|Chef John Folse will be serving up Gulf Coast specialties at the Olympics in London.|
Two weeks before the start of the London 2012 Olympics, Chef John Folse and his staff were making hundreds of his signature crab cakes in his Donaldsonville facility to be shipped overseas and served at the games.
In fact, Folse had been coordinating and preparing seafood-centric meals for weeks for an Olympics catering project that oil giant BP had asked him to lead.
BP recruited Folse to serve as team leader for its massive “Spirit of the Gulf” event, three nights of Gulf Coast food and music served to Team USA and their families. Folse also catered a 200-person lunch hosted by BP for its retailers, during which he and three other chefs provided cooking demonstrations and discussed the Gulf's culinary raw materials.
BP created Spirit of the Gulf as part of its continuing effort to heal the reputation of regional seafood after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
“BP is proud to use the power of the London 2012 Olympic Games as another way to promote the Gulf Coast, draw new visitors to the region and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the community,” says Vice President of Government and Public Affairs Crystal Ashby.
Folse says he jumped at the chance to be involved in promoting the region's assets to an international audience.
“I was intrigued,” he says. “It was the Olympics, and what better way to showcase what was great about our part of the world and the safety of our seafood.”
A perpetual media presence in Baton Rouge, Folse is known as a champion of indigenous cuisine. He makes regular television appearances on WAFB and hosts his own radio show. He has written nine cookbooks and has a catering and event division at White Oak Plantation and a restaurant and bed-and-breakfast in Donaldsonville.
Earlier this year, he opened Home on the Range with partner Chef Rick Tramonto, a restaurant development company that creates and launches restaurant concepts nationwide. The company's first property, Restaurant R'evolution, opened in June in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans, helped along by a $6 million investment by UBS and its subsidiary Hospitality Properties Trust.
Folse's strong brand as a Cajun-Creole cuisine expert made him an appealing choice for BP. It had recently prompted The History Channel to recruit him to man a Cajun food truck through Manhattan for the launch of the second season of Swamp People. The wildly successful project had the chef handing out free crawfish étouffée, gumbo and alligator sauce piquant to thick crowds. Organizers asked Folse to return for the third season launch, which saw the large-scale transformation of Chelsea Market into a swamp, complete with regional foods and cypress knees.
But it was his large-scale manufacturing capabilities that sealed the deal for Spirit of the Gulf, says Folse. The bread and butter of Chef John Folse & Co. is its 68,000-square-foot USDA manufacturing facility in Donaldsonville, which turns out foods and specialty products for food-service distribution, retail sales and national restaurant chains. The cook-and-chill plant was expanded in 2008 and is one of a few chef-owned manufacturing facilities in the United States.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
Five facts about the 2012 Summer Olympics
1 The games begin July 27 and end Aug. 12.
2 Coverage will be aired locally on NBC 33, as well as the NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo. It will also be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com.
3 The event is being hosted in London, which previously hosted the games in 1908 and 1948.
4 Some 205 nations are expected to take part in 300 events.
5 There are 26 Olympic sports, including badminton, rowing, sailing, football, cycling, gymnastics, hockey, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, volleyball and wrestling.
“BP came and toured our plant and felt confident about our ability to get quality food there safely,” Folse says. “We knew that everything had to be of the utmost quality and safety. We were going to be feeding Olympic athletes and their families.”
Seven other chefs participated in Spirit of the Gulf: two each from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, and one other chef from Louisiana, Galatoire's Executive Chef Michael Sichel. The team designed recipes that incorporated Gulf rim seafood and other regional ingredients, recipes which Folse retooled to fit large-scale preparation and manufacturing standards.
Folse and his team prepared 3,200 servings of Gulf seafood, then packaged them and sent them to London, where they were met by Olympic caterer Mosiman's. The famed company also caters to the Royal Family and was founded by Anton Mossiman, a respected British culinarian whom Folse considers a personal friend. The two worked together in the 1980s when Folse had extensive work in London.
“The whole message here is that it's all about the Gulf and encouraging visitors to come,” Folse says. “I'm excited to have the opportunity to showcase our region and our waters and to say what we've been trying to say for so long, that our seafood is great and it's safe.”
Folse has taken on diverse new projects throughout his career, including founding a cooking school and an artisan dairy, but he says the soft economy has encouraged him to focus on projects like Spirit of the Gulf, which dovetail with his manufacturing business. At the end of July, he ceased operations at Bittersweet Plantation Dairy, which made boutique cheeses, yogurt and Creole cream cheese. The timing was prompted by the retirement of his cheese makers, a Bulgarian couple.
“It was the right time to assess where we were,” he says. “We're positioning ourselves for 2012 and beyond. Instead of jumping out there and doing everything, we're just being more strategic.”
The dairy remains intact, Folse says, and could be leased to other cheese makers in the future.
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