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Cajun Cook Is Making WisCajuns Out of Wisconsinites

By Pamela Sosnowski

Anyone that doubts authentic Cajun food exists in a state known for its challenging winters such as Wisconsin hasn't met Ellen Cook yet. A self-proclaimed "WisCajun", the Louisiana transplant is winning skeptics over with her personal chef services that exclusively make Cajun recipes. She also launched a new business venture, Cajun Cook starter kits. Based in Madison, Cajun Cook's kits can be purchased locally or shipped to any location in the country while Cook herself gives cooking lessons to small classes at Orange Tree Imports and people's homes.

"Cajun Cook Jambalaya Starter Kits (are available) in over 20 major grocery stores in the Madison/Milwaukee area and smaller specialty markets, such as Cinnamon Stick, Steve's Wine and Liquor, and Madison St. Market in Sturgeon Bay," she said. "I also sell them online to transplanted Cajuns throughout the country."

Cajun cuisine is in Cook's blood. She grew up on the water in Houma, Louisiana learning her family's favorite recipes.

Ellen Cook

"I come from a long line of Cajuns," she said. "My mother and grandmother were both amazing cooks, so I carried all of the family recipes and that love of cooking up here to Madison, when my husband, Mark Cook, and I moved up here in 1982."

Madison was supposed to be a temporary stay when her husband took a postdoctorate position at University of Wisconsin in Animal Sciences, but both fell in love with the area, particularly its evolving food and cultural scenes and natural beauty. Cook eventually earned a PhD in Immunology and Cell Biology from UW School of Veterinary Sciences and worked at the campus as a research scientist, but in her spare time found herself entertaining colleagues and friends with Cajun cooking. It proved so popular that after retiring from her science job she founded Cajun Cook LLC in 2014.

In addition to her jambalaya kit Cook has two more in the works for gumbo and dirty rice. What sets her kits apart from the usual selections found in supermarkets is their low salt content and versatility.

"My product has over six times less salt than the 'low salt' offering from the most popular brand," she said. "My Jambalaya Kits are also vegan, gluten-free, and non GMO. They are also pepper free, so that the consumer can adjust the pepper to their own palate. On top of that, in addition to spices, they contain dehydrated onions, garlic, and sweet peppers that add more flavor and texture."

Her personal chef menu is full of mouthwatering appetizers, entrees, and desserts including double clue-crab stuffed mushrooms, Cajun boiled shrimp, swamp biscuits (made with locally produced organic sausage and cheese), shrimp or fish creole, crawfish etouffe, and more. Most dishes can be made vegan or gluten-free, and Cook can also include Mardi Gras beads, locally baked bread, and music. Her "big pot" entrees serve 10-12 people and are perfect for game watching, dinner parties, and Mardi Gras celebrations.

Cook's cooking class schedule can be found at orangetreeimports.com. Whether one hires her for her personal chef services or cooking lessons, or purchases one of her Cajun starter kits, Cook believes that the home state cuisine she grew up with can win anyone over, including the most hardy Midwesterner.

"Once someone gets to know and understand how delicious, approachable, adaptable, and even healthy Cajun cooking can be, they will find that it really adds layers of flavors and possibilities to your food repertoire," she said. "My goal for my business is to make WisCajuns out of everyone in the region!"

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