Just about everyone in the South has grown up with an appreciation for food and cooking. Learning to cook in Louisiana it’s almost a rite of passage. We gather for food for just about everything, a wedding, death, birthdays, graduations; to be honest we don’t even need a reason.
My first memories of my great-grandmother (my dad’s side) was her kitchen. It was a room filled with amazing things, all conversations were held in the kitchen, and the grocery list would hang from a magnet on the refrigerator. I remember if you went into her kitchen you had better be prepared to help, either peeling carrots, shucking beans, or setting the table. It always seemed like a madhouse with precise order. For my great-grandmother cooking was a passion, using receipts handed down from generation to generation. Adding over the year her own touch to family receipts.
This is where I must be completely honest, I’m not a cook in any sense of the word. I couldn’t tell the difference between a zucchini and butternut squash. But for a few in New Orleans cooking is a passion, a mission to explore food and the art of cooking.
Poppy Tooker was born and raised in New Orleans, and cooking for her began in her great-grandmother kitchen, a deep rooted fascination with food and cooking. “My great-grandmother taught me to love people with food” and “Sunday dinners were a special time, the table set with the best china, and conversation”, she stated. While in high school she relates that she had to cook, since her mother couldn’t, it was during this time that she truly developed the passion for cooking.
The decline of cooking would become more prevalent between the 1980s and 90s, as people were more concerned with dining out. Poppy describes this much like after “WWII people lost the ability to sew because of the prevalence of ready to wear clothing.” Another fear she shares is that “in 25 years the dining table will no longer exist.” Her belief is that an entire generation could lose the passion for shopping, preparing, and presenting a fabulous meal. To Poppy, there is an excitement for shopping, then preparing the food, and finally watching guests enjoying the food. It really is a passion and a deep love for Poppy.
It’s her desire to covey and champion people to grow, prepare good food, nurture a culture and uphold the tradition of cooking and compel people to think about the differences in food. On her radio show on WWNO Louisiana Eats, it’s about introducing people to food and cooking, and to smile, she says “I always smile into the microphone, people can feel that smile.”
Then where does her devotion to the LGBT community come from? Paul Doll and Tom Struve opened the first gay restaurant Flamingo’s Café that crossed Canal Street. Poppy recounts an incident involving a somewhat uptight man; as she was bringing drinks they slipped off the tray and splashed on the man leg. Upset he was approached by one of the owners, and they offered to pay the dry-cleaning bill stated that “this might not be the restaurant for him and his friend.” At that moment Poppy understood the compassion to protect, and love someone that not only worked for them but had become family. A bit of history; it was Paul Doll and Tom Struve that founded WWNO. It was also the loss of many friends during the 80s due to AIDS that Poppy became a solid fixture in the LGBT community, something she continues today with her Drag Brunches, that raises money for Food for Friends.
Regardless of what you think about food and cooking, there is no way you can’t walk away from Poppy without feeling that passion, it is contagious. Her passion is evident whenever she talks about it. She is funny and has a wicked sense of humor that I love. She has written and revised several cookbooks, and her radio show Louisiana Eats continues to be a favorite among food enthusiast. Where does she go from here? Well, if it involves cooking, there is good bet she’ll be around.
catch poppy on
Steppin Out - Friday nights at 7:30PM on WYES
Louisiana Eats Saturdays at 11:00AM and Wednesday at 1:00PM on WWNO/ NPR Podcasts
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