One Talented Lady
01/31/2013 09:09AM ● Published by ALS Editor
Chef Carolyn Shelton—Author, Etiquette Consultant & Motivational Speaker
By Cheryl Robichaux | Photo by Mickey Delcambre
Chef Carolyn Shelton knows all about making cooking fun. She’s cheerfully chopping fresh vegetables on a January morning at E’s Kitchen, an upscale kitchenware and bridal registry shop in Parc Lafayette. Blessed with amazing Creole culinary skills, one can imagine that her own kitchen is just as colorful and exciting as E’s Kitchen.
Carolyn is most recognized locally for her cooking demonstrations on KLFY-TV10’s show, “Passe Partout.” Her videos are all over YouTube, and there’s even one where she’s hanging out with her friend and basketball star, Michael Jordan, cooking a “Slam Dunk Gumbo.”
“I wake up energized every morning,” says Carolyn. “I want to be an inspiration and motivate people to become educated. I’m trying to ignite a fire in young people so they’ll develop a passion for Creole cooking, and to have them become chefs in Acadiana restaurants.”
Born in Louisiana and raised in Texas, Carolyn picked up most of her culinary skills from her mother, Angelina Zeno Mitchell and grandmothers, all of whom were Creoles (French speaking African-Americans). Carolyn is the eldest of nine children in a very spiritual Catholic family that lived near St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Youngsville. She remembers the fresh vegetables in her grandmother’s garden fondly.
“My mother especially was a big influence on me,” Carolyn says. “She always instilled in us the importance of being polite and of having a strong work ethic. My father, Francis, was such a wonderful man too. I loved them both so much. My mother gave me the spirit to love people because she never met a stranger. The love that emanated from her—I thank her, because I can go anywhere in the world and feel comfortable.”
In the 1970s Carolyn did travel all over the world working as a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. She tasted cuisine in several countries including Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Korea, China, Fuji and many other exotic locales. She lived in Chicago and used to cook her own special brand of gumbo for her friends, including Michael Jordan.
Her Creole gumbo became so famous, she decided to leave her career as a flight attendant and focus on her cooking. She graduated from Texas Southern University in Houston and eventually owned Creole restaurants in Atlanta and Houston. Today she resides in Lafayette, very close to her birthplace in Youngsville.
Breaking Down Barriers
She conducts seminars called “From Seed To Table,” teaching young mothers about growing and cooking wholesome food for their families to combat rising obesity rates. She’s conducted workshops at Cité des Arts in Lafayette called “Young, Gifted and Classy.” Her classes address issues such as table manners, civility, respect and how to interact with others. She volunteers for cooking demonstrations at Vermilionville, where she is affectionately nick-named “Auntie.”
This South Louisiana celebrity chef, author, etiquette consultant and motivational speaker says there are three things young people can say to break down barriers and create wonderful relationships—“Excuse Me,” “Thank You” and “Please.” She explains, “Civility is not about just reciting words. It’s about people and the world we live in. It’s about how to use manners to get ahead in life. Once kids master the art of manners and the effect it has on people around them, they will have the tools needed to succeed.”
Carolyn was married once and her husband passed away not long after their wedding. She doesn’t have children of her own; instead she treats all the children she reaches as if they were her family.
Add some spices in the pot coupled with a big dash of love and you have what is known as “Soul Food.” In all actuality, Creole cooking as we know it today is really glorified “Soul Food” with a French Accent. Carolyn’s mission is to preserve Creole food and culture for future generations to come. There’s the roux, the stock, the Holy Trinity (equal parts of chopped onions, celery, and bell pepper) and the black iron pots. She says, “Experience has shown that the ugliest black pot is the one that cooks the best!”
Her “Zydeco Blues ‘N’ Gumbo Cookbook” includes recipes collected from many of the renowned Zydeco musicians in Acadiana such as Rockin’ Dopsie, Geno Delafose, Lil Nate, Clifton Chenier and even singing sensation, Cupid. All of the Zydeco players are ambassadors for the Creole culture and they each have some kind of connection with cooking. They have messages about happiness in their heart, pain in their heart, and good food, which some may call ‘comfort food.’
“People are fascinated with our culture, but there’s a part of our culture that they never hear about,” explains Carolyn. In Herman Fuselier’s foreward to her “Zydeco Blues ‘N’ Gumbo Cookbook” he writes, “It’s not just about recipes, but remembering those roots and traditions while carrying them into the future with respect and pride. She wants to give a voice to the cooks, maids, housewives, midwives, grandmothers, nannies and others who were never heard, along with the silent contributors who are still here.”
The French phrase Zydeco sont pas salé means ‘no salt meat for the green beans.’ The cover of the cookbook displays a typical Creole scene with maw maw (grandmother) sitting on the front porch snapping green beans while listening to men playing Zydeco music.
It’s A Creole Thang!
Carolyn teamed up with major corporations including Starbucks Coffee, TABASCO®, Louisiana Fish Fry, Whole Foods Market, Emile Henry and Hebert’s Specialty Meats, Lodge Logic, Villeroy & Boch, Rouses, Champagne’s Market in Lafayette’s Oil Center, Le Creuset, Paul Michael’s, Home Health 2000 in Lake Charles and the 34 Ways Foundation in New Orleans. Several of these partners have also participated in her cooking shows and videos.
She’s appeared as a guest on TV programs such as BET, CNN, Donahue, Essence Television, 60 Minutes, and WDSU. At the Broadway Premiere of “The Color Purple” in New York, Carolyn sat right in front of Oprah Winfrey. She confides, “Just the other day Paula Dean called and said she had to have me on her show.”
Carolyn wrote and published several books with more to follow including “Gumbo, Grits and Sweet Dough Pies” and “From Chitlins to Caviar.”
She recently teamed up with former New Orleans Saints Player #34 Mike McKensie for her latest book about manners. “Young, Gifted and Classy—34 Ways To Be A Lady Or Gentleman” will be released before the Super Bowl this month. McKensie established his 34 Ways Foundation to help kids build character, learn about discipline, improve their health and become more educated.
Chef Carolyn Shelton is in the final stages of creating her own cooking show, and if miracles still do happen, a cooking school to honor the old Creole cooks for their recipes and stories.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to purchase any of Chef Carolyn Shelton’s books or schedule her for a cooking demonstration, send an email to
email@example.com or call (337) 292-6829.