Bounce artist and reality TV star Freddie “Big Freedia” Ross knows a thing or two about Louisiana cooking. Born and raised in New Orleans, when she’s not on the road performing or filming her Fuse TV show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (Wednesdays at 11/10c), she’s in the Crescent City cooking up classic local favorites like red beans and rice and fried chicken. On the eve of Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce season 4 premiere, we sat down with Big Freedia to talk about learning to cook in New Orleans, where to get her favorite po’boy, and how to make her own special version of Yaka Mein, which can be found here.
(Yaka Mein, which can be spelled a multitude of ways and sometimes goes by the alias “Old Sober,” has a fascinating history in the Crescent City. Read more about it at Southern Foodways.)
Louisiana Cookin’: Who taught you how to cook?
Big Freedia: My mom, Vera Louise Mason Ross Johnson, and my aunt. I learned by just watching them in the kitchen over the years. My mom was at home, and I was always in the kitchen wanting to eat. I would do the prep work. So I was prepping meat, cutting chicken, and whatever else she wanted me to do.
LC: What are some of your favorite memories of cooking with your mother?
BF: All of the holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. Doing all the prep work alongside my family members and just having good times. I remember cooking the night before and waking up at 5 a.m. to check the pot. Every time the holidays come around it brings back memories of what I’d be doing in the kitchen with my mom.
My mom taught me everything I know about cooking. How to do certain things, how to get a certain flavor. She taught me everything.
LC: What are some of your favorite things to cook?
BF: Fried chicken, fish, cabbage, red beans and rice, and lasagna. I work with vegetables too. I make something called Freedia Cakes—that’s basically the filling of a stuffed bell pepper on top of Texas Toast.
LC: Any tips for making the Yaka Mein?
BF: It’s all about the flavor. It’s about seasoning it correctly. Once you get that and the beef is tender, everything else falls into place. Everybody can dress it to his or her own liking. Once you finish, you can add soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, or hot sauce separately. All of that is optional. You can even substitute (or add) chicken, shrimp, or whatever type of meat you want to use.
LC: You’re on the road a lot touring and filming your Fuse TV show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, what’s the first thing you want to eat when you’re back in New Orleans?
BF: Anything that I can only get here. Some good fried chicken from Manchu or a po’boy. It’s whatever I’ve been craving while I’m on the road. Sometimes it’s a certain Chinese spot or a pizza parlor that you can only find here. It’s always different.
LC: Favorite food city you’ve visited?
BF: There’s some pretty good stuff in Los Angeles. Bossa Nova Brazilian Cuisine was great, and there are some really good Mexican spots.
LC: What’s your favorite type of po’boy? Where do you go to get it?
BF: Hot sausage. You can get it just about anywhere in New Orleans, but my favorite is from Cajun Seafood on South Broad Avenue.
LC: When you’re feeding a crowd for a Saints party, what are you making?
BF: Something that can really stretch for a group of people. Probably jambalaya or some dirty rice. Depending on whom I invite, it might be fried chicken or fried fish. I love to do party food like finger sandwiches and spicy meatballs. Another easy meal for a crowd is fish with potato salad and sweet peas.
LC: If a mixologist made a drink called The Big Freedia, what would it be?
BF: Definitely something fruity with vodka. Several bartenders have named drinks after me over the years and they all seem to follow that flavor profile.
Photo courtesy of Aldo Chacon.