Louisiana chef John Folse was born, he says, “20 yards from the swamp floor pantry of South Louisiana’s Bayou Country,” and he’s been letting his Cajun and Creole roots do the talking in his kitchen (and on television and radio) for four decades, from the 1978 opening of his restaurant Lafitte’s Landing, in Donaldsville, Louisiana, to the launch of his 2010 Restaurant R’evolution, in New Orleans, partnered with chef Rick Tramonto.
Some have called Folse an evangelist for Louisiana cuisine, which fits right in with his philosophy of cooking. “Choose first the heritage of your people. Herein lie the spice and flavor of your very palate,” he says. “Choose secondly the ingredients of your area. Herein lies the uniqueness of your creations. Lastly, practice simplicity. There is an old jazz saying here in Louisiana, ‘mo is betta!’ In the world of cooking, this is the greatest fallacy. ‘Simplicity is betta.’”
Folse has nine cookbooks to his credit, including The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine (2004) and the seductively titled Hot Beignets & Warm Boudoirs (1999), a guide to Louisiana bed-and-breakfast inns and their recipes, as well as a long-running radio show, “Stirrin’ It Up,” on WAFB, and an accompanying TV segment. A Taste of Louisiana is Folse’s international television series, produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting since 1990.
Among Folse’s many honors, in 1987 the Louisiana Restaurant Association named him Louisiana Restaurateur of the Year. In 1989, Nation’s Restaurant News inducted Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant into its Fine Dining Hall of Fame. Chef John Folse & Company Manufacturing, since 1991, is one of the few chef-owned food manufacturing companies in America producing custom-manufactured foods for restaurants as well as the retail and food service industries. The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, in Thibodaux, Louisiana, opened in October 1994 and is dedicated to the preservation of Louisiana’s rich culinary and cultural heritage. In 2006, Folse was inducted into National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s College of Diplomates. And in spring 2013, Folse received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Research Chefs Association.
Throughout it all, Folse has remained true to his philosophy. “As a Cajun first and a chef second,” he says. “I think it’s important to remember that culture is the cuisine of a people.”