Gumbo Troubles Lead to New Roux Industry

Chef John Folse explains how he conquered a problem unique to Louisiana cooking.

By John Folse

Roux from the Rue de Bourbon

When we first started manufacturing, one of the main items customers wanted was seafood gumbo. In manufacturing, seafood gumbo is not a friendly item, because it begins with roux (flour cooked slowly in butter or oil). The roux is cooked until it’s a brown color - blond (light), brun, or noir (dark). Then you add ingredients - onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, green onions and parsley - and caramelize these vegetables in this wonderful dark roux. That’s the basis for a great gumbo. Anything other than that is just seafood soup.

Asked to develop a gumbo, I created a wonderful formula and went to a processing plant. They said it was a beautiful gumbo, but they couldn’t make roux; they’d have to add a modified food starch and color it brown with a gravy agent. Roux is the most important component of great gumbo; you need that toasted flour flavor with the caramelized vegetables. They said they could use two drops of a bottled ingredient and end up with the same flavor.

I decided to make the roux myself, to make sure we had an authentic product. We started making roux in volume, bringing it in 50-lb., five-gallon buckets to our manufacturer, who dumped it into the kettle. He said, “This is good stuff; can we buy it from you?” So out of a technical problem, we created a new industry selling roux.

Another example of using a different technique for high-volume manufacturing concerns when one of the largest food chains in the U.S. came to us for a sauce. They wanted a reduction of the product in the kettle. For this sauce, the reduction was an important quality in the flavor.

However, manufacturers measure their price point on time in the kettle - get it in, heat it up, get it out, package it and fill the kettle again. It was a big challenge. When our manufacturer said he couldn’t do it, I knew it was time to open a plant so that, when a client needs a roux, a reduction or a braising, we could do it.

The technical challenges caused us some sleepless nights, but our company created equipment, changed mindsets, developed new products that allowed us to create authentically what the food is all about. We just opened a new 30,000-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, and currently produce more than 100 products for more than 60 foodservice, retail and chain account customers. All because we decided not to tell a customer about a technical problem we thought we couldn’t solve.

About the Author

Chef John Folse is an author, television personality, radio star and producer and purveyor of myriad flavors of his native Louisiana - including meals, sauces, dairy products and desserts - for both food processors and retail. He is also head of the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux, La.

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