“For me gumbo is an occasion where there’s going to be a lot of people around hanging out, whether it be watching a football game on television or at the hunting camp or fishing camp.” – Jeff Landry
“Some of the children didn’t like okra so (my mother) would take the okra and smother it down and put it in a blender or a Cuisinart or something and you couldn’t even see it.” – Jim Gossen
Jim Gossen, the proprietor of Louisiana Foods in Houston, Texas, is the oldest of seven children, which means that his mother needed to cook with economy. One-pot meals, Jim calls them. A single hen could feed everyone, for example, as long as it was made into a gumbo. The family never ate in restaurants during his youth spent in the Lafayette area, but many of his siblings became passionate cooks, and Jim is no exception. After a long career in restaurants, Jim entered the wholesale seafood business. These days you won’t find him toiling behind a restaurant stove, but if you catch him at one of his homes (either in Houston, Texas, or Lafayette or Grand Isle, Louisiana), he’s likely to greet you with a pan of baked oysters, a slice of root beer-glazed ham, or hot biscuits brushed with melted butter. Jim has nothing against using store-bought roux for gumbo, except that your house won’t have that browned-flour smell. Jim’s stepson, Jeff Landry, an avid outdoorsman and an accomplished cook himself, had an appreciation for raw oysters by the age of four. To Jeff, gumbo is as much about camaraderie as it is about eating.
NOTE: What follows is a portion of the original
interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire
transcript in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Jim Gossen
of Louisiana Foods and his stepson, Jeff Landry
Date: June 15, 2008
Location: Lafayette, LA
Interviewer & Photographer: Sara Roahen
Sara Roahen: This is Sara Roahen for the Southern Foodways Alliance. It's Sunday, June 15, 2008. I'm in Lafayette, Louisiana with the Gossen family, if I'm pronouncing that correctly. And could I get the two of you to say your name and your birth date, where you grew up, and where you live now?
Jeff Landry: Jeff Landry from Lafayette. I live here now, and I was born on December 18, 1980.
Jim Gossen: I'm Jim Gossen. I was born in Lafayette on April 8, 1948, and I presently live in Houston.
You have a place here, though, in Lafayette?
JG: And in Grand Isle, so we go back between Houston and Lafayette and Grand Isle because of my business.
Can you say, just for the record, what your business is?
JG: Louisiana Foods is the name of my business, and we're in the wholesale seafood business. Texas and Louisiana, and parts of the East Coast we ship products to.
If you were getting together as a family to eat gumbo, what kind would you have and who would make it?
JG: Normally like for Christmas Eve, my family always has seafood gumbo. It's been a tradition for many years and--and I have three brothers and three sisters. All but one likes to really cook, and one is really—doesn't care about cooking that much, but all the other ones love to cook. And so really either—(any one of them), we could go over to their house and they could have—cook their gumbo, or—But normally for Christmas Eve I make the gumbo, and I make it in Houston and I bring it and make a seafood gumbo. Being in the seafood business—.
And what do you mean by seafood gumbo? What's in there?
JG: Well I use—I put oysters, crabmeat and shrimp, and that's the seafood gumbo for us.
Do you put—do you use any sausage or other meat?
JG: Not in the seafood, and only—now I do (put sausage) in a chicken gumbo. I use smoked sausage, pure pork, and I also make a gumbo without sausage. But most of the time like for—we make a chicken and sausage gumbo at Louisiana Foods, which we use—we start with 72 hens. We make a big one, 200 gallons. So a lot of times when I want to do a chicken and sausage gumbo I just bring that. You know after we—. And what we do, we cook the hens whole and--and make a stock, and when—we cook them three hours, and we buy the biggest hens we can get. And then we take them out and let them cool to room temperature, and then we take all the skin off and debone them all, and then we do the same thing with the sausage. We put it in the stock in rope links, you know the long ones, until they cook, and we take them out and then we portion everything. So when we pack it, it has the same amount of meat (to stock) ratio, or you know whatever portion of meat you want to put in it. So normally what I'll do when—if we're going to have gumbo here and it's for a lot of people I'll just bring some from there, and I do the same thing with the seafood. We'll make the stock and I'll just add the seafood here.
By hen you mean like an older—it's an older bird?
JG: Yeah, hens normally run six pounds. They're big and they're—it's not like a fryer. That way you can cook them much longer and get a richer stock and they don't fall apart. Chicken wants to—you know you cook it and it gets stringy real quick, and if you overcook it and you can't really get the depth of stock (as you would) if you would be making maybe a--a chicken soup or something; you would get a flavor from a chicken, but a hen will make it much more intense, and that's what we use.
What about your--your seafood gumbo? Do you make that with a roux?
JG: Roux, yeah. And today we make so much seafood gumbo at Louisiana Foods we have someone that makes our roux for us. But for me, if I'm going to make it for myself I make it on the stove. I mean it's—you can make it just as quick. I don't really, I don't buy jarred roux. It's all good, but it's just as easy (to make yourself) and I like the smell. I mean to me, that's—browning that flour.
And okra in there?
JG: I make an okra gumbo, but normally when I do an okra gumbo I put no roux. In fact, my mother used—some of the children didn't like okra so she would take the okra and smother it down and put it in a blender or a Cuisinart or something and you couldn't even see it. But I don't do that. Normally I'll take the okra and just smother it down real good to where the sliminess disappears and then make my stock and--and I do a shrimp and okra gumbo with a little tomato. But normally our seafood gumbo doesn't have any okra in it, unless it be a shrimp gumbo. And I think that shrimp and okra gumbo probably came around May when the okra was plentiful and the shrimp were in season, and the same as shrimp Creole, you know. The tomatoes were available, and that's probably how all that came about.
What about Jeff—when you go hunting, do you make gumbo ever with your kill?
JL: Sure. I mean, you know a lot of times for me gumbo is--is just for an occasion where there's going to be a lot of people around hanging out, whether it be watching a football game on television or at the hunting camp or fishing camp. [Laughs] Because it's such an easy process and it's a lengthy process, so you kind of have to be around and have to be kind of watching it, but at the same time you can sort of set it (to simmer), and once it's got going you can kind of—you can do other things. And the smell is something that, it's just fun to--to smell that smell and to have that in the camp or the house. And it's just one of those meals also that you can, once it's done you know you can—people can just serve at will. If someone is hungry right now, go ahead and eat. And that's really nice because you know, for the most part at those types of events it's a relaxed setting. You know, no one is sitting down at a table, and it's just when you're hungry you go and eat, and it's something you can just have on the stove and reheat. And everybody likes to help with the gumbo, you know. It's just an easy—you know, chop your--chop your vegetables and get your meat ready, and everybody has got a little something different to it and—. But those are most of the occasions when we're cooking gumbo you know, so—.
JG: It's normally for a crowd. Diane and I would never cook gumbo for ourselves. Because when I'm going to cook a gumbo I take out a big pot; I mean it's—because it's just as easy to make, and gumbo is better the next day, and it gets better and better every day after you have it refrigerated. So that's--that's something where I think—of course when I grew up, I mean a lot of the dishes we ate were cooked in one pot: shrimp stew and chicken stew and court-bouillon and sauce piquant. And it was more of a one-pot thing, and gumbo was something you could—. And all those were really geared to feed a large amount of people with not as much meat. So you could have rice and gravies and sauces or juice—you know, broths where you didn't have to use as much—. Or you could put one hen and you could make a nice sized gumbo where—and feed a bunch of people. And I'm--I'm the oldest of seven children, so my mother made things like that because we had a big family. And we very rarely, you know when I was growing up—and as the younger ones grew up they would go out and eat and all—but when I was growing up it was very, very occasional when we'd go out to eat. There were just too many people.
JL: You know you kind of wonder, if someone doesn't like oysters for instance, you kind of want to push them to try it because you enjoy it so much. And you know if they just kind of get over that fear of the consistency of it that eventually they will like it too.
I've luckily gotten to grow--grown up in this family and always have great meals and be exposed to all kinds of really good food, so you know to me it was second nature. And to a lot of my friends, whether they were from New Orleans or Baton Rouge or even here in Lafayette, I definitely try to—if they don't like oysters or anything like that I try to get them to at least try it.
JG: Well like a fried oyster sandwich—to me there's no better sandwich in the world, but that's to me. Or maybe a soft-shell can be close, on white bread with over-ripe tomatoes. But I mean a good--a good oyster sandwich, and you stack up the oysters as high as you can before you put the lid on it, that's pretty good. And you know to me, if somebody tries that and they don't like it, well like I tell my nephews and stuff, Eat that. If you don't like it you'll never like anything that--you'll never--because this is the best you'll ever eat.
JL: I remember the oyster thing with Captain Hayman.
JG: Yeah, we--we had oysters with Captain Hayman (Pitre). I said, You eat that; that's the best oyster you'll ever eat.
JL: I was young.
Did he like it?
JG: Oh yeah. He used to eat when he was little raw oysters. Four, eating a dozen raw oysters and—.
JL: Yeah, and I remember that--that guy Captain Hayman, we'd stop at his house. We were on the way to actually Grand Isle and that was, I guess, one of your oyster fishermen that you had bought from and I had never had them before. I just remember he had them--he had them shucked already in like a gallon jug I think, and I guess he figured I'd eat like one or two, and I think I probably ate a couple dozen. Yeah, I was probably about four years-old and he was flipping out. [Laughs] And I didn't think anything of it; I didn't think it was abnormal.
JG: In fact Captain Hayman taught me—back then I figured oysters were oysters, you know—Louisiana oysters are oysters—and he was just—. Like somebody that let's say is a backhoe operator even. If they want to be the best backhoe operator in the world, it's an air about them you know, and he was that type of oyster man. He was going to be the best oyster man in the world or—whatever, Louisiana, his little area— he was going to be the best and he had the best. I have a picture I keep in my office of him showing me an oyster, shucking it, and he had--he had a reef. In fact the reef is still there: Hayman's Reef. He died of Alzheimer's, and Jules has his lease now. But he would plant oysters there and they would grow around— right behind Grand Isle—so you had the current from Barataria Pass coming in and going out of Caminada Pass around the other side of the island. They had a lot of--lot of current; the eye on—the mussel on the oyster, that oyster could be this round and it would go around and the shells would be scalloped because of the current. So the shells—and there would be a round oyster, and the mussel would be that big on a little bitty oyster. I mean you know not an incredible oyster, but he always kept those for himself or his friends and family. But he taught me a lot about oysters. You know you figure an oyster is an oyster, but they're not.
In fact years ago—this has got to be over 25 years ago—Andre Soltner, he owned Lutece in New York which was one of the most famous restaurants at the time—this is going back—and he and his wife had really been nice to me and--and treated us really nice. And I sent him, when I got back—it must have been around November, and I sent him a gallon—a half a gallon of these oysters shucked. And he called—he was a Frenchman who had eaten oysters everywhere in the world and had never eaten anything like that. And these were, I mean it was like—these were really good.
Oh they were the best. Yeah, I mean it was some of Hayman's oysters that he fished that he kept for around Thanksgiving and Christmas you know, but—. So he called me wanting more, and I said they're really not for sale; we don't have those to sell them, you know. They're more of a—so I sent him a couple more over the, you know over the years and all, but—. So I mean it just depends where that oyster grows, but Grand Isle is a great area because they don't have any pollution going into there because it's nothing really behind it—no cities. It all goes to Black Bay and Lake Borgne if the city has runoff, or--or Lake Pontchartrain. You know it has to go through Lake Borgne. And Grand Isle, I mean it's really nothing that goes back up…maybe Lafitte.
I need to get there; I've never been to Grand Isle.
JG: It's a nice little fishing village.
JL: I love Grand Isle—very unique.
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