An Interview With The Catholic Foodie

October 17, 2012

The Catholic Foodie: Jeff Young's son slurped raw oysters as a toddler.When someone’s toddler son insists on having lobster on his third birthday, the wife cooks Lebanese food, two young daughters put away sushi without batting an eye, you got to ask (rather, I had to ask): who is this foodie family?  Luckily, I was already acquainted with the family patriarch, Jeff Young (aka The Catholic Foodie),  an amiable man and sometimes Instagram addict from South Louisiana, who makes cooking with your family sound like an everyday Mardi Gras party.  Jeff will tell you that food and family are intertwined.  Recently, I caught up with The Catholic Foodie and asked him all the hard-hitting foodie questions (not really).  Jeff happily obliged.

Jeff, what is the most asked question about you or your blog?

Hmm… I guess the most asked question I get is “Can you come cook for me?”  And that leads to another popular question I get, “How do you find the time to cook so much?”  We cook, from scratch, every day. Good food, and real food, is very important to us. We also just happen to love to cook. From time to time we do eat out, but not fast-food.

 

I notice you feature your family quite a bit on your Instagram as well as your blog. How would you describe how much food and cooking plays a role in your family’s lives?

It’s the way we grew up. I remember as a child eating breakfast and asking the question, “what’s for lunch?” And then at lunch I would ask the question, “what’s for dinner?” Everything – and I mean everything – down here revolves around food. There’s nothing quite like our Louisiana culinary culture. We need very little reason to throw a party and celebrate.  All classic Cajun and Creole dishes are one-pot meals. Red beans & rice, gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée, boiled crawfish (or any other boiled seafood)… even oysters (you can buy them by the sack!).  I love all the traditional Cajun and Creole dishes that are part and parcel of our culture down here in South Louisiana. But I also love other cuisines. My wife Char is of Lebanese descent, so we eat a lot of Mediterranean food. I spent 2 years living in Mexico, back in 1989 to 1991, so I definitely have a taste for authentic Mexican food, too.

Birthdays are an example of the role that food plays in our lives. We typically celebrate birthdays by going to the favorite restaurant of the birthday boy or girl. My wife and my son claim sushi for their favorite food, so we celebrate their birthdays with a huge sushi spread. We prefer to sit at the bar. Typically, the sushi chefs and restaurant owners are awed by the way my children put away sushi. And they are not scared to try the exotic. My favorite food is pizza, so we go to my favorite little hole-in-the-wall pizza parlor every year on my birthday. My youngest daughter just happens to have her birthday during crawfish season, so usually I boil crawfish at home and we invite their godfather to celebrate with us. My two girls are only 14 months apart, so their birthdays are January and March. Often we celebrate the two together sometime in February, which is perfect for us. It’s crawfish season and Mardi Gras season. For the last several years they have requested that I make a King Cake as their birthday cake. I have happily obliged them.

Who was your biggest influence?

There are a few people I can point to specifically as having some influence on me and my interest in food and cooking. First of all, my paternal grandfather who absolutely loved to cook. He went to the grocery everyday and bought what he needed for that day. And I do the same thing today. I go to the grocery every single day. For me it is a pleasure.  Another person who influenced me early on was Justin Wilson. He was an old Cajun man (though he wasn’t really Cajun) who had a local cooking show down here. He told jokes, he was a comedian, and he talked about our traditional Cajun and Creole dishes in a way that just made you smile. [You can find several old videos of Justin Wilson on YouTube.]

In the late 80s and early 90s there was a national TV show called PM Magazine.  PM Magazine in Baton Rouge had a local segment featuring a very colorful restaurant critic. He was known as the Cajun Chowhound, and he drove a black and orange Ford Bronco with BIG tires. And he was a BIG boy. He would drive up to a restaurant in his Bronco, go inside and talk about the food and atmosphere. I loved it. And I loved it for more than one reason. I loved seeing the restaurants and the food, of course. But there was another reason I loved it. At the end of each visit, he would ask the server for a “doggie bag.” Why? Because he had a sidekick named Spare Rib. Spare Rib was a Basset Hound. More specifically, Spare Rib was MY Basset Hound. That’s right. The local TV station paid me money every week to come pick up my dog so he could be on TV. Not bad, huh?

What is your favorite dish to cook, and what is the one dish/recipe you’re still trying to master?

Pizza is my favorite food. I would love to have a pizza oven, but I don’t. So I make do with what I have. I have been making pizzas since I was in high school. I started out with those old Chef Boyardee boxed pizza kits. Eventually, I moved on to using flour and yeast and making my own sauce. Pizza-making is something that I work at. Where I am today is much farther than where I started. But I am still not where I would like to be. Over the years I have worked to perfect my crust and my sauce. Folks who eat my pizzas love them. But I have to resort to tricks to make pizzas come out the way they do because my oven only goes to 500 degrees. It’s still good, but I would be like a kid in a candy store if I was able to cook pizzas with a real pizza oven.

Which member of your family would win on eating the strangest or “scariest” foods contest?

My son. Definitely my son. This is the child who begged for raw oysters at the age of two. This is the child who would eat puffer fish if it was available, and if I would let him. This is the child who asked for fried frog legs for his birthday meal a couple of years ago. This is the child who ate a pig eyeball two years ago at a “cochon de lait” (a pig roast, like where we roast the whole pig) on Mardi Gras day. Oh, and he ate pig brain on that day, too. He’s the one who had me buy some habañero peppers one day because he just didn’t believe that they would be too hot for him. So, yeah. Him. He would win. For sure.

Would you ever go on a TV show like Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen?

No. I don’t think so. I don’t think I would handle the pressure well at all.  That does not mean that I think that food TV is not a good thing. It is. I love watching Food Network. I dream of doing a Catholic version of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (which is totally possible with all the Catholic family-owned restaurants in New Orleans and Baton Rouge). I have thought about calling it The Roamin’ Catholic Foodie. Are there any financial backers out there?

Can you share a favorite, simple recipe with my readers? 

How about a simple Lebanese recipe for lentils and rice?  This is easy and delicious. It’s called Mujadra, and you can find it online here: http://catholicfoodie.com/mujadra-lebanese-lentils-and-rice

Mujadra is tasty, quick, and easy to make. It can be served as the main course.  Mujadra is meatless, so it would make a great family dinner for Fridays in Lent. But, it’s so delicious that it can be eaten on any day.

MUJADRA by THE CATHOLIC FOODIE

INGREDIENTS

2 cups dried lentils
8 cups of water
1 cup uncooked white rice (we use jasmine or basmati)
2 large onions, chopped
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of freshly-cracked black pepper (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin (or to taste)

Kosher salt to taste
Fresh chopped parsley as a garnish

DIRECTIONS

Rinse lentils and add to a pot with cold water (all 8 cups).
Bring to a boil, and boil on medium-high heat for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium-high heat.
When the onions start to brown nicely, add the onions and olive oil (along with any brown caramelized bits) to the pot. Also add the rice, salt, pepper, and cumin.
Stir to mix well, then cover and cook for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.
This is a great one-pot meal that can be served at table from a serving dish. Mujadra actually thickens as it cools. It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Bon appetit!

 

Need more Louisiana foodie goodness?  Check out The Catholic Foodie online!

~Kathy

Images courtesy of Jeff Young.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff Young October 17, 2012 at 8:33 AM

Wow, Kathy! Thank you so much for the delightful interview! I really had fun pondering your questions. And it is providential that you post this today, as I just posted an article about MY favorite food: PIZZA! Thanks again, Kathy! Laissez les bon temps roulez! (Let the good times roll!)

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2 Kathy_Writer October 17, 2012 at 1:27 PM

You’re welcome, Jeff. It was my pleasure and I really enjoyed getting to know your foodie family. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.. you’re an inspiration!

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3 Lisa t. October 17, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Great article! Love me some Catholics, food, and the foodie, too. :0)

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4 Kathy_Writer October 17, 2012 at 1:28 PM

Thank you, Lisa! This family just caught my attention to how much they love food.

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5 http://www.odysseyhome.com October 19, 2012 at 7:10 AM

Lentils and basmati rice – I’m there!

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6 Monica Glaboff October 25, 2012 at 3:47 PM

Oh Kathy now you’ve got me wanting to go to New Orleans to have some good food.

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