Ken Wells / Journalist / Novelist / Storyteller
Novels, narrative non-fiction, anthologies and author bio...
Coming Feb. 26 from Wells & W.W. Norton...
Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou
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, 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 story of jazz but writ in food. This is a tasty culinary memoir—to be enjoyed and shared like a simmering pot of gumbo.
*The rap on Wells--hear his song written circa 1993 in honor of his momma's fabulous gumbo! Click below.
Publicity and events: Will Scarlett, W.W. Norton: firstname.lastname@example.org; 212-790-4325
Early reviews: It's a hit!
Publishers Weekly: "A piquant history of gumbo...Wells clearly knows his stuff, and his enthusiasm for the region and cuisine is palable. This is required reading for gumbo aficionados and addicts, and those who aspire to be."
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."
What other writers are saying:
"In this mouth-watering culinary memoir...is a vivid account of Wells' languid bayou childhood and the history and personalities who seasoned it. There could be no better guide to this unique American sub-culture than Bonnie’s boy from Bayou Black."--Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of March and People of the Book.
"Ken Wells was to the gumbo born...He has traveled the Gumbo Belt, researching, recording and most importantly savoring the myriad interpretations of the iconic Louisiana soup...Like a dense, flavorful gumbo filled with tastes of the region, this is a book to savor." –-Jessica Harris, author of “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America.”
“Ken Wells knows gumbo, and from whence it comes. And gumbo, and its sources, are profoundly tasty things to know.” — Roy Blount Jr. , author and humorist.
Things of Interest...
*In remembrance of my late lamented friend and former colleague, Danny Pearl
*The story behind my George Rodrigue/Swamp Dog #1
*The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous is available in paperback. ORDER HERE!
* Rascal, a Dog and His Boy is now a terrific audio book!
Created with Adobe Muse *copyright Ken Wells
Glossary: *envie--a craving.
*loup garou---the Cajun werewolf.
Available for download on iTunes and Amazon music!