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3-course interview: Rene Porche, chef and restaurateur

The former bounce artist won the Legume d'Or trophy at Bean Madness

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Rene "Chef Reero" Porche won the "Legume d'Or" trophy at the second annual Bean Madness competition at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum April 7. Porche, a former bounce artist who runs the restaurant Ma Momma's House of Cornbread, Chicken & Waffles (5741 Crowder Blvd.; www.mamommashouse.com) spoke to Gambit about the competition and her red bean recipe.

How did you develop your red beans recipe?

Porche: (My sister and I) grew up in the (William J.) Fischer Housing (Development). When we were growing up, my mom had lupus. She was always home, so I didn't get to be in the kitchen much as a child. By the time we got home, the food was already ready. As I got older, I started getting recipes from her, and we started trying them out.

  Growing up in the Fischer, we ate a lot of beans. Beans are cheap, and you can stretch them. You can buy a pound of beans, put some smoked sausage and pickled meat in it, and you can stretch that and make it last three days.

  My momma had a great red bean recipe, and I knew that if we were in the contest, we were going all the way. I've never been in a competition before, but I'm real competitive.

  I didn't really change anything from my momma's recipe. My momma always cooked with a bunch of bell peppers because we always had bell peppers around, and we still put them in almost everything. It's the same recipe we grew up eating, and I just love it.

  A lot of the people we were competing against were culinary professionals — trained chefs. I haven't had any type of traditional training. I just cooked from my momma's recipe. So when we were in the competition and beating out these good restaurants, it really made me feel great. It was amazing.

How did you get into the restaurant business?

P: My first time in a kitchen, I was a pantry chef. A friend of my mom's (who managed the restaurant) told me he liked my energy and said he wanted me to come work there.

  (Years later,) I was a manager at a bank in Austin, and my mom had gotten in a really bad car accident, so I came home to be with her. My sister and her husband (asked me to stay) and my brother-in-law had a restaurant, so I started helping him out. We started talking and decided we should open our own restaurant. We thought of naming the restaurant Ma Momma, because you always get great meals when you go to your momma's house. Some of my best memories from growing up were at my momma's house. So I started gathering recipes from my mom ... and we started working on our menu, and voila! That's how Ma Momma's House came into existence.

  When I was 13 years old, we moved to a place in New Orleans East, close to where we (later) opened the restaurant. It wasn't the best neighborhood, and when we started thinking about opening a restaurant we wanted to make sure we went to the East and gave New Orleans East a sit-down restaurant. We wanted to do something where we could meet people that grew up the same way that we grew up and let them know that if these two black girls from the projects could do it, then definitely, they could do it too.

What's one thing you should not put in red beans?

P: Tomatoes. I know some people like to put tomatoes in there, but no. ... Another thing I don't like is celery in beans. Celery has a strong taste, and it changes the taste of your beans.

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