Why You Should Stock Up on Booze and Beans with Isaac Toups

Plus: Lessons on Resilience from Hurricane Katrina

If you’ve seen videos of Isaac Toups online, boiling crawfish and drinking beers, you know he’s one of the most entertaining human beings in the world. 

But before I interviewed him, I had no idea just how thoughtful, big-hearted, and kind he would be. 

When he picked up the phone, he was walking through his freezer prepping for the day ahead—not only for takeout orders, but for the family meal he’s been serving for free to service industry workers every day at 3pm.

“If you’re a dishwasher, come over, we’re going to get you fed,” he told me. “There’ll be beans and rice, cornbread, gumbo and whatnot—because a lot of people are living hand-to-mouth, paycheck to paycheck, and they just need a hot meal.”

“Funds are tight,” he added, “but I got food, so that’s one of those things we can do.”

This interview is full of important advice—on what to cook, yes, but also on how Hurricane Katrina taught Isaac to be resilient in the face of hard times. So I’m going to cut this introduction short and let Isaac speak for himself.

What Isaac Has in His Pantry

Isaac: I’m not going to say I’m lucky, but I’m lucky for this one little fact: I have a fully-stocked restaurant of dry goods. And booze. So I have a hundred pounds of dried beans in the back of my restaurant now. I always keep a pantry full of dry pasta, dry goods. My freezer is stocked full of meat and whatnot. We have a lot of seasonings. I’m a condiment whore by heart.

So I’m good at the house, and I have two giant freezers of food that we just packed full at the restaurant, so I’m okay, and what I can extend to friends, family and people in need is that every day at 3 o’clock, we’re having family meal for whoever needs it.

Editor’s Note: Isaac is raising money to make sure he can continue serving family meal every day. If you can donate, their Venmo is @toupsmeatery.

Why You Should Be Cooking Beans Instead Of Pasta

Isaac: Dry beans are a great source of protein, they’ve got some nutrients in them, and they’re really good because once they’re dry, they have a near-infinite shelf life. And if you got some sausage, you got some chicken, you got something in the freezer—even if you just have some seasoning, some salt, a little butter—you can make a pot of beans good. Feed a lot of people, doesn’t cost a whole lot. So beans are my number one. And it’s red beans and rice every Monday over here. 

READ: In honor of New Orleans, here’s Kenji López-Alt’s red beans and rice recipe. (Yes, this is my FOURTH TIME mentioning Kenji in this newsletter. No, he has not come on yet. No, I am not giving up hope.)

I prefer to go beans over pasta, and I prefer rice over pasta—I think rice has got a little more nutrients. I’m not that great of a doctor to say which one’s more healthy, but you also want to switch it up.

You eat beans three days a week, you start to go nuts. So, try to have some different seasonings around, some variety. Try to eat frozen vegetables. Get your produce while you can. I don’t know how long it’s going to last.

I went to the store the other day, and it’s weird: all the toilet paper and ramen noodles were gone, but the produce, the fruit and vegetables were great, and the meat was great.

Why You Shouldn’t Eat Ramen All Day (And Should Instead Google How To Grow Vegetables)

Isaac: What I do want to shout out is what not to do. Don’t eat ramen noodles all day. And that’s nothing against ramen noodles—I’ve been guilty of eating a pack or two myself, here and there, but that’s not a great way to sustain a living. So make sure you get your nutrients in.

Now is a great time to fire up that garden. It’s springtime, start growing your vegetables. You don’t know how to grow vegetables? Guess what, you’re at home all day. Google it.

What Seasonings You Should Stock Up On

Isaac: Get some of those cans or boxes of stock, or even those—I would never suggest this in a professional setting—but in a homemaker setting, those stock bases. Those stock bases and some of those low-sodium chicken stocks, beef stocks, and pork stocks—those are gonna be the ones that carry a lot of flavor, with minimal cost.

ICYMI: Ivan Orkin also endorsed stock bases. And David Chang uses bouillon cubes in his tomato sauce. 

red sauce in the time of COVID-19
- add 🐔 bouillon cubes
I’ve realized my home cooking is basically an homage to Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade
March 19, 2020

You can get a jar of those bases for a couple of dollars and it’s enough to make five gallons of beans to keep you going. I keep fresh-ground black pepper in some of those waiter grinders. I keep cayenne pepper and Aleppo pepper around. Smoked paprika. A bunch of different good hot sauces. And you could doctor up anything, with just those five things.

Oh, and butter. Butter doesn’t go bad. Olive oil. You gotta have your fats. Salt makes everything taste better.

A pat of butter at the end of everything will make everything go great. Instead of using water to cook your beans, use stock. And bust out your crockpot or your slow-cooker, and put your beans on the night before, and let it rock until the morning so you have to do minimal work.

What He’ll Do If He’s Stuck At Home

Isaac: I’ve already got a plan if we get quarantined in the house: I’m going to get real good at my guitar real quick. I don’t watch a lot of TV right now. I’m only on season 2 of Game of Thrones! I’ve got so much TV to watch, it’s unbelievable. I haven’t read a book in a long time and I’ve got a stack of books to read. And I’ve got some menus to develop. 

How Hurricane Katrina Taught Him To Stay Positive

Isaac: I am actually pretty naturally calm under duress. Especially this type of duress, like during the Hurricane. I’m calm as a soldier. And I feel a responsibility to stay positive. 

I’m not a soothsayer, I can’t predict the future, but I do genuinely have a good feeling that once this is over, the recovery process is going to go faster than everybody thinks. You know, we’ve been through hell and disaster down here and I’ve seen some shit. And I think that’s why everybody’s calm down here in New Orleans.

We didn’t have water and utilities and roofs for a long time. But we still have water and electricity now. What, we’ve gotta stay home? We stock up on booze, fuck it. So I think there’s a general sense of: We’ve done this before. It sucks right now, but everything’s going to be alright... hopefully.

You have to have a positive attitude. You start getting a negative attitude in your head, then it’s over. Be positive until you gotta go negative. And if it goes negative, fuck it. Try to be positive then too.

What you can do to support restaurants right now

Isaac: To support the people who need it, go to the actual restaurants that are doing takeout right now and trying to keep their employees paid. I’m not that internet-savvy, I’m pretty sure my wife would slap me in the back of my head because she does all that type of stuff, but quite literally, if you know a restaurant that’s doing takeout and you can afford it, please support that restaurant. If you can, tip them; if not, we understand completely.

If you can’t afford to go out to eat, we’ve got family meal at three. Do what you can, but we all understand. If I get very minimal business, I get it. Funds are tight and this is a bit of a nightmare. So if we have to shut down until it’s all over, we shut down. We’re going to play it by ear. But do what you can. If you’re well-off, come spend some money. If not, come eat some family meal. We’ll all hang out together.

READ: “Will we have an America without restaurants?”

In the Washington Post, chef Naomi Pomeroy wrote about why restaurants need economic assistance to open back up. And in the New York Times, Missy Robbins, Tom Colicchio, Marcus Samuelson, and more asked a harrowing question: “Will we have an America without restaurants?”

If that image terrifies you, call your representative and senators right now: 202-224-3121. (Seriously, do it. It’s not hard. And it really does make a difference.) 

JOSE ANDRES IS MAKING ANCHOVY SUSHI

That, my friends, is what cooking in quarantine—and Cooking in Quarantine TM—is all about: Taking what you have and making it delicious. 

Chef Floyd Cardoz

This morning, we learned that Chef Floyd Cardoz lost his life to coronavirus. I never met Floyd, but I know what he meant to so many people—and I am heartbroken for everyone who loved him.

Here’s what David Chang wrote:

I am sending strength to all who are grieving this morning. And I hope this story serves as a reminder of why it’s so important for you to stay home. Lives really do depend on it.

Until next time…