Gumbo—the word alone evokes memories, family recipes and good eating for most. Richard Taylor, owner of The Gumbo Pot, will be bringing the classic dish to Taste of Soul (TOS) on October 20. So, if you are a connoisseur of good gumbo—bring yourself, mouth and appetite too.
Taylor is an Angeleno, born and raised, and attended Francis Cabrini school and graduated from Serra High School in 1974. He also attended L.A. Harbor College and Cal State L.A. He met his wife Lynne, as they both ran track at Santa Monica College and have been married 34 years. Their union blessed them with two children.
“I started in the restaurant industry at age 16 with part time jobs in summer, climbing up the ‘school of hard knocks’ ladder from casual dining to fine dining, and eventually completed formal culinary training at Epicurean Cooking School in Beverly Hills,” said Taylor.
His familial roots go back to Louisiana with his grandparents having migrated to Los Angeles in the 1920s.
“My grandmother Sally, my great aunt Becky and my aunt Nicky were the real cooks in the family, but through God’s providence and blessing, I seemed to inherit the family taste buds and cooking gene they had been given,” said Taylor.
According to Taylor, in 1984, an entrepreneur named Sam Duvall capitalized on the Creole Cajun “craze” made popular by chef Paul Prudhomme and opened Ritz Cafe on Pico & Beverly. The Ritz Cafe made $3 million in its first 6 months of operations.
“I worked there under a black chef from Mississippi named Albert who had worked for the Brennan family in New Orleans,” said Taylor. “It was there I learned how to make quality gumbo in a high volume, high production environment.”
He continued, “Later I again worked for Duvall when he opened a Caribbean-themed restaurant called Sugar Shack on Pico & Robertson.
“The Ritz Cafe and Sugar Shack were wildly popular and well known in Los Angeles during those years. The one thing I always vowed after my experience working for Ritz and Sugar Shack was that if I ever got my own place, I would dedicate it to New Orleans food and the contributions of African American chefs everywhere who made it so well known.”
In 1988, Taylor and his wife moved to Eugene, Oregon so she could get her undergraduate degree in business. Encouraged by his deacon, Taylor opened a booth at weekend market and the idea for The Gumbo Pot was born.
“I was a classic cartoon fan and remembered Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny going for a ‘swim’ in a giant cooking pot – little did they know they were really being boiled for supper by Yosemite Sam! That concept of cooked cartoon characters jumping out of a hot pot was the basis for ‘The Gumbo Pot’ and is the theme of the logo we still use today.”
Taylor continued to grow as a chef seizing an opportunity to be the chief cook for six months on a fishing boat in Alaska. He later joined his wife who was attending graduate school in San Diego. It was here that he opened the first restaurant called The Gumbo Pot in the downtown San Diego business district in the early 90s. He would spend time building a clientele and being a food vendor at different events.
“During the 90s, we opened 2 more Gumbo Pot restaurants in San Diego, but soon after the birth of our son in 1998, my wife’s dad died and we decided to move to Northern California’s wine country,” said Taylor. “A chef I worked with at the culinary school had always said if you wanted to get serious about food you need to go to the wine country—so off we went!”
He worked at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and worked at Greystone restaurant under Chef Todd Humphries, who emphasized the use of fresh herbs and simple, perfectly seasoned Mediterranean cooking. He and his family eventually moved back to San Diego.
The Gumbo Pot attends SoCal farmers markets, street fairs and special events. Taylor states it’s a family affair as his adult children sometimes help out when they have the time. When asked what sets his gumbo apart from the others, he states the proof is in his culinary training.
“My background as a trained chef and experience incorporating classic French technique with knowledge of foods from the African American diaspora is what people say really differentiates The Gumbo Pot from other food vendors,” said Taylor.
“Paying homage to that arduous journey our West African ancestors took through the Caribbean, to Brazil and to New Orleans, and creating that fusion of Creole/Caribbean flavors so many of us love is the inspiration for the food as well.”
The Gumbo Pot’s menu includes gumbo ya-ya, which has chicken and sausage, jambalaya, red beans & rice, and Grandma’s Gumbo.
“Grandma’s Gumbo includes seafood like shrimp and fish, and we also offer Shrimp Creole, Shrimp Etouffee, Seafood Creole and Seafood Etouffee,” said Taylor. He is looking forward to his first TOS and sharing his gumbo with TOS Nation.
“The Gumbo Pot is so looking forward to helping make the event a success, and in being part of the Los Angeles community once again,” said Taylor.
“The Gumbo Pot wants to say thank you to the L.A. Sentinel and Taste of Soul organizers—we are very impressed and excited about the commitment of the organizers and sponsors to make this such a special event.
“Thanks for having us!”
There you have it—gumbo by a highly-trained and traveled chef at Taste of Soul on October 20. Make sure you stop by The Gumbo Pot booth and have some!
For more information on Taste of Soul, please visit tasteofsoul.org
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