Mosquito Supper Club Highlights Cajun Cuisine

Seafood boil with shrimp, crab, crawfish and corn spread across newspaper laid out on a table.

When Louisianans evacuated for Hurricane Ida during the summer of 2021, chef, cookbook author, and restaurant owner Melissa Martin’s family made sure that they would be able to cook the food that would remind them of home. It meant that seafood, quite possibly the most valuable resource offered by Louisiana’s waters, was essential.

“We were cooking the food that we cook down by my mom’s house, and we evacuated all of our food and our freezers, which were all things like shrimp and fish that my dad had just caught,” Martin recalled. “We were having seafood boils in evacuation, and we were frying fish, and we were making jambalaya. And we did that in Florida, and then we did that in North Carolina–we were in evacuation twice. I think that for us, we can really hold on to it, and we can really stay close to it, because it’s so part of the fabric of who we are.”

For the James Beard Award-winning chef, storms like Hurricane Ida have become all too regular in and around her current home of New Orleans. The Louisiana native and Cajun chef doesn’t hold back when talking about the ongoing threats to her culture and cuisine. Once you step into her restaurant, it’s easy to see why she’s so passionate about these issues. Stationed in a home nestled on Dryades Street, Mosquito Supper Club has become one of the most important restaurants in south Louisiana. An ode to the Cajun flavors that defined Martin’s childhood in Terrebonne Parish, Mosquito Supper Club takes inspiration from the many cultures that are the foundation of Cajun and Creole cuisine, like indigenous Americans, Africans, and Europeans.

“To be Cajun is to be so many things” Martin writes in her James Beard nominated cookbook, “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou.” Martin has spent much of her career identifying the roots of Cajun cuisine, meticulously recreating her family’s recipes, and expressing the value in the cuisines that make New Orleans and the greater south Louisiana such significant culinary destinations.

Book cover of Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa M. Martin.
Melissa M. Martin sitting next to a kitchen table.

Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Denny Culbert. (Left & Right)

“In South Louisiana, we have Cajun music, the Cajun language, and Cajun food, an evolving cuisine in which the ingredients and dishes differ from parish to parish, bayou to bayou,” Martin writes in her book. A collection of recipes true to her upbringing and life, such as boiled shrimp, crawfish hand pies, and her grandmother’s rich oyster soup, all tell tales of family, community, and life along the bayou. Disrupting common notions of Louisianan food, Martin promotes a cuisine that’s thoughtful, flavorful, and reliant on fresh, well-prepared ingredients.

“The Cajun food I ate growing up wasn’t loud or flashy–no bam!–and it was not consumed with copious amounts of beer or alcohol,” Martin writes of her memories in Louisiana. “We ate simple, whole foods, and we ate with the seasons. We ate a cuisine rooted in the hard work of fishermen and the palates and grace of mothers and wives commanding their stoves.”


“In South Louisiana, we have Cajun music, the Cajun language, and Cajun food, an evolving cuisine in which the ingredients and dishes differ from parish to parish, bayou to bayou.”


At Martin’s restaurant, she recreates this cuisine for locals and tourists alike. During a multi-course meal served at a communal table, guests dine on dishes like royal red shrimp, Perilloux farm beets, seared red snapper, strawberry poke cake, and of course, Velma Marie’s oyster soup. All of the food feels equally comforting and enlivening, and while the atmosphere is relaxed, everyone taste of food illuminates the intellect and thoughtfulness to went into each and every dish.

“The food is not that elevated. As far as when my mom comes to eat, she recognizes the food except for maybe something like ceviche, we didn’t eat ceviche growing up. But you can anchor the meal with a couple of really traditional dishes and then round it off with other stuff that we just like to eat and that we hope are good. And of course, we like to focus on using traditional local ingredients.”

Though the menu rotates, Martin says that there’s one ingredient that will always be a key component of every meal: seafood. In Louisiana, seafood like crawfish, crab, shrimp, and catfish is integral to a true Louisianian meal. For Martin and her community, seafood is a key component in the ongoing story she wants to tell about food.

Shrimp jambalaya in a dutch oven with a serving spoon by chef Melissa M. Martin.

Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Denny Culbert.

“I think that food is art. Of course, it hits on all our senses. I think that it is part of the beauty of living and what I think of the art of living. I think that art is everywhere, and it’s an expression of who you are.”

Memories from life along the bayou inform lots of the chef’s cooking. The acclaimed chef has worked around the country, including in Napa Valley. She was exposed to new flavors and techniques as she took on new professional opportunities.

“I was so different than the food that I grew up with,” she said. She’s seen that tradition continue in her kitchen today, where she’s exposed to different types of gumbo from her staff. “There’s just so many different versions and so much incredible food in people’s kitchens.”

She also saw these differences throughout her time living in New Orleans, including when she lived in the New Orleans neighborhood of Treme, where legendary restaurants like Dooky Chase bring in a slew of tourists and locals every day.

“We lived in the Treme, and the great thing I remember about that time living in the Treme, is the community in that neighborhood, and all of the great food I go to eat,” Martin recalls. “Someone would just set up a table and serve this incredible food, and it was so different than the food I grew up with” 

Working in different parts of the country away from home gave her a chance to remember the cuisine she grew up on that sustained her while growing up in Louisiana, and recognize the value of those foodways.

“I didn’t realize how special the food culture and the food tradition I grew up in was until I left Louisiana and cooked in Napa. Then I really started to realize I was actually steeped in a culture and in a tradition, which was very exciting.”

Outside of the Mosquito Supper Club.
Chef Melissa Martin holding a large blue crab.

Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Denny Culbert. (Left & Right)

Eventually, she started a supper club, which would prove to be a new, albeit deeply important challenge in her career. Recalling her father shucking oysters when she was a child, Martin hated the briny molluscs growing up. Now, eating oysters is a favorite pastime. Those oysters make an appearance on her menu, and it’s clear that Martin’s palette now reflects her experience, and her treasure past in Terrebonne Parish. Speaking to the similarities and differences between Creole and Cajun food, two dominant cultures in Louisiana cuisine, Martin pointed to some of the best food being food right in homes along the bayou.

“It’s really hard to denote the differences between Cajun and Creole food,” she said. “I say it almost every night: there is incredible Cajun and Creole food all over Louisiana. It’s just tucked behind doors. So much of the best food I’ve ever eaten was at places like a church or in my aunt’s house, and my uncle’s house.”

At these homes, Martin got the opportunity to taste different versions of Cajun meals, and understand the diversity of Cajun cuisine, even with her own community.

“At any time, you could go into these houses and someone was cooking Cajun food, and they were all different versions,” she said.” “My mom’s gumbo was different from my aunt’s gumbo. My grandmother’s gumbo was definitely different than someone else’s gumbo.”


“I say it almost every night: there is incredible Cajun and Creole food all over Louisiana. It's just tucked behind doors.”


These differences allowed Martin to research and learn more about the nuances of Cajun cooking. It inspired her in her own profession. 

“I had a really big umbrella of all these different versions of what you could do with this seafood within the realm of the ingredients that people kept using.”

Sadly, many of the very homes that Martin remembers from childhood have been damaged, destroyed, or threatened by devastating storms that have impacted Louisiana’s coast. These storms are just some of the environmental issues that threaten the cultural integrity of communities throughout the state. According to, though it does not occur at a constant rate, coastal wetland loss in Louisiana from 1985 to 2010 averaged approximately a football field an hour. In simpler terms, though it’s not consistent, Louisiana is losing about a football field of coastal wetland every hour. Martin has watched as the Louisiana coastline has been decimated by poor environmental practices, and most recently had to grapple with the issue after Hurricane Ida.

Chef Melissa Martin folding towels on a table with two friends eating mondays red beans.

Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Denny Culbert.

“I drive past the bayou every week, and I’ve seen South Louisiana since Hurricane Ida, and I’ve seen it change so drastically,” she says. “These last six months since Hurricane Ida. I’ve seen the bayou shift. It’s not the place that it was just eight months ago, and it’s not the place it was when I was growing up, and when my parents were growing up.”

Martin has observed devastating cultural changes throughout her time in the state.

“I think that when the oil industry came and foreign imports, it sort of destroyed the shrimping market,” she believes. “Then our traditions and cultures changed because we got intertwined with the oil industry, because people need to feed themselves. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s hard to talk about.”

Many people in Martin’s community rely on proper wetlands for their food and economic stability. Martin has watched as her parents’ generation continues to struggle with the increase in devastating storms, the negative impacts of environmental threats, and ongoing complacency.

“I worry about my parents’ generation,” Martin says. “There’s a fishing village and they have a lot of resources, but not a lot of means,” she recalls of an old fishing village. “So these people just had to work, there wasn’t really grassroots organizing. So there’s a huge sadness and a distinct wondering.”

Mosquito Supper Club is an opportunity for Martin to counter that complacency. At her restaurant, Martin takes it upon herself to create fine-dining level dishes, while also educating guests on the importance of eating real food, and creating better environmental practices in the culinary space that will allow for the continued use of local seafood, produce, and other treasured ingredients.

Velma Marie’s oyster soup in a serving bowl.
Melissa M. Martin standing with arms crossed behind a stake of white plates.

Excerpted from Mosquito Supper Club by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photographs by Denny Culbert. (Left & Right)

“We’ve moved so far from what real food is. I think it’s maybe 20 percent of the population who aren’t completely complacent to it,” she says. “I’m just the kind of person where I cannot turn away, and I have to know where the food is coming from.” 

Martin is also aware that her choices, but as a leading chef and a global citizen, matter.

“I truly believe that every choice we make affects somebody else,” Martin said. “So I’m always trying to adjust those choices as much as possible for my food tradition, and for my restaurant, but then also on a worldly level.” 

Martin, who works with local fishermen and businesses to serve her southern Louisianan fare, looks toward the future. In addition to her work in the culinary world, she’s a working parent. As she’s worked to teach her kids the importance of the state’s natural resources, she’s grown increasingly concerned for future generations.

“I think that they’re going to struggle with food as a grounding force in their life, because we really haven’t made that a priority,” Martin said. “We didn’t make a lot of things a priority to people growing up.” 


“I think that it's all about stories and memory, and the things that make you laugh and cry at the same time. And I think that that happens through food.”


But, Martin knows how critical food is to culture, and is committed to striving towards a better world, and a better environment for communities like hers. She’s using food as a tool to encourage diners and readers to eat local, and think critically about their environmental impact.

“These moments where we’re in shock, like Hurricane Ida, or the people that are in war torn places–I think that the moment that people feel home again, it’s the moment when they get to eat the food that brings them there,” she said. “Whether you’re not in that physical place, there’s that sorcery. I think that it’s all about stories and memory, and the things that make you laugh and cry at the same time. And I think that that happens through food.”

Martin has hope in the very people who make Louisiana home.

“The good news about the bayou and the people on the bayou is that they’re extremely resilient,” she says. “I think that if we empower the people that purvey our food for us, the people who actually put in the hard work, and if we let the world know what that work actually means, and what’s the reality of losing those people and these things, the world will have to respond.”

At the Mosquito Supper Club, it’s clear that Martin’s community, and the state of Louisiana, are worth fighting for.