Boat to You (3206 S. Carrollton Ave., 504-914-4509), a tiny, somewhat ramshackle spot on a busy stretch of Hollgrove that is bringing back a small piece of the old neighborhood’s food culture.

The shop is filled not just with boiled seafood and fresh shrimp and whole fish, but also with Collins’ own booming personality and zealous pride of place. I spent the better part of a torrentially rainy summer afternoon with Collins, watching him cut redfish for customers who arrived by SUV, by bicycle or by foot.

“I’m just trying to make something real, something that’s from here. We sell what a New Orleans guy goes fishing for when he gets a chance to go fishing,” he said. “Salmon? You won’t even see a picture of it here. It’s good fish, but it’s not our fish, and this is all us here.”

Parenton’s beating heart

At the garage-sized Parenton’s Po-Boys (4304 Ellen St., Jefferson, 504-846-3545), well hidden in Old Jefferson, I met the lady who I now can’t help but think of as “the calendar girl.”

That’s Brenda Castillo, co-owner of this backstreet po-boy shop. Between taking orders for chicken fried steak po-boys (Thursday’s special) and Italian sausage po-boys, she hands out candy to kids, keeps a comment book just for children to leave their feedback in pen or crayon, and each year she works on a new calendar showing photos of her regulars and newcomers on each page.

Food is her second career. She came to Parenton’s after losing many of her loved ones in quick succession. Today, she pours herself into the shop.

“It’s a small place but every inch of it tells a story,” Castillo said. “This place keeps my heart beating.”

Mixing up the melting pot

Last winter, the only sign of something stirring at the strange yellow box of a building in Gert Town that would become Kin (4600 Washington Ave., 504-304-8557) was the light in the windows, shining late into the night. That was from Hieu Than and his family and friends, burning the midnight oil for a restaurant plenty of people thought they had pegged even before it opened.

“Everyone who saw this place and saw us working on it, they’d asked if it’s going to be, you know, insert-Asian-restaurant-concept-here,” said Than. “I’m Vietnamese, that’s my heritage, but that’s not where my culinary outlook ends.”

His outlook stems from that next generation of Vietnamese-New Orleanians, young people who were raised between two food-obsessed cultures and who are now bringing their own ideas to the scene.

At Kin, it adds up to an often-exhilarating rejuvenation of fusion cuisine, melding East and West with modern American foodie bravado, and it’s made this out-of-the-way spot a go-to for adventurous eaters.

Taking it from the streets

Some food entrepreneurs learn the ropes at big restaurant groups, others at culinary school or in business incubators. Demietriek Scott, who goes by Chef Scott, started with New Orleans street food, the realm of ad hoc vendors who follow second line parades, and the flavors associated with local celebrations.

He recently opened his stand Whoo Doo BBQ (2660 St. Philip St., 504-821-0978), and he has retail barbecue sauces on the shelves at Whole Foods Market. He has barbecue trailers to work festivals and sells cakes and pralines at corner stores.

“This is our food, and we’re giving people some different ways to get it,” he said.

It has not been easy. Chef Scott grew up with nothing, made mistakes, paid dearly and has faced more setbacks to his business dreams along the way. But the man has been able to draw on the renewable energy of his own optimism to keep on track, and he’s building something unique.

“I know there’s more opportunity for me, and I always believe you have to take that leap of faith to find out what’s on the other side,” he said. “Sometimes it’s meant more money, or better opportunity, and sometimes it was a mistake. But I’m on a mission and I’m not stopping.”

Homecoming, bourbon on the side

Mani Dawes and Sean Josephs each have their own restaurants in New York (Tia Pol and Mayesville, respectively). Kenton’s (5757 Magazine St., 504-891-1177) is the couple’s shared project, and it’s a homecomig of sorts. The restaurant opened in the same Uptown neighborhood where Dawes grew up.

The restaurant has a modern Southern sensibility on the menu, a seductively handsome design and an encyclopedic range of bourbon. It’s also a demonstration of the magnetic power that New Orleans has over its natives, particularly those in thrall to food.

“It’s thrilling, exciting and a little terrifying all at once,” Dawes said as Kenton’s opened in October. “I always knew we would come home, and this has been a fantasy for a long time, something we always wondered how we would make work. Now, just opening the doors and being able to tell people ‘welcome’ feels really great.”

The big picture

As a chef instructor at the New Orleans School of Cooking, Kevin Belton said he relishes the chance to dismantle common clichés about Creole cooking.

“I like pulling that curtain back and letting people see the process that gets them to that flavor,” said Belton, a former football player who stands about six-foot-nine.

With “New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton,” his forthcoming cooking series from WYES-TV, the chef may have a chance to show people something bigger.

The show, which is scheduled to debut in April, is the latest in a long line of cooking shows from the local public television station, dating to the 1970s when Cajun chef Justin Wilson brought his famous “I gar-on-tee” catch phrase to the nation. The same productions have featured Paul Prudhomme and John Besh. Belton is the first black chef to host a WYES cooking show.

A self-taught chef with family roots in both the French Caribbean and Louisiana bayou country, he’s eager to share a fuller perspective on New Orleans flavor.

“All people hear about is Cajun and Creole, Cajun and Creole,” he said. “But when they hear about the influence the Italians had, when they hear about the influence the Germans had, when they see the Vietnamese influence in later years, they see a bigger picture of what we have here.”

For the first time with a production of this sort, WYES opened its studio up to groups of students from local high schools and culinary programs for a behind the scenes look at a cooking show.

“Time has a purpose,” Belton told one group last spring, welling up visibly with emotion. “You have to be always learning and working toward what you want, even if you decided to go outside culinary. It’s always about learning and striving. When you have setbacks, that doesn’t mean you give up. That means it might not be your time yet, so you keep working.”

Contemporary country cuisine

With turtle blood boudin, crab roe pasta and duck chaudin (a stuffed pig stomach), Sac-A-Lait (1051 Annunciation St., 504-324-3658) makes some bold statements about rural Louisiana flavors. Coming from newcomers to New Orleans, this upscale and ambitious restaurant might seem provocative too.

But the perspective at work in this kitchen is personal and original. Samantha Carroll is from Gonzales; her husband and co-chef Cody Carroll is from Batchelor, a dot on the map in Pointe Coupee Parish. They grew up with farming and hunting and fishing as part their Louisiana heritage, and Sac-A-Lait is their modern read on the bounty of the countryside.

“It’s what we love and what we know,” said Cody Carroll. “We try to branch out, but it just never satisfies us the same way. In competitions, when we cook different styles, we get our asses kicked. When we cook our style, Louisiana food, we kick ass.”

“The most gratifying thing”

The brothers Calcie and Kelly Fiorella will soon open the Original Fiorellas’ Cafe in Gentilly, the continuation of a family restaurant they once had in the French Quarter (they hope to open early in January). When I met with Kelly Fiorella, I also got to meet his father, C.J. Fiorella, who operated that first Decatur Street restaurant. While we talked about his sons’ plans, we also talked about the past, and the senior Fiorella helped put things in perspective.

“I served in the Army six years, I was in the grocery business, I was even an auto mechanic, and I tell you, the most gratifying thing I ever did was restaurants,” he said. “You put out good food and see people respond to it, their eyes light up, they lick their fingers. You did that. That’s a good feeling.”

"4 Adventures To Explore the Foodie Culture in New Orleans"

"4 Adventures To Explore the Foodie Culture in New Orleans" - Press

THU THAN

étouffée, Oysters Rockefeller, the Sazerac cocktail and pralines — it's impossible to tell the story of New Orleans without talking about its famous dishes, drinks and desserts. You could read all about the finer qualities of these culinary icons, but to really get what Cajun and Creole cuisine are like, your clients simply have to come down here and taste it for themselves.

Thankfully, several companies have stepped up to give visitors an insider's look at the history and mysteries of these delicacies. Here are a few to whet your appetite.

Food Tours

Destination Kitchen/Food Tours New Orleans specializes in full-immersion cooking and dining experiences, with tours that go through the French Quarter, Uptown and St. Charles Avenue. You’re your clients spend a day getting their fill of beignets and French Market products you won't find outside of New Orleans, or venture to Garden District landmarks, where guides will tell all about the history of New Orleans and its famous food.

Speaking of history, New Orleans Culinary History Tours takes visitors to two of the city's oldest restaurants (among them: Antoine's and Tujague's, both in business for over 150 years). If your clients are up for combining your tour with a cooking demo, New Orleans Culinary History Tours provides those, too.

Clearly, the food history in New Orleans goes deep, so check out these additional culinary tours — each offering a unique food tour around New Orleans.

READ MORE New Orleans Mardi Gras: History, Tradition and Insider’s Tips

SoFAB: The Southern Food and Beverage Museum

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum showcases the best of south Louisiana and beyond. The museum honors high-profile restaurateurs and chefs, as well as the small-scale cooks and homemakers who have added their own flavors to Southern cuisine for generations.

Cooking Classes

New Orleans has a rich dining tradition, and at Langlois Culinary Crossroads and The New Orleans School of Cooking, you can actively take part in it. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with chefs and fellow culinary enthusiasts to learn tricks of the trade, all while dining on Creole and Cajun dishes in the heart of the city that made them famous.

Meet some of the city's most beloved local celebrities and chefs at New Orleans Cooking Experience, located just steps from the Lower Garden District. Start your clients’ visit with a glass of wine and a four-course cooking demonstration, while learning about the intricacies of Creole cuisine and the stories behind the dishes. Then tour the 19th century Queen Anne home where classes are held, followed by an expertly prepared dinner.

Beer and Spirits Tours

See what's brewing at Gordon Biersch, located, appropriately, in the old Jax Brewery building on the Mississippi riverfront. Join the brew master and staff on a behind-the-scenes tour of Gordon Biersch's beer making process, where you'll learn the difference between preparing Hefeweizens, pilsners and more exotic brews.

Head to a brewery tour at Crescent City Brewing. This brewery is believed to be the oldest in Louisiana and is located in a historic Creole townhouse just a few blocks from Jackson Square and Bourbon Street. Taste the four brews and dive in to the tasty menu while listening to live jazz daily.

At Drink & Learn, the experience delivers interactive presentations that use the city's famous drinks to describe the rich history of New Orleans. Historian Elizabeth Pearce will guide you through the libations as she tells the tales of rum, rebellion, whiskey and more.

Drink up and enjoy Gray Line Tours' cocktail walking tours, offered at 4 p.m. daily. Learn the fascinating stories behind the Sazerac and absinthe, whose close association with New Orleans is the stuff of legend.

How A $150,000 Grant Empowered The New Orleans School Of Cooking

How A $150,000 Grant Empowered The New Orleans School Of Cooking - Press

By Carolyn Heneghan

Visitors to New Orleans often want to take a piece of the city’s culinary magic home with them, and many do just that by learning traditional Cajun and Creole cooking skills in the heart of the French Quarter.

For 35 years, the New Orleans School of Cooking has been has been sharing the Fun, Food and Folklore of this region with the world. Through cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes, thousands of local and international students come together to learn how to prepare unique local dishes and understand more about culture that is the essence of the city. Charismatic and well-known chefs bring ‘flavor’ to classes, teaching the basics behind classic Louisiana dishes, such as gumbo, jambalaya and pralines, while incorporating snapshots of history into their lessons.

But classes are only part of what the New Orleans School of Cooking currently offers.

Through a $150,000 grant from Chase, Greg and Suzanne Leighton have been able to reach beyond the French Quarter to dinner tables around the world. In early 2015, The New Orleans School of Cooking received one of 20 Mission Main Street Grants® which gave the Leighton’s the capital needed for two important expansions. First, they were able to extend distribution of the school’s extremely popular Louisiana General Store’s branded products, such as Joe’s Stuff seasoning blend, Sliced Garlic and Olive Salad. Simultaneously, they were able to launch the New Orleans School of Cooking Foundation, which will further increase the school’s donations to local nonprofits.

“JPMorgan Chase is as invested in New Orleans as we are,” says CEO Greg Leighton. “As big as Chase is, it has a small town bank feel in this city. The reaction of local Chase employees to our win was impressive and authentic.”

Since the grant, the school has quickly caught up to speed on the global resources and capabilities of JPMorgan Chase. Now both a lending and business banking partner of the bank, the school has been empowered to purchase a centralized warehouse to further expand its ecommerce business internationally.

In New Orleans, we call getting a little something extra ‘lagniappe,’ The Mission Main Street Grant® was a lot of lagniappe. Great things happen when you believe in what you’re doing and tell a compelling story. When JPMorgan Chase believes in what you do, and when your story strikes a chord with them, anything can happen. We’re proof of that.

Greg Leighton, CEO, New Orleans School of Cooking

A freelance journalist, Carolyn has been a resident of New Orleans since she was ten years old.

New Orleans School of Cooking seeks recipe for global success

Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Leighton excused her way through browsing tourists on a recent Friday morning to pick up the pepper jelly she gets from a Folsom producer she met at a local farmer's market. The jar labels are decorated with the jelly maker's old family photos, she pointed out.
A nearby shelf held infused olive oils handmade by one of her daughter's former schoolmates. The olive oil maker just moved into a commercial kitchen in Abita Spring.
Those who try to leave without trying a praline are swiftly corrected.
"We make them right here," Leighton said, walking over to a corner where a woman in an apron smiled and stirred a pot of sugar, cream and butter over a burner.
Husband and business partner Greg Leighton joked that Suzanne knows every inch of the 900-square-foot general store on St. Louis Street. Behind French doors at the back is a demonstration kitchen where tourists pay from $30 to $140 to learn how to make jambalaya, gumbo and other classic New Orleans fare.
The New Orleans School of Cooking will celebrate 35 years in business in June. New Orleans tourism remains the roux, the bedrock of its business.
But there is one recipe the Leightons have yet to perfect -- how to grow their business outside the walls of the small St. Louis Street location.
"Our customers are literally from all over the world," Greg Leighton said. "The idea has always been, 'let’s see if we can take the New Orleans School of Cooking brand national, even international.'"
Opening the New Orleans School of Cooking in a city like Chicago or New York would not work, Suzanne Leighton said.
"I don't think you can duplicate what we do here," she said.
Earlier this year, Chase Bank chose the New Orleans School of Cooking out of 25,000 businesses nationwide for a grant through its Mission Main Street program. It is among 20 companies nationwide to receive $150,000 to grow their business.
The Leightons are using the money to update the New Orleans School of Cooking logo and launch a branded line of spices, oils and other foodstuffs over the summer. They aim to sell online and on store shelves internationally.
International retail sales is new territory, but the Leightons see it as the only clear path toward growth.
'We share what we love'
Tourism is a thread that runs throughout the story of the Leighton family.
The couple met in 1985 at redeveloped Jax Brewery in the French Quarter. Suzanne worked in one of the property's retail shops, and Greg had moved from New York to New Orleans for a year to help start a business there.
He decided to extend his stay. The two married in 1987.
Greg and a former partner bought the New Orleans School of Cooking in 1997 from a corporate owner.
The corporate owner had tried to make the New Orleans School of Cooking look and feel like the country stores it operated in other states, he said. He sought to build a unique New Orleans brand.
"You could be anywhere in the world and when you said 'New Orleans School of Cooking,' people would have a pretty good idea of where you are and what you're about," he said. "I thought that was very strong."
The Leighton’s moved the cooking school into a renovated 19th century molasses warehouse a half-block off Decatur Street.
They hired chefs who shared family gumbo recipes seasoned with bits of New Orleans folklore. Chefs Harriet Robin and Anne Leonhard are grandmothers who grew up down the street from one another.
Today, visitors who complete a cooking course get a diploma mailed to them, but only if they share a photo of a dish they prepared at home on the school's Facebook page.
Suzanne scours farmer's markets for local products to sell alongside bottles of Tabasco hot sauce and other popular Louisiana products.
"We get hundreds and hundreds of visitors that come to New Orleans to visit. They become part of our family," she said. "We share what we love with them."
No tourists, no business
Online sales were an afterthought for the Cooking School of New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina.
The Leighton’s, like most in the city, "were in survival mode" as tourist numbers plummeted in the wake of the storm.
Greg guessed it would take three to five years for revenue to recover to pre-storm levels. It took six.
"We had no tourists. We had no business," Suzanne Leighton said.
The Leighton’s edged into e-commerce. They realized visitors paid double, sometimes triple, to ship Joe's Stuff, the cooking school's signature spice mix, across the world.
Greg said it has been slow work pulling together capital to hire new staff, expand storage space, develop new products and improve shipping. The cooking school's online store needs an upgrade along with its 35-year-old logo.
The Leighton’s entered the Chase Bank competition last summer, prodded by their product development manager. They did not expect much.
Greg had to pause when he recalled getting the call about the $150,000 grant, thrown off guard by the tears in his eyes.
"You've just worked so hard, for so long and then this call comes," he said.
The money has accelerated plans to add seasonings, infused olive oils, jellies and other specialties to the school's existing line of products.
Several of the small Louisiana food makers that got their start in the New Orleans School of Cooking retail store have offered to make private label products for the company. Its custom spice blends are made at Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blends plant in Harahan.
Built on sharing
The grant money will also be a catalyst for a more personal cause.
Suzanne and Greg Leighton lost their son, William, to cancer in 1994. William was 5. For years, the Leighton’s, who have four daughters, hosted fundraisers for A Child's Wish of Louisiana, which helped send the family to Disney World when William was 3.
They plan to set up a New Orleans School of Cooking charitable fund, which will donate a portion of cooking class revenues to good causes.
The New Orleans School of Cooking was built on sharing, Greg said.
"Spend a couple of hours with us and you're taking something away. Recipes, a full stomach, a new friendship," he said. "You're going to take something away."

Mission Main Street Grants National Commercial - Chase

New Orleans School of Cooking - Mission Main Street Grants - Chase

The next big thing: Self-taught chef looks at Creole flavor through local lens in newest WYES cooking show

ian mcnulty the new orleans advocate

By Ian Mcnulty | The New Orleans Advocate

Kevin Belton is too modest to claim that his latest project could raise the bar for New Orleans cooking shows. But for his “New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton” with public television station WYES-TV, set designers literally did have to raise the kitchen counter.
That’s because Belton stands about six-foot-nine, with a massive frame that bespeaks his youthful days in football and today just makes you really glad that when he comes at you it’s with an easy smile instead of a tackling stance. To make the show’s kitchen more proportional to its star, the appliances and counters were elevated about a foot higher than usual. When others from the crew approach the counter, the chopping board might come up to their chest or shoulders.
Yes, Belton is big. But his stature as a chef is poised to grow larger still, and potentially give viewers across America a different lens on New Orleans cuisine.
Known locally as a chef and instructor at the New Orleans School of Cooking and for his regular appearances on WWL-TV’s Morning Show, Belton is the next face-of-the-franchise for a culinary series from New Orleans with national reach.
“New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton,” now under production by WYES-TV, is the latest in a long line of cooking shows from the local public television station, dating back to the 1970s when Cajun chef Justin Wilson brought his famous “I gar-on-tee” catch phrase to the nation. Chef Paul Prudhomme starred in five of his own series with WYES, starting in 1995, and more recently the station produced “Chef John Besh’s New Orleans” in 2011 and “Chef John Besh’s Family Table” in 2013.

Belton is the first black chef to host a WYES cooking series, and producers say his family background and his own upbringing shine a light on one iteration of New Orleans’ Creole culinary identity.
“The fascination with New Orleans right now is huge, and Kevin has such energy, such a warm personality and such talent, we feel public television audiences will connect with that,” said Terri Landry, producer and director of the new series and many others dating back to the early 1980s.
With this latest show, she said, “we can tell people they’re going to learn real New Orleans cooking, not about what you might learn professionally, but what people in this city are raised on, because this is what Kevin was raised with.”
Cook local, teach national
WYES plans to begin airing “New Orleans Cooking with Kevin Belton” locally early next year. Producers are also pitching the show for national distribution through American Public Television and Create TV, which carries lifestyle programs from public television stations across the country.
Beth Arroyo Utterback, executive vice president and chief operating officer of WYES, said the station’s cooking shows usually get an eager reception from other stations around the country, typically airing across 75 percent of the public television market when first released. If picked up by the Create Channel, she said, a series can reach 98 percent of the market. Stations often air the shows multiple times year after year.
“Thus, over time, the series can be seen by millions of viewers,” she said.
Belton’s series will comprise 26 episodes covering the diverse realm of New Orleans cooking, from French Creole classics to soul food to Irish, Italian and German influences on the city’s cuisine. It’s a line-up of dishes that stretches from spaghetti Bordelaise to beef rouladen, and one Belton approaches after an unconventional path to the role of cooking show host.
Though he spent a few recent years running an expansion location of the Creole soul restaurant Li’l Dizzy’s Café in the CBD with his friend Wayne Baquet, restaurants have been only a small part of his story.
Path to the plate
Now 55, Belton was raised in New Orleans in the Uptown area. His mother’s family has roots on the French-Caribbean island of Martinique and his French-speaking father’s family hails from outside of Thibodaux. He jokes that his interest in cooking started in the cradle.
“Mama stopped nursing me, she said you’re on your own now,” he said with a straight face before delving into laughter.
Belton played football for Louisiana State University for a stint in the late 1970s before transferring to Xavier University.
He gave pro football a try, too, though injuries at training camp with the San Diego Chargers ended his sports career before it could take wing.
Back in New Orleans, he worked around the tourism business and in 1991 took a job as store manager at the New Orleans School of Cooking, which offers daily cooking courses in the French Quarter.
When he later made the leap from retail to chef instructor, he’d never had any formal culinary training.
Instead, he found inspiration in his family’s own fixation with the kitchen and dinner table, he gleaned lessons from chefs he knew around the city and he found gratification in showing others what really makes the region’s famous cuisine shine.
“People outside New Orleans and Louisiana assume our cooking is about throwing in as much pepper in there as possible, but I like showing them that it’s about building in flavors,” he said. “I like pulling that curtain back and letting people see the process that gets them to that flavor.”
Belton got his first start in food TV with WYES back in the 1990s, preparing viewers’ own home recipes on-air during station fundraisers.
In 1999, he embarked on a much bigger media project, co-hosting the BBC series “Big Kevin, Little Kevin” with the British chef Kevin Woodford, which aired overseas.
He has appeared on numerous other cooking shows since, usually tapped as an ambassador of New Orleans flavor.
Big on personality
As modern food shows have grown more sleek and scripted, the approach taken by Landry and her production team at WYES is steadfastly instructional.
“We don’t spend a lot of time on glitz or competitions. Our audience wants to see people who know how to cook and who they can learn from,” said Landry.
That makes picking the right chef to lead the series all the more important, she explained.
“It’s a special talent to be able to do this,” she said. “You can be competent in the kitchen but not make that connection where a viewer feels like they’re right there in your kitchen. I remember walking around with Paul (Prudhomme) and people would just come up and hug him. They felt like they knew him. Kevin has that, too.”
In fact, Belton has already been making an impression on those who have visited the set as his new show comes together.
For the first time with a production of this sort, WYES opened its studio up to groups of students from local high schools and culinary programs for a behind the scenes look at a cooking show.
“I think he’s showing us the way for sure, and that there’s a lot that goes into it,” said Arnold Jackson, a first year student in the culinary arts program at Delgado Community College.
A New Orleans native whose family relocated to Dallas after Hurricane Katrina, Jackson was lured back by a desire to cook and connect with his hometown’s culinary heritage. Sitting in on the WYES set, he said, helped put that goal into perspective.
“Watching (Belton), you know he’s been there,” Jackson said. “He knows what it’s about.”

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New Orleans School of Cooking

524 St. Louis Street
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(504) 208-5320

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