Members of Stacy Savoie’s extended family literally come running for her creamy and delicious field peas.
Seasoned with pickle meat, cooked down in a dark roux with the chopped “Holy Trinity” of vegetables and served over rice, Savoie contends that the modest legume holds its own against its more famous cousins: the red bean and the white bean.
“Some people have never heard of field peas before,” said Savoie, a cafeteria cook at Christ the King School in Terrytown. “It serves up like a stew, with the dark gravy, the thickness over the rice,” she said. “I feed my family and I’ll call my brothers or my dad to see if they want to eat. I send it to them or they come get it. I also feed my cousin who lives down the street from me.”
An energetic cook
Marrero-born Savoie, 38, is used to cooking in bulk. She landed her first professional cooking job at a local casino at 17, working her way up over her 15 years there to lead cook responsible for the customer buffet and the food service for employees.
Savoie’s first culinary memories are of helping her mother cook hamburger steaks, fried pork chops, mac and cheese and the family’s famous field peas. She also grew up on her grandmother’s corn soup, an easy-to-throw-together blend of diced tomatoes, pickle meat, sausage, onions, bell pepper, garlic, sugar and both cut and creamed corn.
“Cooking is fun and it’s fast,” Savoie said. “I’m one of those people who likes to keep busy. I like the speed of (cooking). It makes me feel energetic. It’s actually a stress reliever for me!”
That energy is visible at work and at home. After finishing her 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift at Christ the King, the mother of two goes home to cook dinner for her husband and her remaining resident child, going as far to prepare their breakfast for the following morning. She places scrambled eggs, bacon and other items in Tupperware containers that can be reheated in the microwave while Savoie is at work.
Savoie came to Christ the King four years ago. She and her fellow cooks, food technicians and bakers, led by their cafeteria manager, Stephanie St. Ann, prepare breakfast and lunch for about 250 children each weekday.
Savoie said students at Christ the King love their cafeteria’s popcorn chicken, pizza, shepherd’s pie, meatballs and spaghetti and calzonettes.
“They’re like a hot pocket,” Savoie said of the latter.
“They also like our brownies and cookies – they like all the sweets,” she added. “A lot of them tell us thank you.”
“Working in a cafeteria takes a lot of teamwork, and we’ve got a great team,” Savoie notes. “We all get along.”
While Savoie did not share her most highly rated dishes with Holy Smoke because they contain meat – her field peas, her chicken and sausage gumbo and her lima beans, cooked down and seasoned with chicken legs – she offered a trio of entrées she prepares during the meatless Fridays of Lent.
“It’s simple! It’s easy! It’s satisfying! It fills you!” said Savoie of her Shrimp and Potato Stew. “A lot of people put 10, 12 different seasonings in there, but I don’t find you need all that.”
For a simple and filling Lenten dinner, Savoie suggests serving her “delicious” Crab Cakes, bound together with egg and light mayonnaise, atop pasta Alfredo.
“Some people like the crabmeat chunky,” Savoie said, “but I like it shredded up throughout my crab cakes.”
Because good cooking usually involves a lot of pots and pans, Savoie’s favorite kitchen tip is “Clean as you go.”
“Ever since I worked at the casino I can’t cook a small batch of anything. I cook for an army,” Savoie said, smiling.
“My husband tells me the reason he married me is because I cook!”
Beth Donze can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.