Apr 23, 201309:53 AM
Getting Around Greater New Orleans and Beyond
Chef Melissa Martin and Adventures in Lafitte
Melissa Martin poses with her daughter, Kaia.
Aside from a night when a friend and I followed the super moon across the Crescent City Connection, I had never been to Lafitte, La. Not really.
On my way to the bayou, I noticed a Spanish Revival mansion resting off the shoulder of Barataria Boulevard – a giant hacienda or a small castle, depending on who’s asking – with a fully functioning farm stretched along its side. There were numerous fig and citrus trees among an easy two acres of produce. I was surprised; at only 10 minutes from home, this area proved much closer to Uptown than the Bywater neighborhood.
I arrived in Lafitte about 30 minutes later. I was greeted by the tops of trawl boards and bayou water which closely hugged both sides of the highway. It's a feeling that seems unique to Louisiana, the realization that you are driving along a sliver of land which will very suddenly gives way to some great body of water. Suddenly, a car no longer felt like the appropriate vehicle.
From the home of Chef Melissa Martin, who is most famous for her role in the creation of Satsuma Cafe, we had an awe-inspiring view of Bayou Rigolettes. We drank sake and picked at braised lamb while we talked a bit about the cosmic ripple a single meal can make.
Martin was raised in Terrebonne Parish. Her grandfather was a net maker for the shrimping industry. Young Martin is immortalized in a prized family photo where she is wide-eyed, balancing on the back of an alligator with one of her five siblings. Her connection to this area runs as deep as the Mississippi River is long.
If I have learned one thing from my travels, it is akin to what Martin was talking about yesterday: A visit shapes the community, for better or for worse, meaning the way you travel not only affects how you feel afterwards, but it impacts the host community, sometimes profoundly. This blog post is my last installment of Travelblogue, and after spending a beautiful day on the eroding shores of Lafitte, I wanted to touch upon the one thing I feel has always made my adventures so wonderful: connecting with those who embody the spirit of the community.
It's easy to see where Martin's passion really lies – in the work she’s doing with Cafe Hope, which helps "at-risk young adults get training in the restaurant and hospitality industries," according to the restaurant's website.
Each day is a new adventure for Martin. Tuesday mornings, she ventures into New Orleans to swing by the Crescent City Farmers Market and pick up produce for a week with the hardworking youth at Cafe Hope. In the morning, on her way out of Lafitte, she drops into Higgins for what she swears are the prettiest and tastiest crabs in the area. Her journey ends at the restaurant, the latest venture in what appears to be a lifelong pursuit of creating meals from locally sourced ingredients. Cafe Hope offers a menu that could easily rival that of any in town, but the beauty is that the food is being prepared by kids who would otherwise be on the street.
Cafe Hope brings something to the table other restaurants don’t: a startlingly low price and a substantial service to the community. As Martin says, “a meal can make a difference” –in your own well-being and that of the community that has strived to bring it to you.
After an enlightening conversation with Chef Martin, my friends and I took our kayaks to the water. The canal carried us to an area of Lafitte which was once a cow field. Now it’s a shallow lake called the Pen. The sun was setting over the basin. I was feeling sentimental about how this article would be my last installment in the current series of my Travelblogue adventures. Certainly, this is the close of a chapter, but it’s also the opening of a door to wider and even more wonderful travels. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to explore Louisiana with me. I’ll see y’all out there.