Learn how Black New Orleanians cook at home in new book

Todd A. Price
Southern Kitchen
Toya Boudy, a native New Orleans chef, is the author of "Cooking for the Culture."

Toya Boudy is a native New Orleans chef. Her new cookbook, “Cooking for the Culture: Recipes and Stories from the New Orleans Streets to the Table,” has the recipes you would expect, like gumbo, jambalaya and barbecue shrimp. Boudy, however, is a Black New Orleanian. Her book is about Black home cooking in the city. The recipes also include collard greens, pepperoni lasagna and yakamein. She shares a culture where cooking is about abundance and thrift is a necessity. And unlike so many books devoted to home cooking, Boudy includes her own home on every page, from the loving house where she was raised, to her experience as a teenage mother and finally to her life now, where she appears on TLC and the Food Network and spreads her joyful, flavorful food across the internet.

Southern Kitchen: What was the last meal you cooked for your family?

Toya Boudy: Last night I made rotisserie-flavored chicken wings. And I made this tomato paste penne pasta. It's really simple with just tomato paste, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, seasoning and maybe a little bit of butter if you want to have a rich, creamy feel.

SK: New Orleans is famous for its food. But most visitors only know the city’s restaurant food. In “Cooking for the Culture,” you’re presenting not just New Orleans home cooking, but Black New Orleans home cooking. How different is that from what tourists expect?

TB: I used to work in the city teaching cooking classes to tourists. They were always complaining about the spice and the seasoning. A lot of the restaurants, they sometimes have to make the flavor profile a little more low-key to suit the people that are coming. And a lot of people who aren't from here automatically assume the food is going to be drenched with fat. When I used to cook for the classes, they were about to fall out their chairs if I put in two or three sticks of butter. And I'm like, this is a meal that's going to feed at least 80 people. All of that butter isn't going to be on one spoon.

"Cooking for the Culture" by Toya Boudy

SK: Are white New Orleanians familiar with how Black New Orleanians eat at home?

TB: If you didn't grow up like us, it's hard to understand sometimes even small stuff. Black people have a whole ‘nother way of doing stuff. And there are unspoken rules, like you’re not getting stuffed bell peppers on a regular Tuesday, fam. Some stuff is general food, other stuff is holiday food or baby shower food. People legit sell baby shower plates. If you didn’t grow up in the culture, or directly adjacent to it by having friends or family living in certain neighborhoods, you’re not going to fully understand.

More:Netflix's 'Street Food: USA' shines light on yakamein, New Orleans' 'best kept secret'

SK: In “Cooking for the Culture” you talk about gumbo with grilled cheese. Why is that combo special to you?

TB: It's a public school thing. My husband went to all-Black Catholic schools in New Orleans his entire life, and he had no clue what I was talking about. They feed you how they feed the Black community in public schools. You get those commodity grilled cheese sandwiches, that hood grilled cheese that’s not completely melted but just kind of soft. It was identical to the commodity boxes they were giving out for welfare.

"Cooking for the Culture" by Toya Boudy includes a recipe for succotash.

SK: What do your kids eat today at school?

TB: My kids are so bougie they don’t even like school lunch half the time. I say, “Why are you, a 10-year old, basically wanting a charcuterie board for lunch?”

SK: What lessons do you want people to take from “Cooking for the Culture”?

TB: No matter what happens in life, you can recover. If everybody counts you out, even down to the people inside in your intimate circle, it doesn't matter. I want you to ask, “Why am I here? Why is my heart beating without a machine right now?” There’s a reason why all of us are here. And it’s a magnificent one.

Jambalaya from 'Cooking for the Culture'

By Toya Boudy

I can hear Mrs. Valbuena yelling down the hallway, “Slow down, mamacita; you have a baby in your belly!” I was always running late to Spanish class, because the class before Spanish was on the opposite side of the school. So in my 10th grade mind, I needed to run. So funny that I always ran to a class I was always failing, because I was horrible at retaining Spanish... or was it “pregnancy brain” that made me forget? I know one thing: Mrs. Pilar Valbuena cared for me. She even threw me a baby shower in class. Yes, in Spanish class I had a baby shower. Well after the baby was born, deep into senior year, I had Spanish again. And again, I was failing. Mrs. Valbuena called me to the desk to tell me, “Mamacita, you are failing, and you need this class to graduate.” She suggested I take makeup quizzes, and I, in a quick response, replied, “Oh, you know Imma fail that, what about extra credit projects?” She agreed. I made paella, Spanish rice and a series of elaborate piñatas. I swear I can make a mean piñata and set of maracas, too. I always say my creativity helped me graduate high school. That was my first time making paella, and while making it I noticed heavy similarities to a dish my mama made: jambalaya. I was amazed. Jambalaya is a rice dish birthed in Louisiana when the Spanish made a modified version of paella using tomatoes instead of saffron, and this is the version that we call Creole jambalaya, or red jambalaya. It has a smooth taste because of the tomato flavor. The same dish was cooked by the Cajuns, which was spicier, and brown because of the spices, smoked meats and deeply caramelized vegetables. Cajun, or brown, jambalaya has a smoky boldness. 

Although paella is a big influencer of jambalaya, it isn’t the only influence. A few African rice and meat–based dishes come to mind, like jollof, waakye and cabidela. Jambalaya is also another one of those meals in the food culture of New Orleans that is known for its affordability to make and its ability to stretch. That alone makes me throw the African hat in the ring for being one of the influences of jambalaya. If any of the native Spanish or Africans craved any rice dish from home, they had to use what was available to them in Louisiana. Take your cues from them to make jambalya that’s specific to where you live, and that caters to the people who come to your table. In our home growing up, we always had red jambalaya because a great deal of my mama’s cooking techniques leaned toward a Creole style of cooking and flavoring. Now, as an adult, I enjoy the smokiness of the brown, as well. But if my mama’s at the table, it’s going to be red.

Serves 8 to 10


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds boneless chicken breast, chopped or cubed
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, more to taste
  • 2 pounds smoked sausage
  • 2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3½ cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1½ cups chopped green bell peppers
  • 1½ cups chopped celery
  • 8¼ cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 7 cups uncooked Ben’s Original rice (parboiled)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups chopped green onions


1. In a large pot, add the oil and bring to a medium heat.

2. Lightly season the chicken with the Cajun seasoning. Brown the chicken and set aside. In the same pot, without changing the oil, sauté the sausage for 8 minutes. (This will leave more fat in the bottom of the pot. You want all the juices from all the meats to be at the bottom of the pot.) Once the sausage is nice and sticky, remove and set aside. Last, sauté the shrimp in the fat for 5 minutes, and then set aside. This will lock all the flavor at the bottom of the pot!

3. Now, add the trinity mixture and green onions to the pot and begin to sauté for 8 minutes. Once softened, add the stock, paste, tomatoes and garlic, and bring to a boil.

4. Immediately after the boiling point is reached, add the rice, chicken, sausage and bay leaf.

5. Season with the Cajun seasoning to taste.

6. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the shrimp for the last 7 minutes of cooking.

7. Once the 7 minutes are up, remove from the heat. If the rice is tender, serve immediately. But if you feel the rice is a little too firm, stir it around and put the lid on until it’s tender. Trust me, the heat from the pot will finish the job.