< Back to Oral History project: Southern Gumbo Trail
Many parents would worry about a daughter who graduated from business school only to pursue a career as a chef, which is what Michelle McRaney did in her mid-twenties. But her father was French and had always half-dreamed of once owning a restaurant himself; he loved hearing about his daughter’s line of work. While she traveled early on in her career, she settled in New Orleans, her husband’s hometown, and has worked for the Brennan family for more than two decades, primarily at Mr. B’s Bistro. That’s where she took a crash course in New Orleans cooking, from then-chef Jimmy Smith, as a culinary school extern. And Mr. B’s is where she now serves at executive chef, channeling Mr. Smith’s pot-stirring with every roux she darkens for the restaurant’s renowned gumbo Ya-Ya.
A Creole-style chicken and andouille gumbo, the Ya-Ya is Mr. Smith’s legacy. Michelle prefers the Ya-Ya over Mr. B’s seafood gumbo, in part because it harkens to her mentor, whose recipe she is proud to keep alive. “It’s very important that people remember these things,” she says. “Because they’ll be lost just like a lot of other things are lost.”