"Keep that spoon moving, keep it moving," Isaac Toups is singing to pan full of bubbling roux. "Do a little shake!"
As the slurry of flour and oil goes from café au lait to a deep, chocolate brown, Toups' stirring becomes more animated.
"For real Cajun food, you need to make a dark roux," says the native of Rayne, Louisiana. "You want this the consistency of wet sand. Never seen wet sand before? Travel to the ocean. It's nice. Bring a fishing pole."
Fish does not figure prominently on the menu of Toups' Meatery, the New Orleans restaurant he and his wife opened a year and a half ago. There are pork shoulder grillades with grit cake and lamb neck with mint chow-chow. The dirty rice he serves with pork chops is meaty enough to stand on its own as a main course.
He's making dirty rice for us now--a splash of beer for the pan, a little for the chef. "A dark beer for the cooking, a nice lager for the drinking."
Toups spent a decade in the fine dining trade, working with Emeril Lagasse and others. His mission now: serious food without the fuss. "Foie gras in flip flops," as he puts it.
Dirty rice is a good dish to try (see the recipe) if you want to introduce some Cajun flavor into your own repertoire.
"You gotta have cayenne and paprika. If you got that, some rice, ground beef and roux--you're good to go."
Toups is serious about spice--and not much else. "Use too much pepper," he advises. "A couple grinds? No, seven! Relax. Have another beer while you're cookin'. Take your clothes off. When I'm on vacation I cook naked and drunk."
Even dressed, Toups is a natural in the kitchen.
"I've been cooking my entire life and never realized it. Everyone in my family cooks. My mother, my father, my uncles, my brothers cook. Someone doesn't cook? That's weird."