Destrehan Plantation visitors have long been able to experience history through the landmark’s sights and sounds – and soon, they’ll have their literal taste of history.
That comes courtesy of Maitland “Spuddy” Faucheux, who will be making his tasty dishes in the Destrehan Plantation Mule Barn using the same techniques his ancestors did more than a century ago. It’s the result of a brand new working relationship between Spuddy’s Cajun Cooking Experience and Destrehan Plantation.
The combo package includes a tour of Destrehan Plantation and will be available for booking after Aug. 1 for $80 per person plus tax. The Cajun Cooking Experience will be open to groups of 35 or more and must be booked at least 30 days in advance. The 193-year-old Mule Barn can easily accommodate groups of 50 to 150 people with room to spare.
“We almost got it going in 2019,” Faucheux said of the partnership. “COVID put it on the backburner – nothing was open in the world. But I went to Destrehan Plantation one day and (Destrehan Plantation director Tracy Smith) asked me if I’d still be interested. Oh yeah, let’s talk. That got us traction.”
Faucheux started the Cajun Cooking Experience in 2019 as a way to take his business in a new direction. His Spuddy’s Cajun Foods restaurant became a favorite among locals, but roadway developments connecting the Veterans Memorial Bridge to 3127 led to the restaurant being bypassed by most and business began to decline steeply.
“I had sent the letter out that we were closing, thanking everyone for their support,” Faucheux said.
A friend had encouraged him to find another way, however – don’t close the restaurant, but find a way to stay in business by reimagining his model. He did just that.
The idea was born from a conversation he had with Robyn Tanner, a New Orleans native in town from Switzerland visiting her dad in the same Alzheimer’s unit that Faucheux’s father was being cared for.
From 2014 through 2019, Faucheux was taking care of his father at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home in Reserve. His father had Alzheimer’s for almost 20 years. Every Monday through Friday, Faucheux would leave his business at 1 p.m. and spend several hours feeding and taking care of his father. While at the home, he would help other veterans at the home and help families adjust to having a loved one in the home.
After meeting Tanner there, she had a request.
“She wanted to come by the restaurant and learn how to cook jambalaya,” Faucheux said.
His vision began to come together. Faucheux enrolled in classes at Delgado to become a tour guide in 2019. That gave him some hands on experience – ‘experience’ being the key word here, as he did not want this to be a mere cooking class but a full-on experience for attendees.
“We got it started and we had a few people coming, but there were two big groups in 2020. One had 150 people … I never thought of doing groups, but when that happened, it felt like ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome,’” he said.
As it did most things, COVID-19 slammed the brakes on this project. But Faucheux adapted, and as it turns out, his Experience tour would ultimately be better for it.
Faucheux began a cooking show on Facebook Live during the pandemic, putting a different twist on things by also speaking on the origins, history and culture of each item prepared.
“I did my research … it made me a smarter person,” he said. “I can talk easily about Cajun culture and Cajun foods. (The show) helped me get better with technology … one of my favorite parts of this is the research. You always learn something new. And you see that while things have changed, they also haven’t changed all that much.”
That show, Faucheux found, was truly enjoyable.
“It took people out of the world at the time – I had two rules on the show, no politics and no COVID (talk),” he said. “I wasn’t there to bring you down but to pick you up. It was a little shining light for an hour.”
Eventually, the world began coming together again post-COVID. The Experience could resume. He and Destrehan Plantation director Tracy Smith re-connected following Hurricane Ida.
Faucheux said when he gets into guide-mode, it’s a special feeling.
“My energy just builds up and it’s like I’m in another world,” he said. “Like I imagine actors are when they perform. It’s just a passion, truly a passion.
“The thing about it, our Cajun culture and Cajun foods are dying because we live in a fast food world. We’re losing that old way of cooking, the way our ancestors did it. I don’t want it to die. I want to bring it to as many people as I can.”