As the Southern Food & Beverage Museum begins celebrating its first 10 years in 2018, the city of New Orleans is also celebrating a big birthday. The tricentenial of New Orleans marks 300 years of this unique city’s development: physical, cultural, and (most importantly for us!) culinary. The world wouldn’t recognize New Orleans as the food mecca that it is if there weren’t all the determined, inventive, and supremely talented men and women who gave us their most delicious dishes and ideas. At SoFAB, we celebrate and support our modern culinary entrepreneurs with the Paul C.P. McIlhenny Culinary Entrepreneurship Program, which provides educational training and resources for aspiring entrepreneurs, including use of our beautiful demonstration kitchen, the Rouses Culinary Innovation Center by Jenn-Air.
We've had the pleasure of getting to know a few of the countless culinary entrepreneurs in the history of New Orleans, and we're sharing a few of our favorites here:
Elizabeth Kettenring Dutrey Bégué moved to New Orleans from Germany in 1853. By 1863 she and her first husband Louis Dutreuil opened a restaurant in the French Quarter. He was a butcher, and they served breakfast and lunch to the hungry butchers working in the French Market. After Louis passed away, Elizabeth continued the business with her second husband, Hippolyte Bégué, and just updated the name. At Bégué's they served a “second breakfast” at 11 AM. The menu was ever changing, but the dishes reflected Elizabeth’s German heritage as well as French and Creole favorites like Chicken a la Creole, Jambalaya of Chicken and Ham, and an Oyster omelet.
Madame Begue is one of our favorite culinary entrepreneurs because her second breakfast was really the invention of brunch! The meal became incredibly popular outside of the French Market butchers, and tourists and locals alike enjoyed the novelty of the timing and composition, and the rest is bacon scented history.
Lena Richard was the epitome of a hardworking culinary entrepreneur. She was a chef, restaurateur, caterer, cookbook author, cooking teacher, and host of her own television show in New Orleans. As an African-American woman born in New Roads, Louisiana in 1892, Richard faced more than her fair share of adversity. At the age of 19 she became the cook for the Vairin family in New Orleans, making all of the meals for the family of seven. Mrs. Alice Vairin recognized her talent and sent her to the Fannie Farmer Cooking School in Boston, where Lena graduated in 1918. Returning to New Orleans, Lena began catering from her home and opened a couple of small eateries before opening her own cooking school in 1937. Then in 1939 she self-published her first cookbook, simply titled Lena Richard’s Cook Book. In 1940 the publisher Houghton-Mifflin reissued her book as New Orleans Cook Book and Lena set out to the Northeast to promote it.
When Lena Richard was promoting her cookbook in the Northeast, she was recruited by Charles and Constance Stearn to be the head chef of the recently opened Bird and Bottle Inn in Garrison, New York. Richard was highly successful at the restaurant and was known for dishes such as her "Shrimp Soup Louisiane." After returning to New Orleans, in November 1941, Richard opened Lena's Eatery, located at 2720 Lasalle Street. Richard left New Orleans once again when she was sought out by Charles Rockefeller of the John D. Rockefeller Foundation to act as head chef of the Travis House Restaurant and Inn in Colonial Williamsburg. Around 1945, Richard returned to New Orleans and started her own frozen food business. She cooked and packaged frozen dinners to be shipped across the country. From 1949 to 1950, Richard hosted a twice-weekly cooking show called “Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book” on a local television station, the first African-American to do so at a time when few households owned television sets. Lena Richard passed away in November 1950.
Of course, this being our birthday year, we have to toot our own horn a bit too. Liz is a true New Orleanian, born and raised in the city (she went to Ben Franklin) with a family that was properly just a little obsessed with eating. Her mom was first generation American, and her Sicilian grandmother coached Liz from the beginning on the importance of wine, tomatoes, and anise cookies. After earning her law degree from Louisiana State University, Liz and her husband Rick left the state for a series of international adventures before returning to the city.
In 2003, Liz Williams decided that she wanted to follow a lifelong love of food to its natural conclusion: the start of a food and drink museum in New Orleans. With the help of a few friends, a creative historian, and an enthusiastic public, the museum sent its first exhibit into the world in 2004. Through hurricanes, a financial crisis and all, Liz Williams is proud to be leading the Southern Food & Beverage Museum into its 10th year of having a brick and mortar museum space. She’s also somehow made time to write two books specifically about the food and drink culture of New Orleans (New Orleans: A Food Biography, and Lift Your Spirits), teach SoFAB’s weekly cooking classes, and share her homegrown vinegar mother. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong with this one, and we can’t wait to see where she takes us next!