We Cook with the Pros in Our Kitchen

Just about every Saturday the Rouses Culinary Innovation Center by Jenn-Air plays host to a chef or cookbook author for free cooking demonstrations and samplings. It's a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Recent guests have included Chefs Tenney Flynn (GW Finns), Philip Lopez (Root and Square Root) Nick Lama (AVO), Eric Loos (La Provence), and Tory McPhail (Commander's Palace). Our most recent guest was Chef Scot Craig of Katie's Restaurant in Mid City.  He's a fun guy and he shared some great stories and recipes with us. Here's a taste:

Scottie's CNN Blackberry and Jalapeño Ribs

The Back Story:

Back in 2005, with New Orleans nearly empty, vandals and thieves seized upon Katie's Restaurant just hours before the levees failed following Hurricane Katrina, flooding the popular neighborhood joint with six feet of filthy, greasy gasoline-laced water. Scot Craig was left with neither a business, nor, since he lived upstairs, a home.

"But still, Katrina is the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my life."

Days after the disaster, a friend encountered a group of CNN journalists seeking a mobile kitchen so they could get away from the military-issued, vacuum-sealed meals ready to eat (MREs) they were subsisting on. The friend connected the journalists and Scottie.

 "I was desperate and I sensed this was a killer opportunity. I found them a mobile kitchen and they got me along with the deal. I was gonna stick like glue."

Scottie and his mobile kitchen set up shop at the CNN outpost in a parking lot not far from Lee Circle. In those early days only military, journalists (which now included Scottie), and crafty, connected types capable of securing passes were allowed to roam the city. Inexplicably, those with high-level connections included Arthur J. Robinson, aka Mr. Okra, the city's best-known traveling produce salesman. Regardless that he was awakening to a sparsely populated, utterly decimated place, back in those dark days Mr. Okra cheerily continued to do the same thing he'd done each morning for decades: He loaded up his pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and slowly drove around town singing out through a bullhorn what items he had available for sale.

"I have no idea where he was getting this stuff—most people were still munching MREs and jars of pickles—but every day it was ‘I've got blackberries!’ when Mr. Okra drove by. He seemed to have blackberries just coming out of his a--. So I bought blackberries.

"CNN headquarters kept sending in loads of baby back ribs. So I had lots of ribs and lots of blackberries. What to do? This is it.

"I was supposed to work for CNN for three months, tops. I ended up working for them until 2007. They changed my life. I love those guys. I still get calls from CNN bureaus all over the country asking for these ribs."

The Recipe:

Though Scottie uses this divine sauce to baste the succulent, tender ribs it would work equally well on chicken, pork, duck, or vegetables. “Hell, use it on tofu. But whatever you do, don't use this on those horrible, fatty St. Louis-style ribs,” the chef warns. “They suck. Use only lean baby backs.”

Serves 4

  • 2 racks best-quality baby back pork ribs
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/8 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1/8 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 tablespoons pepper
  • 1/8 tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
  • 20 fresh blackberries
  • 30 pickled jalapeño slices, finely chopped
  • Pickled juice from jalapeños
  • Fresh, whole blackberries, if desired

Smoke the ribs as desired for three to four hours until tender. Refrigerate the ribs until well chilled.

Combine the honey, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, salt, sugar, blackberries, and jalapeño in a sauce pot. Purée with an immersion blender. Set pot over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, about ten minutes. If sauce gets too thick, it may be thinned with some of the pickled juice from the jalapeños.

Prepare an outdoor charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking. Brush the ribs generously with the sauce and grill until heated through. The sauce should be thick enough to stick to the ribs.

Serve the ribs with additional sauce and blackberries, if desired.

Summer Squash Ratatouille

The Back Story:

"So, in 2013 right before Jazz Fest, I get this kinda panicky phone call from my friend (New Orleans resident and political analyst) James Carville. 'So Scottie, can you come cook dinner for me and some friends tomorrow night? One of 'em's vegan. Can you cook vegan?'

"Sure, why not."

"So I'm setting up in the kitchen making vegan dishes alongside the crawfish etouffee and shrimp Creole James just loves and in walks Bill Clinton. Instead of heading right in to talk to all of his famous friends—and the house was loaded with them—he comes in the kitchen and starts chatting with us. He's asking me about my restaurants, asked how we made out back in the Katrina days. He told us that at 67 he was the oldest living man in his family due to heart disease, so he's taken up a vegan lifestyle. He was so gracious I half expected him to start doing dishes.

"Then, a couple of weeks later, you know what I get? A thank-you note. The former president of the United States sent me a hand-written thank-you note for cooking him dinner and giving him a Katie's T-shirt. What a nice guy. This one's for him."

 The Recipe:

Serves 4

  • 2 medium yellow crookneck squash, unpeeled
  • 2 zucchini, unpeeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
  • Creole seasoning

Cut the yellow squash and the zucchini in half lengthwise, then slice the lengths into quarter-inch discs. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about four minutes. Add the reserved squash, and the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. Cook until squash just begins to soften but still retains some snap, about five minutes. Season with Creole seasoning.