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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

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Celestine Dunbar and Peggy Ratliff

Celestine Dunbar learned how to make her father’s Creole seafood gumbo at age six in her hometown of Lutcher, Louisiana. Nearly sixty years later, she and the cooks at Dunbar’s Creole Cooking roughly follow her father’s original instructions, beginning with a dark brown roux (“browner than a copper penny”), and finishing it off with a sprinkling of filé. In between: okra. Dunbar’s gumbo is unorthodox, incorporating all three gumbo thickening agents in one pot. During Lent, it becomes a meatless potage, absent its usual sausage and chicken. Before Hurricane Katrina flooded her restaurant, Celestine operated a casual but classy white-linen and sweet tea establishment renowned for its fried chicken, red beans, and gumbo, and located in a primarily residential part of Uptown.

With the structure now condemned, and insurance funds scarce, that restaurant’s future remains uncertain. Thanks to a fortunate twist of fate, however (Celestine calls it God’s intervention), Dunbar’s full menu is available at Loyola University’s law school cafeteria. Red beans and rice on Mondays; spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesdays; pork chops on Thursdays; Creole gumbo every Friday.

In 2017, Dunbar’s Creole Cooking opened a new location at 7834 Earhart Blvd. in New Orleans.

Date of interview:

Sara Roahen

Sara Roahen

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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