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Published: Tuesday, 10/30/2012

David's Cajun: born from gumbo

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

David Pilcher was one of nine children, so he grew up with limited food experience. His family did not have an adventurous attitude toward food, and they rarely could go to restaurants.

So it was only about 20 years ago that Mr. Pilcher, now 47, had his first bowl of gumbo while on vacation in South Carolina.

In some respects, that bowl of gumbo changed his life.

He loved it so much, he looked for recipes to make it, finally settling on the 1984 Paul Proudhomme cookbook Louisiana Kitchen. He tweaked and played with the recipe, added some things and changed others, until he came up with a recipe he thought was perfect, one that was truly his own.

The gumbo was so good, he started serving it to friends and family. Soon, whenever anyone he knew had a party, they would always ask him to bring the gumbo.

And then he decided to take the next step. Friends and family all raved about it, but what about people who didn't know him?

Mr. Pilcher had worked in restaurants, off and an, for much of his life (his day job is as an IT technician for Truenorth, an Ohio-based company that operates and supplies Shell gas stations throughout the Midwest). At one point he had worked at Manos Greek Restaurant, so he asked the owner if he could sell his gumbo and other Cajun specialties there once a week.

The owner agreed, and Mr. Pilcher began serving a handful of dishes at the Attic, the bar over Manos, every Wednesday night "from 5:30 until I got tired," he said recently.

But working within a fully functioning restaurant got to be a grind, especially when he was trying to do it every single week. So he took what he called a short hiatus.

And then came an epiphany: Manos is closed on Sundays. That means he could take over the entire restaurant and use all of the kitchen if he wanted. He could limit the number of customers. And he wouldn't have to do it every week, just as often as he felt like it. Say, once a month.

And so David's Cajun was born.

One Sunday a month, Mr. Pilcher cooks a four-course meal for between 20-25 people at Manos. He pays rent, so the restaurant owner makes a little money on a day he would otherwise get nothing. Reservations are required, so he knows how many people will be coming, thus limiting the amount of waste. Because everyone eats the same meal, he only has to cook four dishes e_SEmD and the first course is always gumbo.

The appetizers and entrees are sometimes Cajun, but often he will make something else that he likes or has proved successful. Sometimes, he will find something he likes at another restaurant and then will come home and tinker in the kitchen until he creates his own version of it.

"My neighbors are very happy volunteers to step in and be the guinea pigs," he said.

The October dinner began with the gumbo, moved to an appetizer of Bruschetta Orleans (garlic-rubbed French bread topped with fresh mozzarella and marinated tomatoes), and then a main course of Fettucini Alfredo with wood-grilled chicken and Creole-seasoned shrimp. Dessert was by someone else.

"Dessert is my weak point. I'm not a dessert eater, so it is hard for me to get a passion for it. I always have a guest cook the dessert," he said.

Getting a reservation for the once-a-month restaurant requires a little bit of work. When Mr. Pilcher decides what he will be making, he posts a menu on the David's Cajun Facebook page. His fans e_SEmD and he is pleased to see that he is getting some regulars to the dinners e_SEmD simply write that they will be attending. The first 20 or so people to respond get in, and it only costs them $20.

At some point in the future, after his two teenage children are grown, he might want to think about opening a restaurant. But he is not certain he would ever want to be that much of a professional cook.

"In my head, I'm still seeing it as once a month I'm having a dinner party, and I let anyone come who wants to," he said.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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