All in the family (from left): Arden, Lynn and Brittney Hébert
My first husband and I drove through New Orleans in 1974, moving from Florida to the Land of Enchantment. We searched the French Quarter for lunch and stopped at a well-lit, noisy place. What I remember most was the shrimp étoufée—a spicy, tomatoey stew dished over a generous pile of rice. It was terrific, though I had no basis for comparison, being a novice in the world of Louisiana cooking. That was long before Katrina, Rita and BP heaped their misfortunes on the Gulf. Despite the challenges of rebuilding, the city maintains a robust attitude when it comes to living well—especially when it comes to food.
My friend Axel Kappes lives in New Orleans and indulges his way through an enviable array of Nola’s best menus. When I ask him about the effects of the oil spill on his restaurants of choice, he tells me that oysters and other seafood continue to be plentiful, though restaurateurs are careful
Axel Kappes, New Orleans
in their selections and may drop some items temporarily if they’re not up to snuff. I travel vicariously when Kappes sends photos of meals that defy description, or of the Satchmo Fest, or gallery tours, street fairs and miles of oyster po’boys.
And when I can’t stand not being able to taste all of that Cajun cooking, I head over to Cajun Kitchen where Lynn Hébert and her family dish out the real thing right here in Albuquerque. She and husband Flemming opened their first Cajun Kitchen at the Osuna and San Mateo storefront now occupied by Thai Vegan. They operated there for 14 years before moving to Presidential Plaza on Osuna between Jefferson and I-25, where the restaurant’s been for nine and a half years.
During a visit to the restaurant, I down a plateful of shrimp étoufée, one of dozens of Hébert family recipes that have found their way onto the menu. Lynn Hébert joins me and we talk about how she and her husband came to Albuquerque in 1982. Childhood friends, they married and moved with his work in computer technologies until they reached the Duke City. Though her husband passed four years ago, just a few months short of their 50th wedding anniversary, he is a permanent presence in one of the many delightful murals by Shreveport, La. artist Chris Opp’s mural group. An alligator resides over the kitchen door and Mardi Gras masks and baubles cover another corner.
Lémeuse, the Hébert homestead in South Rapides Parish, covers a far wall. As we approach the fifth-year anniversary of hurricane Katrina’s landfall, I ask Hébert if the house was damaged by the storm. She replies, “You know, it wasn’t. But it was lifted clean off the ground and set back down—kind of turned on the foundation—by a tornado some years back.” While the house itself has since been restored, the rural area 80 miles west of Nola still had to deal with some flooding due to Katrina.
As much as Hébert’s life is about Louisiana, she calls New Mexico home. Now in her mid-70s, she is an avid tennis player, golfer and hiker. She says that “Albuquerque keeps me plenty busy—there’s always something to do.” And lucky for us, she still likes to cook.
Cajun Kitchen interior with murals
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