Prize-winning 'Mosquito Supper Club' cookbook honors a Cajun village in peril

Todd A. Price
Southern Kitchen
In "Mosquito Supper Club," Melissa M. Martin captures the recipes and culture of hometown of Chauvin, a small Cajun village in Louisiana. (Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books.) Copyright © 2020.)

Chef Melissa M. Martin’s first cookbook, “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou” (Artisan), is a love letter to Chauvin, Louisiana, the Cajun fishing town where she grew up. When Martin, who runs the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans, wrote the book, Chauvin was in danger from rising sea levels and the effects of climate change. She could not have foreseen her hometown would soon be devastated by Hurricane Ida, which struck Louisiana in late August.

In October, “Mosquito Supper Club” was named best American cookbook and cookbook of the year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Martin spoke to The American South about the damage to Chauvin and the future she sees for her hometown.

The American South is the sister publication of Southern Kitchen. 

The American South: You just visited Chauvin, your hometown. How bad is the damage from Hurricane Ida two months after the storm?

Melissa Martin: Chauvin is almost completely devastated. I would say every third house is almost uninhabitable. There's still mobile homes floating in the bayou. They're still houses floating in the bayou. There's still overturned shrimp boats. There's still an obscene amount of trash and debris. I don't know if it's ever going to be the same. One of the craziest things is when you’re down there your bearings are gone. So many markers for where you are in the town are completely gone.

TAS: Will Hurricane Ida drive more people to leave this region?

MM: It's like a guy going down with his ship. People are going to hold on until they can't hold on anymore. People are trying to reclaim their lives. There's some people that still have a lot of hope.

TAS: How much damage was done to the seafood industry by Hurricane Ida?

MM: We're going to lose a lot of the small fishing fleet. I think the bigger people with a family company and maybe six larger Gulf boats, those people are going to take over the industry. I've already lost my longtime crab purveyor. My cousins don't know if they're going to rebuild their shrimp docks.

In "Mosquito Supper Club," Melissa M. Martin captures the recipes and culture of hometown of Chauvin, a small Cajun village in Louisiana. (Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020.)

TAS: You lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. How does the damage to Southeast Louisiana from Ida compare?

Shrimp and spaghetti is to Southern Louisiana what spaghetti and meatballs is to the rest of the U.S., says "Mosquito Supper Club" author Melissa M. Martin.

MM: It was more visceral than Katrina. We knew that “Mosquito Supper Club” was written for a time when things were going to get worse. We just didn't know that would be one year later. Sea level rise is in our faces along with bigger storms and climate change. But I'm telling you, people are going to be there until they can't be there anymore. We forced my parents to evacuate for Ida. I said to my mom, if you don't evacuate then I will never take your advice again for the rest of my life. But she cried for four days, because her sisters didn't evacuate.

TAS: If we lose a place like Chauvin, what are we losing?

MM: We are losing the land that protects the city of New Orleans. As the coastline comes up, New Orleans becomes a seaside town. It’s about food security. This place produces so much seafood, which is sent around the country. It’s also about fossil fuel security and the oil infrastructure. All of that is aside from losing a place steeped in 300 years of culinary traditions. And once it's gone, it's just gone.

Note: The interview was edited for length and clarity.

COOK THE BOOK

Maxine's Chicken Gumbo

Buttery Crawfish Étouffée

Velma Marie’s Oyster Soup

News tips? Story ideas? Questions? Call reporter Todd Price at 504-421-1542 or email him at taprice@gannett.com. Sign up for The American South newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.