Like so many people who grew up in New Orleans, Kenyattah Robinson’s life as a kid included a grandmother whose cast iron pots made magic.
“She wouldn’t have to measure anything at all,” he told me recently. “She cooked everything by feel. She would nod off in the living room and wake up exactly when the food was ready. She had this internal clock. Every meal was freshly prepared. There was no eating out.”
Kenyattah left New Orleans to study at LSU, where he earned a degree in Liberal Arts and business, then landed a job on Capitol Hill with then-Louisiana Senator John Breaux. Later, he earned an MBA from Cornell University, and now works in Washington, D.C. for Jones Lang LaSalle as a senior vice president on the Public Institutions team.
A major theme of my book Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey is the grip Louisiana’s culinary culture has on those who have left the state. As part of my interview series with Bayou State expats, I wanted to pick Kenyattah’s brain about what he missed from Louisiana’s culinary tableau. I know there’s great food in D.C. – some of it made by Louisiana-born chefs and some of it meant to mimic the Bayou State experience. You can even get boiled crawfish in the nation’s capital.
Still, there’s no place like home, so from his K Street office, Kenyattah spilled to me his Top Five Most Missed Foods.
I’m very particular about gumbo. I will not order it from a menu. My mom makes a really mean gumbo and I usually bring some back to D.C. with me. It’s seafood with crab and shrimp. She also throws in pieces of sausage for flavor. No tomatoes. That’s wrong. That’s for shrimp stew or shrimp Creole.
(Uh. Oh. My prized seafood gumbo has a little bit of fresh tomato thrown in for color and sweetness, a typical Creole gumbo, says Chef John Folse. But I’m not bringing that up.)
Shrimp. Fully dressed with Tabasco, or Crystal, depending on the place. I like those small shrimp — and the bread needs to be right. Crunchy on the outside and soft inside. I usually stop at Parkway when I go home.
3. Red beans and rice with smoked sausage and cornbread.
4. Jazz Fest food.
I go every year and get the crawfish bread and a softshell crab po’boy.
It sounds crazy, but New Orleans Popeye’s MOST DEFINITELY. It just tastes different. Particularly the spicy chicken. There’s something about the flavor and the crisp of the skin.