< Back to Oral History project: Southern Gumbo Trail
Terryl Jackson grew up in Houma, Louisiana eating his mother’s gumbo, a “collage” of turkey necks, ham bits, chicken, crab, shrimp, okra, and filé. That final ingredient, the cured and ground leaves of the sassafras tree, defines his mother’s gumbo, giving it an herbal-earthy flavor not unlike lemon verbena, as well as a greenish tint.
The customers at Prejean’s Restaurant, where Terryl was executive chef at the time of this interview, tend to prefer more Cajun-styled gumbos, or gumbos wherein a dark roux is the prominent characteristic. Prejean’s daily menu offers at least three roux gumbos: a deep, dark smoked duck and andouille gumbo; a chicken gumbo made with smoked sausage; and a lighter-bodied seafood gumbo of crab, shrimp, crawfish, and oysters if you ask for them. In order to sample what Terryl calls Prejean’s “world-famous” pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo, you have to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (or one of the other festivals that Prejean’s frequents), for which they prepare four tons of it.
Terryl learned to cook from his mother and his grandmother, as well as from working in restaurants from the age of sixteen. He worked throughout the South, learning about different world cuisines, before settling back home—or close to home. He continues to identify most with his Creole, filé gumbo-making roots.