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Bogalusa native’s cookbook a collection of memories, favorite Louisiana recipes

George Graham grew up around food.

“I grew up in and around a restaurant business all my life,” he said. “In 1946, my father opened the Acme Café and my brother, Jackie Graham, owned Graham’s Restaurant on Columbia … So I’ve been in kitchens and restaurants growing up in Bogalusa.”

But Graham said it was when he left Bogalusa and headed west where he really began to notice food.

“I moved over to the Lafayette area and that’s where I had my Cajun and Creole epiphany and really began appreciating the culture of Acadiana,” he said. “It struck me from the first time I was there, the people, the food and the language. It was quite foreign to someone who grew up in Washington Parish.”

Earlier this year, Graham released a love letter of sorts to that experience in the form of his cookbook, Acadiana Table: Cajun and Creole Home Cooking from the Heart of Louisiana.

Graham said he wants to make some of his favorite foods known, outside a small geographic area in Louisiana.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book is, most people who are outside Louisiana only know Louisiana cuisine by going through New Orleans,” he said.

That’s a mistake, because Graham said the two cuisines are quite separate.

New Orleans, Graham notes, was a planned city that began to come together in the early 18th century.

“New Orleans was settled by European aristocrats who moved into the city to set up the city as an outpost for trade,” he said. “Along the way, the African-American influence came in through the Caribbean.”

This became Creole cooking.

Cajun, on the other hand, has quite a different origins story. That story begins in the mid-18th century around the Nova Scotia area. At that time, the Acadians were being pushed out by the British during the French and Indian War. They headed south and they settled to the east of New Orleans.

“Nova Scotia expelled the Cajuns,” Graham said. “And they came to settle southwest Louisiana and they were farmers. They were rustic and rural. They lived off the land, they trapped, they fished and they farmed.”

In short, aristocrats they were not and their cooking reflected it.

“They had techniques that came from one-pot cooking,” Graham said. “They added roux and spices that added flavor to everyday ingredients.”

Eventually the Germans settled in the area and they brought their smokehouse culture. With that, modern Cajun cuisine was born. This includes foods like andouille and boudin, crawfish etouffee and boiled crawfish.

“You can get boiled crawfish in Bogalusa, but it’s not the same culture as you get in southern Louisiana,” Graham said.

The cookbook doesn’t ignore Graham’s hometown entirely. The cookbook is part a personal history with plenty of stories along with recipes.

“There’s several storylines in the cookbook that are reflective of growing up in Bogalusa,” he said. Graham said he recalls jumping up on the Acme Café counter and drinking his fill of milkshakes, and he includes recipes for couple of Bogalusa favorites —including his mother’s fried chicken and the Chic Steak Sandwich, which doesn’t actually include beef but is made with pork.

Besides writing the book, Graham said he also took all the photos and, of course, made every one of the recipes.

“It is very much a passion, the writing the photography and the food but more than anything else, it’s telling the stories of the people I’ve met in my part of the world,”

he said.

To learn more about the book, visit Graham’s website, www.acadianatable.com.

To buy a copy of the book or to meet Graham, he will be at a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Mandeville 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.