Raise your hand if you love a good love story! (Eagerly raising my hand). Love is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes it leads to heartbreak, in which it teaches us life lessons about how to get it right the next time. But, if we are lucky, love can lead to a journey of adventure, excitement, loyalty, selflessness, and most importantly a lifetime of memories that make us become the people we are. Pictures, stories, traditions and legacies are passed down from generation to generation. This kind of love is, in my opinion, what makes the world go round. While I love good love stories, there is one love story in particular that I’ve heard since I was a child, and has stayed with me ever since. That love story is the one of my parents: Johnny Percle and Terry Thomassie Percle.
As I’ve mentioned in my introduction, my father was a free spirited, loving, passionate man who enjoyed life and all it had to offer. He had many talents, but cooking, traveling, entertaining, and being around his loved ones is what he lived for. He spent his young years as a bachelor traveling around New Orleans on a bus, equipped with a big pot and the ingredients for jambalaya, in search of new friends to cook for. He orchestrated food for big functions at the Saenger, particularly for musicians such as The Grateful Dead, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffet, The Neville Brothers, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and the Rolling Stones, to name a few. His love for cooking and entertaining guided him to his next stop, and every move he made was because it felt good.
Meanwhile, Terry was living a lifestyle of creativity, spontaneity and travel. Having grown up in New Orleans, Terry is a born artist, creating beautiful pieces of work that truly came from her soul. Working at the New Orleans Museum of Art, she fell in love with her surroundings, particularly the King Tut exhibit that passed through the New Orleans Museum of Art. Once that exhibit ended in NOLA, she followed it to Los Angeles and Seattle, prior to moving home to work at Oak Alley Plantation. There, she loved the free lifestyle on the plantation grounds and enjoyed meeting new people who taught her about horticulture, cooking and entertaining for large groups, and life on a plantation. She found happiness there and looked forward to the future.
One night, when Terry was working a large wedding at the plantation, one of the bartenders cancelled and she was in a bind. Not knowing what to do, someone near her said “I know who to call! I’ll call Johnny Percle to fill in”. Johnny was there in no time flat. Being the detail oriented woman that she is, she began instructing him on how she wanted him to tend bar. He interrupted her, saying “I got this”. Sure enough, he had it. He tended bar and was the life of the party. Terry was appreciative of his help, and impressed at his ability to jump right in and work. They talked, became friends, and arranged to see each other the next day. Their first date was at an anti-nuclear rally, and they were married at Oak Alley only a few months after that. They both have always said, that when they met, they knew they were soul mates.
Johnny and Terry quickly began working together at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA, where they cooked and entertained large groups of people for weddings and other functions. She was his muse, and he made her laugh every single day. They loved life on the plantation together. They had a dog named Papillon, which is French for butterfly, who ran freely on the plantation grounds, with his ears flapping in the wind like a butterfly. Life was simple and free.
Terry and Johnny soon combined their creative juices to concoct a delicious, flavorful, and unforgettable dressing and marinade that was used as the house dressing at Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant. It was then that Johnny Jambalaya’s Herb Dressing and Marinade was born. Visitors loved the dressing so much, they began to ask to purchase it. Terry then began jarring the dressing in mason jars and selling them to the visitors. Johnny and Terry lived on the plantation grounds, welcomed their son, Jonathan, whom they raised there for 5 years. When I was 1 month old, they were given an offer they couldn’t refuse: to work together at Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, LA as Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director. They uprooted their family from Vacherie and moved to Plaquemine and worked at Nottoway for 30 years, serving people from all over the world.
The dressing and marinade was served as the house dressing at Nottoway Plantation for all those years. Past Nottoway employees have vivid memories of making the dressing at work. One past employee even said “I could make that dressing in my sleep”. Visitors came from all over the world to see the beautiful plantation, hear the history of the family that once lived there, and to taste the food of the well-known chef that was serving up authentic Cajun cuisine in Randolph Hall. One thing that all visitors can agree on: the house dressing there was delicious.
After all those years, the dressing is now named Johnny Jambalaya’s Herb Dressing and Marinade and is sold in many stores in South Louisiana. It is also shipped to every state in the United States! This dressing is ideal to marinate chicken, fish, steak and wild game. It is also the perfect choice for grilling vegetables, tossing fresh vegetables, and, of course, eating on any salad you can imagine! My personal favorite is tossing the dressing with tomato, red onion, avocado and cucumber. It is such a fresh, healthy salad that is super satisfying. It’s also great on a spinach salad with boiled eggs, bacon and red onion.
So, now that you know the story of the dressing, I can tell you that it will be used in many of my recipes and I hope you can find it in your local grocery store so you can use it along with me! First, I decided to share a very popular recipe: Shrimp pasta salad! This recipe is great for showers, parties, or just to keep in your fridge to enjoy as a light lunch or dinner. My mom makes this for us often and it is a tried and true favorite.
Here we go!
Music Pairing: Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum
Wine Pairing: Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
SHRIMP PASTA SALAD Ingredients
2 pounds of shrimp, boiled and peeled 1 box spiral pasta 2 cans Green Giant 3 bean salad (mixture of green beans, wax beans and red beans) ½ cup Johnny Jam’s Herb Dressing and Marinade
½ cup Ranch Dressing
½ teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon parsley flakes
1/2 of a red onion, chopped
4 stalks green onion, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2 celery stalks, chopped
½ cup olive salad (the kind used for Muffalettas)
10 small pickled okra
Mix Johnny Jam’s Herb Dressing and Marinade with Ranch, lemon pepper, Italian seasoning and parsley flakes in a bowl. (This makes an excellent dressing for any salad or vegetable dip). Boil pasta according to directions on box. Drain pasta, and pour a little Johnny Jam’s Herd Dressing and Marinade on it while hot, so it doesn’t stick. Refrigerate pasta for an hour. Meanwhile, pour all vegetables, including olive salad, in a bowl with a little Johnny Jam’s Herb Dressing and refrigerate for an hour. Mix all vegetables and pasta together, pour the marinade and Ranch mixture over salad and toss carefully. Add shrimp and okra. Toss carefully. Great for parties or with leftover boiled shrimp.
I hope you enjoyed this family favorite recipe, as well as an extremely personal look into my family and how I came to become the woman I am.
Until next time….
Mandy B. Cajun Queen
PS: I will be posting a recipe this week that involves the dressing. So, go out and buy some and get some chicken breast marinated. I use the organic, thinly sliced chicken breasts from Rouses.
PPS. for those of you who don’t know the ending to this story, it has a very happy ending of life, love, respect and happiness. 34 years of marriage, 2 children, 2 grandchildren, and countless, special memories.
Here’s to you, Mom and Dad. The two people who taught me how to love.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how big your house is. All that matters is how much love you have in your home. Don’t let the world get in the way of what’s real”.- Johnny Jambalaya Percle