"Fun, confident and charming"--Kitchen Arts & Letters
New! The audio version is now available on Amazon/Audible.
Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou
On sale from Ken Wells and W.W. Norton & Co.
at bookstores and online nationwide, a brisk, heartfelt and meticulously reported culinary memoir from
the author of "Meely LaBauve" and "The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous"...
Ask any self-respecting Louisianan who makes the best gumbo and the answer is universal: “Momma.” The product of an unprecedented melting pot of culinary influences, these mommas are an eclectic group, for gumbo reflects the diversity of the people who cooked it up: French aristocrats, West Africans in bondage, Cajun refugees, German settlers, Native Americans—all had a hand in the pot. What is it about gumbo that continues to delight and nourish so many? And what explains its spread around the world?
A seasoned journalist, Wells sleuths out the answers. His obsession goes back to his childhood in the Cajun bastion of Bayou Black, where his French-speaking mother’s gumbo often began with a chicken chased down in the yard. Back then, gumbo was a humble soup little known beyond the boundaries of Louisiana. So when a young Ken, homesick at college in Missouri, realized there wasn’t a restaurant that could satisfy his gumbo cravings, he called his momma for the recipe. That phone-taught gumbo was a disaster. The second, cooked at his mother’s side, fueled a lifelong quest to explore gumbo’s roots and mysteries.
In Gumbo Life Wells does just that. He spends time with octogenarian chefs who turn the lowly coot into gourmet gumbo; joins a team at a highly competitive gumbo contest; visits a factory that churns out gumbo by the ton; observes the gumbo-making rituals of an iconic New Orleans restaurant where high-end Creole cooking and Cajun cuisine first merged, setting off a culinary explosion. He also explains how gumbo got to China and how it became beloved of a pope, presidents and even Sumo wrestlers.
Wells then takes readers on a tour of his bayou childhood--lived with one foot in the rhythms of a previous century--to show the serendipitous role gumbo played in his family's destiny. It's a deeply personal narrative of a big, extended family whose bonds, sometimes strained by the eccentricities of country life, are smoothed and sealed at the gumbo table. For cooks of all levels, there's a bonus: an addendum of ten recipes, some culled from historically significant cookbooks that stretch back centuries, some from top chefs and iconic Gumbo Belt restaurants, some from home cooks, that capture the creativity with which gumbo is cooked today and are bound to please the palate.
Rendered in Wells’ affable prose, Gumbo Life makes clear that gumbo is more than a dish: it’s an attitude, a way of seeing the world. It's the Zen food of an otherwise unZenlike culture. This is a tasty culinary memoir—to be enjoyed and shared like a simmering pot of gumbo.
Press notices..."Gumbo Life" is a hit...
Publishers Weekly: "A piquant history of gumbo...Wells clearly knows his stuff, and his enthusiasm for the region and cuisine is palpable. This is required reading for gumbo aficionados and addicts, and those who aspire to be."
"Wells does a masterful job of weaving a history and cultural context for the popularity and endless variations of gumbo today. "
"Excellently written, Gumbo Life is an intriguing, diverse story in the ecology of local food, worthy of every foodie’s library. It includes a glossary of terms and a section of authentic gumbo recipes.
"If anyone can get away with comparing the mixed-heritage culture of Louisiana to a gumbo, and do it with nuance and depth, it’s the longtime journalist and Cajun country native Ken Wells...a deeply reported look at the origins and variations on gumbo."
"A biography of a way of life for us Cajuns..."--Gary Lavergne
"Fans of regional American cooking, history, and storytelling will enjoy this literary ramble in the Louisiana Gumbo belt."
"Wells fondly and entertainingly shares his rural upbringing in 'Gumbo's Pantry, 'the great sweep of woods, fields, bayous, bays, marshes, and swamps." -- Robert Davis, New York Journal of Books
Booklist: "Wells, who delights in playing with language to create sound pictures (“roux awakening,” “roux bayou”), has meticulously traced gumbo's influences... Anyone fondly recalling gumbo in its myriad guises will find plenty to savor here."
Kirkus: "Affectionate portrait of that favorite Cajun comfort food and the tradition from which it came."
"With a conversational, folksy, poetic style, Wells’ 'Gumbo Life' may be one man’s search for the perfect gumbo recipe, but is also a tale about all of Louisiana and the many cultures that make up the state and its food traditions."--Louisiana Life
A Lemuria bookstore pick for its Nonfiction First Edition Club.
An Amazon Best Books in Category Pick .
A Garden & Gun Magazine Must Read.
About the author...
Publicity, events, press kits:
Will Scarlett, senior publicist
Order books: Online and
The rap on Wells...Hear "Mama's Cookin' Gumbo," the song Ken wrote about his momma's famous gumbo...Produced and recorded by Pershing Wells at Digital Sac-a-Lait Studios, Houma, La.
Glossary--'envie', a craving
loup garou--the Cajun werewolf.
Also by Ken Wells...
See Ken's C-Span discussion of the history of The Wall Street Journal's treasured
"middle column" Page 1 story.
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Read the Gumbo Life Preface...
In memory of my fallen friend and colleague