“There’s nothing like it in town,” says chef Justin Emil. “There’s stuff that’s close, but nothing that isn’t Northernized, or, ‘We’re going to put our fancy twist on it.’"
He's talking about his Cajun and Creole pop up—Roux 32—which will debut at Cook St. Paul on April 6. Think: a muffaletta sandwich loaded with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone, and olive salad. Or chicken and sausage gumbo, flavored with the holy trinity of peppers, celery, and onions. Or even shrimp etouffee, the richly flavored roux soaking into a bed of rice.
While Emil hails from Minnesota, he earned his bachelor's degree from the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. While attending school, he worked at a family-owned restaurant where he learned about Cajun and Creole cuisine by “doing stuff the old-school way.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the Southern-style cuisine: “Cajun is influenced by French Canadians, Native Americans. It’s earthier, spicier,” Emil says. “Creole is New Orleans—African, Spanish, French influences. Lighter fare, a little bit more refined, but closer to what people would consider soul food.”
Emil notes that a common misconception is that Cajun and Creole food is “melt-your-face off spicy.”
“That’s not true at all,” he says. “It’s seasoned—if you think black pepper is spicy you’ll have a problem. But it’s not spicy to begin with. There will be hot sauce on every table, but it’s an optional thing.”
While there are Cajun restaurants in the Twin Cities, Emil believes that Roux 32 will offer diners a unique taste of Creole and Cajun cuisine. “Most [local restaurants] are Viet-Cajun—that’s an offshoot, and a more recent offshoot,” he explains. “When people were leaving Vietnam after the Vietnam War, a lot landed in Houston and western Louisiana. They took Cajun food and put a Vietnamese twist on it.”
“Nobody in town is serving a legitimate gumbo, legitimate etouffee, except for Bistro La Roux [in Circle Pines],” he continues. “This is how it really is, this is the real deal. I’m making muffalettas. I’m making the bread from scratch, you can’t just go out and buy it. I’m making shrimp etouffee, it’s going to be dark, rich, flavorful. At end of the day, it’s simple food that’s seasoned well.”
Roux 32 will be debuting at Cook St. Paul on April 6 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations are required, and food is available for dine-in or take out.
A draft menu Emil shared with City Pages features chicken and sausage gumbo, a vegetarian gumbo z’herbes, shrimp etouffee, corn and crab bisque, and a muffaletta sandwich “as big as your head.” Side orders include Creole candied yams, rice, and Zapp’s potato chips.
“I want to get across all the cultural impacts on the food. It is the most American cuisine we have—there’s seven different cultures that influenced it," Emil says. " What’s more melting pot than that?
You’ve got an African influence, West Indian influences, plus French, Spanish, German, Italian, Native American influences.”
"This is an unfiltered representation of what good food is down there," he adds. "Come and enjoy—I can’t spread the love if people don’t show up.”