Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week

Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCAThis week, I am in New Orleans discovering the flavors of one of the few areas in the United States that can boast a distinct Regional cuisine. The term "American cuisine" is very broad due to the melting pot of cultures, ethnic groups, and history that makes up our population. "American cuisine" implies that the United States is known for contributing more to the culinary world than just Value Meals.

If you have visited or lived on the East Coast, West Coast, or in the Southern part of the United States, you know that the true flavor of our country varies dramatically. You will find certain foods that stick out as being unique to the region. You may find that food in another part of the country, but the original and authentic food can only be experienced by visiting that specific area.

One particular section of the US that is known for having a flavor all their own is that of Louisiana. As with all regional cuisine, the food reflects what is available to the area and what influence past culture has had. Creoles and Cajuns are two culturally distinct groups that when studied provide an interesting look at the formation of culture in our country. Cajun and Creole are also used to describe the foods of Louisiana.

Creole can refer to more cosmopolitan foods associated with the cuisine of Louisiana that were born early on out of the blending of cultures in the city, particularly in the French Quarter. As you move South through Louisiana, you move into Cajun Country. Cajuns are ancestors of the Acadians who came to Louisiana in the 1700's. They settled in southwest Louisiana and lived in isolation; many still do to this day. Cajun food is about making the most of what you have. It's simple cooking, but good food that is celebrated with neighbors and friends.

muffulettaOne of many, many foods to try while I am here in New Orleans is the Muffuletta sandwich at the Central Grocery on Decatur Street. To get to the history of this sandwich, it would be best to read a line from Marie Lupo Tusa, the daughter of the Central Grocery's founder who wrote about it in her 1980 cookbook, Marie's Melting Pot. In the book she writes:

"One of the most interesting aspects of my father's grocery is his unique creation, the Muffuletta sandwich. The Muffuletta was created in the early 1900's when the Farmer's Market was in the same area as the grocery. Most of the farmers who sold their produce there were Sicilian. Every day they used to come of my father's grocery for lunch.

They would order some salami, some ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad, and either long braided Italian bread or round Muffuletta bread. In typical Sicilian fashion, they ate everything separately. The farmers used to sit on crates or barrels and try to eat while precariously balancing their small trays covered with food on their knees. My father suggested that it would be easier for the farmers if he cut the bread and put everything on it like a sandwich; even if it was not typical Sicilian fashion.

muffulettaHe experimented and found that the thicker, braided Italian bread was too hard to bite but the softer round Muffuletta bread was ideal for his sandwich. In very little time, the farmers came to merely ask for a "Muffuletta" for their lunch."

Central Grocery has been selling these sandwiches for three generations, and the tradition lives on, offering a taste of true American cuisine to anyone who visits.

The Muffuletta sandwich takes its roots from Italian origins. Italian cuisine has given us many fantastic foods including another type of popular sandwich: the Panini. The story of the Panini is one for another time... but for now you can combine the two and come try a Muffuletta Panini this week on Tuesday, April 29th at Tobey-Kendel Dining Room during lunch as we feature it as our specialty Panini of the day.

muffuletta panini

Look for other menu selections offered in the dining rooms this semester, and don’t forget to look at the weekly menus on the Dining Services website often to find out what other fabulous menu items await you this week!

Happy Dining!
Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA
(Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator)

Want to know what's being served in the dining rooms? Call the FoodLine (970.351.FOOD) for daily menus or look at our weekly menus online. Not signed up for the Faculty/Staff Payroll Deduction program yet? Learn more about the program here.