“How we lookin, baby?” – Kernest Gagnard
A character. A walking, breathing, filled with energy and moxie
C H A R A C T E R.
Kernest is a true Cajun and comes complete with an accent, deeply steeped cooking knowledge and is a thrill to be around (full disclosure: pretty ladies of all ages BEWARE.)
Maybe it’s because of the ladies that he volunteers in the “kitchen” every year at a church fundraiser, to be around all the women and delicious food ingredients bustling around. Kernest is in charge of the Jambalaya and he makes roughly 300 servings of it at a time.
Kernest’s understudy is a gentle man named David Stark who also served as translator when Kernest’s accent proved too thick for me to understand.
“I don’t measure. I just look at it. If it’s not the color I want, I just add some more of something.” – Kernest Gagnard
Even though it was only 11 in the morning I already had a beer in my hand, courtesy of Kernest.
“I left the country to find me a wife. She won’t let me drink until ‘leven. What time is it? 10:26? Is she lookin’? Mimi ya wanna beer?” – Kernest Gagnard
“You gotta watch your kitchen bouquet. Use the spices you want. Don’t fry the pork before, honey. It’ll break up.” – Kernest Gagnard
“Too much stuff! Too much!! Keep it simple, you can always add more.” – Kernest Gagnard
Kernest is from a purely Cajun parish, deep in Louisiana. St. Francesville township where everybody knows everybody else.
I sat listening to his story, entranced.
“My momma and daddy could barely speak English. My daddy had to think before he spoke. I failed first grade because I couldn’t speak English, only Cajun french. SO I said, my kids will never learn french from me. Now my sons can’t even boil water either. Ha! My momma never measured nothing. But I did give each of my kids a seasoned black pot when they moved out. You know you should never make a red gravy in a black pot. It’ll go sour honey. Anyhow. My daddy was no fool, baby. He married a country girl who could cook. Ooooh. Baby could she cook. My momma was da bess.” – Kernest Gagnard
“My great grandparents and grandparents never spoke english. I only spoke to them in country french. Kernest generation is the last generation to speak like that. Baby Dis. Baby Dat. So boisterous and fun, so raw and fun and french.” – Dave Stark
At that point, Kernest proudly announced “I’m a shit starter!”
Then he leaned into a woman sitting near him, who was busy building small salads into to go containers, and pointing at me with a wink said, “She gon get my whole fambly history. Whooeee. I like her. Yes baby, I do.”
“Chicken thigh meat is where it’s at. Ya got to add that.” – David Stark
“Green onyons are the best seasoning. Ya add those when ya done. ‘Bout 6-8 cups of them at the end.” – Kernest Gagnard
Jumbalaya is neither a soup nor a stew. It’s a thick, well-seasoned rice dish.
You always start with 2 times as much rice as you have meat. And you always have 10 times as much pork, chicken or sausage meat as you have bacon.
To make this for a crowd, follow this recipe. You can always cut it down a bit, retaining the right ratio’s of meat:rice:seasoning
60 Pounds parboiled rice
30 Pounds pork
30 pounds pork sausage
3 pounds bacon
1 pound celery, bell pepper, onion diced
5 gallons of water
2 cups worcestishire sauce, kitchen bouquet
5 tablespoons salt, garlic powder, tony’s seasoning
Total Cooktime: 3 hours
1. Cook your meat, in a large pot set on a gas or charcoal powered fire pit. As meat browns, add your parboiled rice. Cook for 45 minutes.
2. Add your vegetable and cook another 15 minutes. Then add your bucket of water.
3. Add your seasonings, stir and cover the pot for about an hour. Peeking occasionally.
4. Every thirty minutes, take a oeek and make sure you do not need more water and the color of the rice/water is a deep golden.
5. After about 3 hours, your rice will be done, water will be cooked down, seasons melded and meat & vegetables softened. You are done!
“Cook the meat directly in the pot, girl. Do not fry it beforehand. It’ll fall apart.”
I left the church parking lot, where the kitchen was set up, around 4pm in the afternoon after consuming more beers than I care to think about … but I put more jumbalaya in my stomach to soak it up. So I think I left pretty even steven. Full and Happy. As I was leaving, I hugged David and Kernest goodbye. Behind them was a line, a mile long jumbalaya line.
“Cajuns are like ants. They everywhere!” – Kernest Gagnard