By Van Roy
A 30 foot refrigerated container dominates the driveway of “the Plant,” also known as Panaroma Foods, one of the region’s premier catering kitchens and home to it’s signature, world famous “crawfish bread.” The kitchen hums with workers scurrying about, as hundreds of loaves of the delicacy are cooked and meticulously prepped for transport to the Big Easy. This is no ordinary day or week for owner and chef, John Ed Laborde. It is the opening weekend of Jazz Fest and the insanity has just begun.
Like many men in Avoyelles Parish, Laborde grew up with a love and appreciation for cooking and good food. After living and working in Lafayette in the early 80’s when all things “Cajun” and “Creole” began to take the culinary world by storm, he decided to return to his hometown of Marksville and open Panaroma Foods. What began as a small, one man operation is now one of the most in demand caterers in Central Louisiana and the birthplace of crawfish bread.
The year was 1984 and Laborde had already been experimenting with a savory sausage bread when he expounded on the idea with crawfish tails, cheese and spices, all bundled up in delicious homemade bread. After selling loaves to friends, he set his sights on the wholesale market with his first ever pitch being to Kroger in Lafayette. They loved the bread! Encouraged by the retail giant’s enthusiasm and knowing his product could potentially be in 15 Kroger stores, Laborde drove back to the plant to set his plan in motion, obtaining the financing and equipment to make his dream a reality. But it was a visit to New Orleans’s famed Jazz and Heritage Festival that would change everything.
“I remember being at Jazz Fest in 1986 and thinking “I can do this!” Little did he know quite how challenging it would be to be chosen as a food vendor at one of the most iconic music festivals in the world. “I was turned down at first, but I persevered.” The committee admired his determination but insisted his “crawfish bread” was not a “heritage” item. Laborde drafted a thesis of sorts, whereby he explained exactly why his creation is indeed a heritage item, most notably the beloved crustacean being discovered by Native Americans living in south Louisiana. He was awarded with a booth in 1987 and over thirty years later, he is affectionately known as “The Mayor” of Jazz Fest. (Trivia; Laborde also served one term as Mayor of Marksville.
You can find this oozy goodness at Booth #1, where revelers enjoy how you can hold it in one hand with a beverage in the other as you bop from stage to stage. Laborde and his creation have received many awards and acknowledgements, including landing at the top of the New York Times list of things one has to do when at Jazz Fest. “I love the people we see year after year. They’ve become friends. I even had a couple in Denver that come to Jazz Fest every year, call and order the bread for a special occasion. That’s actually when we first had the inclination to start shipping it.” Laborde and his son Nicholas, started the Nola Crawfish Bread Company in 2018 and ship the bread, locally handcrafted in Marksville, all over the world. “I love that we can promote our city and our parish through our culture and food.
Can’t make it to Jazz Fest? These delectable breads can be shipped to your door by visiting www.nolacrawfishbread.com