The restaurant business demands a lot from a person. Patience, creativity, intelligence, resilience, calmness under pressure … these are all traits that you must have to succeed in the kitchen. But the quality that might be most valuable in this industry is toughness, and it’s a quality that you can’t help but see behind the smiling, friendly eyes of Mindy Mitchell, private chef and caterer. This is as tough a woman as I have ever met, which isn’t surprising when you consider what she had to face before she ever stepped foot in a professional kitchen.
“I was in New Orleans during Katrina,” said Mitchell. “We had to evacuate to Florida until we could assess the damage. The house was bad, so we ended up in Texas for a couple of months, then Tennessee for six months. I then lived in a FEMA trailer for a year before my son and I moved to Pine Bluff.”
Mitchell worked in hospitals during her early professional life, doing administrative work behind the scenes. However, her Louisiana background couldn’t stay hidden for long. When she saw that no restaurants in her area were serving New Orleans food, she took matters into her own hands.
“I realized there was nowhere ‘normal’ to go out to eat,” said Mitchell. “I’d never not been able to go into a restaurant and get red beans and rice or a cup of gumbo. I started doing girls’ night at my house, and I would have Leidenheimer [bread], I always had boudin, I always had fresh shrimp.”
Her friends convinced her to go for a restaurant job, one that she found at Boudreaux’s in Maumelle. Mitchell worked there part time while keeping a full time job at the hospital. It soon became obvious that her passion was in cooking, and Mitchell soon enrolled at Pulaski Tech’s culinary school and earned her degree in three years. For the next half decade, she added to her resume with stints at Mo Betta Gumbo, Marriott, Honey Pies and The Faded Rose. Now, she’s stepping out on her own.
“I’m focusing mostly on my own stuff,” said Mitchell. “I have Valentine’s Day coming up, I have a ton of cake and cupcake orders. With Mardi Gras coming up, I sell my king cakes. [The Faded Rose owner] Ed David says they’re the closest king cake he’s ever had to being authentic New Orleans, and that’s high praise from him!”
Mitchell, naturally, specializes in Cajun and Creole food with her private catering company. For bigger parties, she offers a playful, New Orleans-themed hors d’oeuvres menu, with items like gumbo shots, Andouille sliders and king cake bites. For private dinners, she likes to get personal, offering family recipe takes on jambalaya, etouffee and bread pudding. Oh, and shrimp pie.
“It’s something nobody’s ever heard of,” said Mitchell with a laugh. “It was a family recipe that I tweaked up a little bit. It’s similar to crawfish pie, but it’s so much better. It’s my signature dish, it’s the meal I cook for people the first time I’m cooking for them. I want them to think of that particular flavor when they think about my food.”
Mitchell’s friendliness is both natural and earned, and it comes through in her food. There’s a saying that goes (and I’m paraphrasing) “The best dishes in the world are born out of hardship.” For someone who lost their home in a hurricane, worked two jobs and raised a child during culinary school, and made a home in a brand new state, Mitchell embodies that sentiment.