Any great southern chef has a stringent gumbo philosophy. Dark roux or traditional French? Fresh seafood or grilled meats? Six gumbo masters dish their secrets.

By Eva Fedderly
June 08, 2015
Cochon Gumbo
Credit: Courtesy of Cochon

Stephen McLain
Alligator Soul in Savannah, Georgia
In his subterranean kitchen in the Historic District, McLain is known for putting exotic meats (rattlesnake, ostrich) on his seasonal menu and, of course, his killer gumbo. Mirepoix is an indispensable ingredient: green and red peppers, celery, and sweet Vidalia onion. To keep the texture of the vegetables he adds them at different times throughout the long, slow cooking process. But what really sets his version apart is surprising component—Coca Cola.

John Currence
City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi
Currence hails from gumbo Mecca New Orleans, where he came up in a family of chefs and won the Great American Seafood Cookoff. Housed in a 19th-century livery stable on the Oxford square, City Grocery champions traditional southern cuisine. Though Currence’s gumbo has undergone a bit of an evolution: after years of using classic French roux, which is light-hued and made with butter, he switched to the Cajun technique, substituting vegetable oil to make a toastier dark roux.

Donald Link
Cochon in New Orleans, Louisiana
The James Beard Award-winning chef, and author of the cookbook, Real Cajun: Rust Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana (Clarkson Potter), is renowned for his creative gumbo. On the menu at his Cajun canteen in the Warehouse District is a range of styles, from shrimp and deviled egg to black eyed peas and collard greens to duck and Tasso ham.

Alzina Toups
Alzina’s Kitchen in Galliano, Louisiana
Toups is a legend on the Bayou Lafourche, where for over 30 years she’s been turning out home-cooked, family-style meals in a former welding shop. Her roux-less gumbo recipe has been passed down through a long lineage of Cajun cooks and is loaded with okra.

John Folse
R’evolution in New Orleans, Louisiana
Folse, the author of The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine, is a leading authority on Creole cuisine. The secret to his seafood gumbo is a multiple shellfish stock made with crab, shrimp, fish, and oyster juice. He sacrifices half of the seafood in the roux in order to enhance the flavor. What’s left is added to the simmering stew right before he serves it to patrons at his French Quarter restaurant in the Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Kelly English
The Second Line in Memphis, Tennessee
Voted Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2009, English studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and in France and Spain. He honors the meaty tradition—he never uses seafood—and simplicity of the gumbo his father made: wild duck around the holidays, chicken the rest of the year.