“Our culture has such a rich history as it relates to food and music. It’s only natural that the two should be fused together. When you think about the happiest times in your life, the main elements are families eating good food and listening to music.” –Johnny Jambalaya Percle
To many, Johnny Jambalaya Percle, also known as Johnny Jam, was a talented chef, lover of Louisiana food and culture, President of the Lafourche Parish Tourism Commission, a radio show host, caterer to the stars, world traveler, entrepreneur, to name a few. But, to me, he was my dad. His infectious laughter, larger than life personality, and never ending loyalty made him a man that many people loved, respected, and wanted to be around. His unexpected death in 2013 came as a huge shock to all of us. After my dad’s death, many people told my family and me, “I can’t picture a world without Johnny Jam in it”.
My dad taught me at an early age to embrace the beautiful place in which we live. The plantation homes, the swamps, the history, the food, the way family and friends gather…it all adds up to who we are as Cajuns. This idea is the premise behind his famous catchphrase, “Soul in yo Bowl”. He hosted a radio show on KTIB in Thibodaux, appropriately named “Soul in yo Bowl”, where he interviewed what he called “local treasures”. He spent time with these people he called local treasures, interviewing them, learning their cooking techniques, listening to their stories, and thanking them for their contribution to Cajun culture. “Food fuels the soul, and the soul fuels the sounds of the land of dreams”. Johnny Jam saw cooking, family time, and music as the way to fuel the soul to live the best life.
My dad’s career was very successful, as many may know. He was Executive Chef at Nottoway Plantation, appeared on the Food Network with Bobby Flay, cooked for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffet, and Pope John Paul II. However, it must be said that his success also accompanied many challenges. Suffering with depression and anxiety, my dad worried greatly about his identity; who he was as a chef, a family man and a friend. My dad is a true testimony of Cajun resiliency. Even though he was faced with trials and tribulations, and would get knocked down, he never, EVER, stayed down. He always found a way to bounce back up with dignity and pride. For that, my dad is my hero.
I’m inspired to write this blog for many reasons. I love to cook, and I want to share my favorite recipes. I love Louisiana and want to start an open forum about all the beautiful places to visit, eat, listen to music, and spend time with family. However, the main reason I am starting this blog is for my dad. Johnny Jam saw every day as a journey. A simple trip to Rouses for 1 onion was an opportunity to run into old friends, talk about the good old days, and possibly go meet up afterwards for a root beer float. He enjoyed driving to various “hole in the walls” all over Louisiana to enjoy the best roast beef po-boy, and meet the genuine and authentic individuals who owned those family businesses. My dad truly valued each day, and soaked in every second. In my new role as a hospice representative, I have been fortunate to travel beautiful parts of Acadiana that I had never seen before. As I drive through these wide open spaces, surrounded by old, country homes, as well as beautiful Acadiana style homes, I feel so inspired, and I find myself falling more in love with Louisiana. I turn the corner to see a small boudin shop with a line out the door. I pull into a Cajun café, where I order my dad’s favorite…fried pork chop. Every mile I travel, while listening to Van Morrison or Dr. John, I feel my dad in the passenger seat. I sense his excitement, as every day I get in my car is a new journey. New people to meet, new food to eat, and most importantly, a beautiful, culture-rich life to live. So, dad, let’s continue your journey together. Let’s explore Louisiana. Let’s laugh. Let’s cook. Let’s eat. Let’s meet new friends. Let’s learn new things. Let’s do all the things we couldn’t do, because your life was cut too short. Let’s make memories. Here’s to you, Johnny Jam.