Questions and Answers
You are a native New Orleanian of Creole descent. What is your heritage?
My mother’s family originally came from the French-Caribbean island of Martinique. On my dad’s side there’s French, Native American, and, I think, English. His French-speaking family came from outside of Thibodaux in Lafourche Crossing.
You’ve said that your biggest influences were your grandmother and mother. What did you learn from them in the kitchen of your family’s Uptown New Orleans home?
You could learn everything you needed to know sitting at the kitchen table, including family history and family values. Grandmother was like the executive chef. Mom would be doing the cooking and every once in a while she would look at Grandmother for her approval and be assured “no, no, keep going, you’re fine.”
Were you always interested in cooking?
Definitely. When I was 7 or 8 years old Mom taught me how to do little things in the kitchen to help her, but she also took me to the grocery store to learn how to shop. We used to get meat at Bashman’s butcher shop on St. Bernard Avenue and I grew up watching them make their hot sausage and other specialties.
As a cooking instructor you’ve led over 7,000 lessons in more than 20 years. Why are people so interested in the food of the city?
Visitors come here to learn about the mystery of New Orleans cooking. In class you can watch as the light bulbs come on. They think that something that tastes so good has to be really complicated, but it doesn’t. I like food that is simple but surprisingly delicious.
You talk about getting kids involved in the kitchen. When they were growing up did your sons Kevin and Jonathan help you with meal preparation?
Since they were little I’ve passed down what I’ve learned to both my boys. My boys would do their homework at the kitchen table while I started dinner. I would get dinner going and be able to help them with their homework. They were able to watch and smell and see the result. We always sat together at the dinner table and afterwards they would help me clean up. The kitchen table was the place where we had all our discussion and made our decisions that pertained to our family. Both Kevin and Jonathan have an interest in the kitchen and cooking and turned into good cooks in their own right. Actually they have both even worked at my restaurant doing a little bit of everything.
What about the next generation of Beltons, two-year-old grandson Carter and the latest addition, grandson Cameron? Do you think they’ve inherited your love of good food?
On my last visit to Lafayette to see my son Kevin and his wife Christina I offered Carter a small piece of boudin sausage and I was delighted when he came back for more. He has quite a palate already. As for baby Cameron, he’s already a hearty eater and I look forward to introducing him to family favorites when he’s older.
You use a lot of Creole Seasoning. If I can’t find that in my local grocery, can I make my own?
Absolutely! Add your favorite dried herbs to a base of granulated garlic, red pepper and a little salt and you have your own all-purpose Creole blend.
What about seafood and other local ingredients? What if they aren’t available in my area?
I end each show in the series telling people to trust their own taste and make recipes their own. Please use the freshest ingredients that are available where you live. If you can’t get fish, use chicken! My recipes all contain substitutions and suggestions.
What’s the number one piece of advice you give people who want to prepare the dishes that make New Orleans a culinary mecca?
First of all, get back to the table! People are busy and think they don’t have time to cook, but with a little prep work they can sit together and share a meal. With a foundation of celery, green pepper, green onions, stock and roux you can make dinner magic.