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How a New Orleans Chef Gives Back to His Community

Corey Duckworth is cooking even more these days, but not for himself.

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Illustration by Mia Saine

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the past few months, it’s that community is everything. And with community typically comes a whole lot of food. New Orleans — one of the most lively and flavor-filled food cities — has seen its fair share of adversity in the restaurant industry, forcing chefs to pivot in response. But that won’t stop them from filling their days with just plain ol’ good food.

As New Orleans navigates new terrain, we’re curious to see how restaurateurs are spending their time — both in and out of the kitchen. In a three-part series with Tabasco, we asked three New Orleans chefs to share a day-in-the-life diary about how they’re spicing things up in their new ways of living (and cooking).

Corey Duckworth, co-owner of the Creole soul food favorite Sassafras in New Orleans, has found at least one new hobby during the pandemic: helping the community. Read on to see how he spent a recent day in his restaurant.

Photo Courtesy of Corey Duckworth

6 a.m. I get up around 6 in the morning and I do my regular stuff. Pray, exercise for about 30 minutes, check my to-do list — the usual.

6:30 a.m. I head to the restaurant. We’re not open for dine-in yet, but I’m working on some expanded patio seating so that can happen soon. Once we get a few more solid staff members back in the kitchen, I’d love to reopen for lunch. Until then, I’ve been trying to do more for the community when I can. Today, I’m cooking 600 meals for World Central Kitchen. I’ve been working with them for a few months now, helping with their mission to provide meals to senior community members in need in New Orleans. When they approached me to partner and provide meals, I knew immediately I was interested. They were reaching out to local businesses only, and my own passions lean more toward the elderly and the kids — so I felt great about their values and how they were helping the community. On top of that, this kind of work has helped me secure some pretty quality crew members.

8 a.m. For the meals, I decide to cook up some smoked chicken with barbecue sauce and sides: usually vegetables and some sort of starch. I added a splash of Tabasco into the barbecue sauce for just the right amount of spice.

5 p.m. People start lining up around now. On these big meal days, I usually do all the cooking and then I have a crew help me with the plating. No matter how much help I get, cooking and serving 600 meals is an all day process. I was cooking my tail off for about 10 hours, going in and out between the chicken outside and the veggies and sides inside. Suffice it to say, I was wiped by the time I started heading home.

6 p.m. I thought I would get home earlier, and my kids and I had plans to make baby back ribs. Instead, we decided to cook up a homemade pizza. My kids are 16 and 11, and they’re used to cooking with me. They started at a young age. So, making the pizza felt effortless — everybody had a different job: my son was in charge of making the sauce and my daughter was in charge of making the dough. We don’t make the pepperoni homemade, but the dough and sauce are the most important parts. When we pulled it out of the oven, we drizzled a little habanero Tabasco over the top. My kids called it “creolicious!” There is nothing like homemade pizza, but there is really nothing like homemade pizza with a kick.

6:30 p.m. My kids’ mom is going meatless these days, so while we waited on the pizza to cool down, I made her a veggie soup. Of course, I had a little bit of both when it was all said and done. After dinner, I watched a little TV with the family and started winding down.

10 p.m. Since I start work at 6 in the morning, I took a light shower and headed straight to bed. Overall, I’d say it was a good, long, and flavorful day.

For more spiced-up dishes, check out Corey’s recipes for Turkey-Stuffed Bell Peppers and Marinated Trout Stir Fry.

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