Mardi Gras Bucket list: A New Orleans-Born Chef Gives her Essential To-Do List

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 Mardi Gras is right around the corner and many travelers are headed to The Big Easy to partake in the over-the-top festivities.  I wanted to get a little deeper to see what else New Orleans has to offer during the celebrated event. Enter: Chef Michelle.

Chef Michelle Matlock is New Orleans. It's not just because of her New Orleans accent. She's the product of a long line of strong New Orleans women, that have been cooking since the 1800s.  Chef Michelle fell in love with food at a young age watching the matriarchs cook southern staples like red beans and rice.

Mardi Gras is right around the corner and many travelers are headed to The Big Easy to partake in the over-the-top festivities.  I wanted to get a little deeper to see what else New Orleans has to offer during the celebrated event. Enter: Chef Michelle.

Chef Michelle Matlock is New Orleans. It's not just because of her New Orleans accent. She's the product of a long line of strong New Orleans women, that have been cooking since the 1800s.  Chef Michelle fell in love with food at a young age watching the matriarchs cook southern staples like red beans and rice.

"Everything I know, I learned from a handful of women in my family," she says. "There wasn't a single woman in my family that couldn't cook. By  five-years-old, I knew I wanted to be a chef."

Already equipped with the family gift, she completed her culinary education at American Culinary Federation Program at Delgado Community College. As a young girl, Chef Michelle says she watched Chef  Renรฉ Bajeux on TV and knew someday she would work for the culinary genious. Every week for two years, she dropped off a resume at the Windsor Court Hotel, where the acclaimed chef worked, in hopes of getting a job there after culinary school.  Her peristance paid off and she landed a dream apprenticeship under the acclaimed  master chef that she grew up idolizing. Since then, Chef Michelle has been creating southern fare all over the country from New Orleans institution Acme Oyster to Hollywood as executive chef for Element Films, and even in Atlanta at 10th & Piedmont. Although food has taken her across the country, there's no place on earth she loves more than Louisiana. 

"New Orleans is a dark place, but it's also a light place. I love it for everything that it isn't and everything that it is. It's been burnt to the ground and rebuilt many times. There is no place like New Orleans and I'm very proud of where I come from." 

As a New Orleans native and a culinary veteran, I knew Chef Michelle would have a unique perspective for those that want to have fun, while still experiencing more than just Bourbon Street. Before you break out your beads, check out her list that is sure to give you and unforgettable weekend. 

1. The first thing I tell people: stay on lit streets. We can talk about all the fun stuff to do and see, but if you're not on those lit streets...it's not gonna happen.  

2. Don't fall for anyone betting you they can guess where you "got" your shoes. They're gonna say  "You got em' on your feet" and then take your money.

3. The first place I would go to eat  is Acme Oyster House. I started working with them just to learn about oysters and I fell in love with the company.  You have to go get some raw oysters and chargrilled oysters.  

4. You have to go to Galatoire's Restaurant. The head baker in the back is Miss Betty. She's like an honorary aunt in my family. 

5. I love Jacque's Imo's.  It's one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. If you go, try the seafood cheesecake.  

6. For French food, I love a cute little place on Magazine Street called Lilette. It's extraordinary. I appreciate it as a consumer. The food is pure art and magic. 

7. You have to see Bourbon Street, but don't miss Royal Street, the street over. It's where all the antique stores are. 

8. In the suburbs of New Orleans is a city called Metairie. I spent the majority of my teenage years walking up and down Veteran's Memorial Boulevard following the Metairie parades. If you're out there, the best po' boy comes from Bear's Po Boy.  A po boy is one of those things you must have in New Orleans. Metairie is safer and a little more family oriented, but remember, what we mean by family oriented is a lot different than what other people mean. We're still gonna be bad. 

9. I think everyone should visit the old cemeteries like St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Don't treat it like you're watching a lady dance at The Cat's Meow; this is a sacred ground. See the architecture and history and how far we go back, but respect it. These are our families. 

10. Stand underneath a weeping willow or a grand oak tree. 

11. Take a trip to Armstrong Park/Congo Square . When slavery was around, it was the only place where the they could celebrate their own religion. On Sundays there was a lot of drumming and dancing. It's not a party time, but it's something you should see and feel.

12. Try a King Cake. It's a cinnamon dough knot cake that has a royal type of icing and powered sugars in purple, green and gold for Mardi Gras. They take a plastic baby and hide it in the cake. Whoever finds the baby has to buy the next cake. My favorite King Cake comes from Rouse's Market.

13. Cut up and enjoy all the clubs and bars on Bourbon Street, but remember that New Orleans isn't a nightclub. Be safe and experience everything. Respect the service industry that is loving you, serving you and protecting you. 

 
                  Chef Michelle Matlock

                 Chef Michelle Matlock