My kids’ teachers have been doing a great job these past few weeks, edifying their charges on who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and how he changed the North America we live in right now. I can’t listen to King’s I Have a Dream speech without being deeply moved. As we ponder on how much King accomplished in terms of civil rights even though his life was cruelly cut short, and how much there is to go, I often think of how he fought on without giving up, always peacefully, overcoming or ignoring obstacles that would have turned a lesser person back. Repeated arrests. His home was firebombed. He was stabbed. In a typical year, he traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, making well over 200 speeches – because he had a cause, a dream. This was at a time when schools were segregated, when colored people and whites had to drink from separate water fountains and sit on separate parts of a bus or theater, when fire hoses and police dogs were turned on peaceful marchers, when scores of nonviolent rioters were killed. When blacks, as well as Hispanics and Asians, were denied economic opportunities and jobs, were instead, exploited, denied voting rights and faced racist violence. King, too, made references that showed he knew his life was in peril. Yet he fought on.

I came across a young man recently, born and raised in Montclair, NJ, who went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and will soon be in a televised culinary competition (tomorrow, to be exact; stay tuned to the Food Network’s episode of Chopped at 10pm on Jan. 19). I wrote a post about his TV debut for our hyperlocal community blog Baristanet, and was surprised to see it attract some less-than-generous comments, some questioning whether the young man had indeed graduated from the local high school. Instinctively, I wondered if the comments came because he was African American, as depicted in the photo which went with that post. But the chef himself, Justin Gaines, pooh poohed the naysayers and said, “I love it. I love proving critics wrong and to wait till they learn more about me.” And I loved that he had such a gentle, positive reaction to it all.

So, to celebrate Montclair’s first MLK Day of Service, here’s a recipe from our own Chef Justin Gaines, who is corporate head chef of the Italian SaZa restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama, a city where Martin Luther King, too, lived once as pastor, where he led the successful boycott of segregated bus lines.

Good luck on Chopped tomorrow Justin, we are rooting for you!

Crawfish Etouffee by Justin Gaines

  • 1 cup olive or veg oil
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 links half-cooked andouille sausage (spiced, heavily smoked pork sausage)
  • 3 concasse tomatoes (ie seeded, peeled and chopped)

For the Stock Pot

  • 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 gal of crawfish stock (hot)
  • 2 Ibs of crawfish tails
  • 1 lb of shrimp, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • Creole seasoning (not Cajun)
  • dash of hot sauce
  • 1/4 lb butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups basmati rice

  1. In a stock pot, sauté the diced andouille in olive oil, brown lightly
  2. Add all veg, except tomatoes, sweat and season with salt and black pepper, and creole seasoning for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add chopped garlic, raise heat to medium high, cook for 2 mins, deglaze with sherry, cook out, deglaze with white wine, cook out.  Add tomato sauce, bring to boil, add flour whisk in.  Make a roux and lightly brown it, for 5 minutes
  4. Whisk in hot crawfish stock, in thirds, vigorously work out lumps in the roux and add the rest of the stock.
  5. Bring up to boil, then drop to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2-2 1/2 hours till thick
  6. Season with Creole seasoning first, then light salt, then pepper.
  7. It it tastes right, add shrimp, crawfish, chopped tomatoes, cream and butter dash of hot sauce.
  8. Finish and serve with steamed rice.