"I love bringing people together at a table. A table where I can take other people's works and nudge them together on a plate." says Chef Melissa Martin of Mosquito Supper Club, who's defined her career around sustainability.
Interview and story by, Tippi Clark
Melissa Martin, 39 is a New Orleans based chef and the super woman behind Mosquito Supper Club, a culinary glimpse into growing up in the Terrebonne Parish, on Bayou Petit Caillou in Chauvin, Louisiana.
Every Thursday it's the same formula for Mosquito Supper Club: one chef, 12-24 diners (reservation only), a sustainable + authentic Cajun family style supper that is composed of five courses using the most fresh and local ingredients from all around Louisiana with Cajun story telling and music (played softly on a record player, where she often invites guests to flip the record when it ends or to go pick another).
Melissa grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by family: her parents, grandmother, four aunts and uncles and five siblings. It was there she learned from the women in her family all about beauty and grace and what it means to seamlessly cook a large amount of food for a lot of people. The family is also comprised of long line of shrimpers, oyster fishermen, alligator hunters, crabbers and trappers. Because of this, she celebrates the bounty of those local ingredients that define her dinners.
Our photo shoot and tiny interview took place last week on a un-seasonly warm Spring afternoon in the Mosquito Supper Club dining room staged specifically for strawberry pie making. Before the photoshoot I had agreed to scour the Uptown Neighborhoods that are known for their beautiful cherry blossom trees for any low hanging flowered cherry blossoms that could be trimmed and arranged for table settings. I also helped set and arrange the tables for dinner which felt like honor, because I know what it is like to sit at that table for the first time and enjoy that supper and hear the stories with the company that surrounds you on those evenings.
Where did you learn about sustainability as a chef and become the beautiful story teller that you are today?
I attended Loyola University in New Orleans for English literature and writing but after the Storm my writing program was cancelled (*Katrina 2005) and it was then I began exploring the world of food in catering. Then I took a deeper dive in Napa where I really began an education in seasonal cooking, and what it meant to use all local, seasonal ingredients. I hadn't really been exposed to that in a restaurant setting before California. After Nappa, I came back to New Orleans and really began think about the amount of waste that can be created through a restaurant. It's heart breaking.
I've always loved making lists and checking things off, working with my hands, and I'm just more logistically organized at putting things in their place in the kitchen. I love bringing people together at a table. A table where I can take other people's work and nudge them together on a plate.
photo: Jonny Rosenbloom
What is your favorite memory of someone wearing an apron?
It would definitely have to be from the Lagniappe on the Bayou Festival that took place in Chauvin, LA growing up. It was a local fair that took place once a year and everyone had a booth at this festival. From shrimp boulettes, turtle sauce piquant, raw oysters, black berry dumplings.. it was all there. My family had an ice cream stand called, Là Creme à Sam named after my parrin (*god father) and we would run it as little kids. Every year the festival would come out with a new apron and tshirt design, we would all wear them! Someone recently found an apron and gave it to me. I wish I could find it! The festival ended in 1994, right before I turned 18 and I was of drinking age!
Recently, Mosquito Supper Club has added "Houseboat Private Parties" to it's repertoire, which is very exciting! Can you tell us a little bit about this new adventure?
Sure! Our houseboat is located in the Atchafalaya Basin on Henderson Levee Road and our first dinner launches the second weekend of March! We're officially open for business! The food I love to cook is apropos to dining on a screened in porch overlooking the bayou. We can seat 6-8 people and its a perfect escape from the city to enjoy the day in nature and then spend the evening dancing the night away next door at Whisky River, a live cajun & zydeco dance that happens every Sunday afternoon.
Photo: Jonny Rosenbloom
We designed the bib aprons specifically for you to cook and host in based off of an apron you got in a thrift store. Can you give me the history on that apron and the functionality of why you like that design so much?
To be specific the thrift store apron is bright red, with the name "Helen" stitched crudely on the front in white thread and has been washed a million times. The genius of that apron is that it's simple adjustment mechanism allows you to adjust using the straps that tie around the back through channels in the arm holes. It's very comfortable but not very attractive.
I love that you guys used the arm hole / strap adjustment mechanism partnered with a light weight canvas. It's a very flattering fit and still comfortable, short and round at the bottom almost like a dress. I can never buy a bib apron off the shelf and wear it without having to tie it up a million ways or use a rubber band to tighten the straps in the back. Love it!
Cooking coats never fit small women either!
Photo: Jonny Rosenbloom
We love the longer apron on you too, especially when you're holding an alligator scull. Where did you get that?!
My uncle George, he hunted that alligator!
Who is your hero and why?
My mother first and foremost, she showed me how to make something out of nothing.
Our Holt McCall x Mosquito Supper Club aprons will soon be available online and at Mosquito Supper Club for preorder starting next week. Stay Tuned!