I once heard a Cajun cook say that a proper roux requires stirring over heat for about as long as it takes to enjoy five beers. Johnny Schulze agrees that this cuisine is a challenge to get right because it's not about recipes and requires a special combination of patience and passion. The Louisiana-born-and-trained chef, who now calls Northeast Ohio home, is bringing that culinary ethos and his considerable skill to this neck of the woods, making authentic jambalaya, etouffe and gumbo that he serves from the window of Zydeco Bistro, his bright orange food truck."I went to cooking school in New Orleans," he says, "But my real eduction came from watching people who really knew how to cook the old slow way. I make the food I love to eat."
Schulz learned about managing a mobile kitchen while in the National Guard. After years of working anonymously in other peoples' restaurants, he decided to go out on his own with a food truck. He plates po'boys, hush puppies, barbecue shrimp and other Creole and Cajun dishes at farmers markets, Walnut Wednesdays in downtown Cleveland and other public events. There's a live calendar on his website that makes it easy to find out where his truck will be.
I was one of many in his line at the Tremont Farmers' Market recently. Made a meal out of an outstanding blue crab salad. Field greens and crab meat, plus a few small legs suitable for sucking, were tossed with pickled vegetables — celery, cauliflower, carrots, and onions — purple cabbage, cherry tomatoes and a tasty dressing. Schulz is using as much local produce as he can and bringing in specialized ingredients from back home that he needs. The seafood is as fresh as you can get.
Between dishing it out three to five days a week, prepping, catering and teaching cooking classes Schulze is pretty much on the job every day. He's also in the process of doing the build-out for a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Tremont. If all goes well, Bourbon Street Barrel Room will open in early 2014. "I'm working harder than I ever have in my whole life," Schulz told me, "But I've never been happier."
For food as good as Johnny Schulze's, I don't mind eating out of a paper container standing on the sidewalk or sitting in a park. But I'll be even happier when he has a permanent home and that restaurant of his is open and serving.