PADDLEWHEEL CHEF

A bottle of red wine, three pans, 2 tall pitchers of liquid, several small dishes of measured ingredients, whisks, assorted ladles, and a rather high mound of butter pats … a hushed crowd and a young man in a baseball cap, starter pony tail chef jacket and apron. A dish was coming out of this, maybe more than one. Once miked up, overhead projection activated, Chef Mark Amatangelo began to cook for his eager riverboats audience. The tasks for the hour?

Savory Louisiana Gumbo
Fried Green Tomatoes
Cajun Beurre Blanc Sauce

Chef Mark was liberal with his tips:

·        Salt your cutting board while chopping fresh garlic. It brings out flavor keeps the cloves from sliding around.

·        He combines his butter and flour for his roux in a bowl before pouring it into a large pan. He then adds his raw chopped onions, celery and peppers. They will sauté while the roux browns. He keeps the mixture roux over a medium-high heat while he goes about preparing the green tomatoes and sauce.

·        Cut the green tomatoes about ¼ inch thick and let them rest or dry several minutes. This prevents mushiness.

·        The mound of butter is for his Beurre Blanc Sauce,  purposely cut into small pieces and at room temperature. He adds the butter pieces in small amounts so as not to “break” the sauce.

Before college, Mark worked in his uncle’s restaurant in New Orleans and was serving as sous-chef there before starting college. He went on to study culinary arts and business at North Carolina State University.

What’s his food like on the American Queen? Executive Chef Mark Amatangelo’s galley serves up regular fare as well as Louisiana southern specials. Some of these are:

Shrimp Margarita with Tequilla
Alligator Sauce Piquant over Crispy Frog Legs
Turtle Soup au Sherry
Crispy Polenta “Cake”with Creole Ratatouille
Red Bean Soup with Andouille Sausage
Fried Green Tomatoes
Louisiana Seafood Chowder
Roasted Duck, Ligonberry

His galley’s more worldly entrees are Scallops, Veal, Salmon, Prime Rib, Grilled Lamb Chops and Sea Bass. Passengers may also choose from Heart Healthy or Lighter Fare selections each evening. Desserts are always a surprise.

On a typical steamboat cruise, the culinary staff serves 25 different lunch entrees, 35 different dinner entrees and about 14 different soups – plus dozens of appetizers and salads.

Early Creoles and Cajuns shaped the Louisiana cuisine we like today. The Creoles were wealthy planters, and their kitchens aspired to rich, fancy cuisine. Their recipes came from France or Spain as did their chefs. In contrast, the Cajuns were a tough people used to hard, meager living. They tended to serve pungent country food prepared in one pot. Each group used rice extensively and based many dishes on a roux of oil and flour.  All had local ingredients to work with … fish, seafoods, river critters, vegetables, fruits, nuts and a lot of sugar cane. Louisiana cooking reflects their results:  Gumbos, Creoles, Po-Boys, Etouffees, Shot Glass Oysters, Jambalaya, Craboiled Potatoes, bright Red Velvet Cake and more.


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