The state of Louisiana isn’t the largest state in the Union, but it offers one of the most diverse dichotomies in the United States. While most people think of the state of Louisiana as a home of Creole culture in the US, the reality can sometimes be very different. If one grows up in the southern parishes of the state, Creole culture is a constant influence on the local population. Stray up toward the northern reaches of the state though, and you might find that Louisiana has a little more to offer.
Northern and southern Louisiana might be considered the same by many of those who view the state from the outside. Look deeper though, and you’ll find that many of the state’s residents find the northern and southern regions of the state separated by culture, distance, and time. Read on to find out how one chef wants to connect the state and its cultures through Creole heritage. This is the story of Chef Pansou.
Background on Chef Pansou
Panderina Soumas is better known to fans of Creole cuisine as Chef Pansou, but if you haven’t grown up in the southern parishes of Louisiana, you might not know who she is. Shreveport, Louisiana is the home of Barksdale Air Force Base, one of the most important air bases in the United States Military rotation. Many military families have found this corner of northeastern Louisiana home, some of them from various corners of the state not even realising which parish they found themselves in. Chef Pansou is a child of New Orleans raised on the northern bayous of Shreveport and Bossier City, and she’s determined to bring Creole culture north through down-home cooking:
“A lot of people here were from South Louisiana and found that many of them didn’t know about the history, or the culinary aspect of the history from ancestors that I came from, and that they also had the same background. Mine starts with my Creole great-grandmother. She was born in Bayou Lafourche, Louisiana. She made her move to Terrebonne Parish, which is Houma, where she had my grandmother in 1918. She shortly left there and moved to New Orleans, and that’s where my mother was born. In New Orleans in 1936. A circle of family lived around each other, great aunts and uncles and cousins. And then of course I was back and forth with my father being in the military.”
Struggling to Find a Creole Identity
The state of Louisiana is often viewed as the Creole hotbed of America. Many assume that to be from Louisiana is to be from a Creole family. The reality is much different. Though many individuals from the southern parishes of the state have a Creole heritage, the reality is that numerous residents of the northern parishes of Louisiana are unfamiliar with the full extent of their heritage.
If you ask Chef Pansou, much of this disparity was evident in the cuisine of northern and southern Louisiana residents. The residents of Louisiana might view themselves as a cohesive unit, but sometimes reality can present itself differently. You need look no further than Chef Pansou, a born-and-raised resident of southern Louisiana who now finds herself bringing Creole traditions to northern Louisiana:
Although Panderina Soumas traveled and lived in various places as a child, due to her father’s military career, Panderina and her family always maintained their South Louisiana Creole heritage through food, language and culture. Spending many months to years in New Orleans when the family could not travel with her father, the family resided with her grandparents and other extended family in the New Orleans area during the 60’s and 70’s. Panderina moved back to New Orleans after having her 1st and only child (a son) in 1976, where she remained until 1990. Panderina moved back to Northwest Louisiana after major retail takeovers on Canal Street in New Orleans, which resulted in a job loss. Returning to North Louisiana, where her parents retired and resided, Panderina quickly realized the BIG cultural differences in her state. which divided it so much, culturally. Panderina having a strong Creole background from both sides of her family, especially from her mother’s side, found it a quite uncomfortable to fit in the Northern part of the state.
Building for a Better Future
Chef Pansou believes in a better future for herself, her family, and her fellow residents of Louisiana. The state has faced a number of challenges in the past decade; not the least the devastation of hurricanes which have relocated people and switched the homeland associations of local Creole populations. With the help of people like Chef Pansou, Louisiana can chart a better future.
Panderina remains humble and modest, having overcome and continuing to overcome many hurdles in the culinary business. Despite the set-backs…Panderina is still making her mark with Soumas Heritage Creole Creations and freely admitting she’s not where she wants to be in her business, financially. By application and hard work, she still intends to achieve her goals! One of these dreams is to have a small Creole Apetizer Café and Gift Shop~n~Gallery. Here her products and Creole Food Mixes can be housed and sold as well as eaten and enjoyed in an ambiance setting of Creole South Louisiana. Panderina also sees her products in small specialty / gourmet food markets throughout Louisiana and a few Southern states that claim the creole culture as well. Though she has had some of her items in local shops, it has been a task to gain new clients within her local area.
Plans for the Future
Charting both a new course for the future of Creole culture and cooking in Louisiana is no easy feat, but someone has to lead the charge. Chef Pansou is more than happy to take up the mantle in this charge and bring people across the state together.
The core of Chef Pansou’s approach is to connect people from southern Louisiana with those from northern Louisiana. Whether you are from the Creole and Cajun communities of southern Louisiana, or northern Louisiana’s sportsmen’s paradise, you are a part of the state’s Creole heritage. Chef Pansou and those like her envision delivering a taste of Creole heritage, whether it’s through food or history.