Cooks at Home: Bill and Margaret Wise
"Deck the halls with bowls of gumbo. . . .” While this may not be the traditional Christmas carol, for the past 30 years a jumbo-size gumbo party has been the holiday tradition of Bill and Margaret Wise, wherever they happened to live.
“It began as a small gathering,” Margaret explained. “In fact, back in Louisiana we say we are having people over, whether there is little gumbo or a lot.”
The ingredients, for sure, are much more elaborate than “gumbo”— an abundance of crab, shrimp and prime meat. According to LA tradition, originally all of the food would have been caught, captured or shot by family members.
This is not to say that the gumbo doesn’t have the place of honor at the feast. At the Wise household, the luscious Louisiana specialty is taken seriously, very seriously. The gumbo preparation begins several months earlier with the ordering of giant quantities of fresh shrimp and andouille sausage for the massive pots. The spicy stew will be joined by a few turduckens, hams, roasted tenderloins and countless confections on the accompanying buffet tables.
“It is all about the roux,” say Bill and Margaret about the flour-and-browned-butter mix that forms the cornerstone of their gumbo. “You must have a deep, dark roux and that takes patience.”
In fact, the entire process is really a threeday pregame experience. There are countless onions to chop, seasonings to balance flavors and, of course, rice to cook. Even the white rice is an important base to the lovingly prepared gumbo, says chef Bill Wise.
For 30 years, the couple has crafted this classic New Orleans dish in the kitchens of their homes in Manhattan, Houston and now Sarasota.
For Bill and Margaret, yearly entertaining, especially on holidays, is the preferred mode of giving thanks, and expressing love. The house is decorated with beautiful arrangements, decorated tables with cloths and china and an immense serving of Southern hospitality. With Bill shepherding the kitchen preparations and Margaret welcoming one and all, the utter essence of holiday purpose is exemplified.
One may call it Louisiana/Southern hospitality, one may define it by the meticulous creation of the gumbo—I see it as love personified. Thank you, Bill and Margaret Wise!