By Angela Chen
NEW ORLEANS — Wayne Baquet is the owner of Lil Dizzy’s Restaurant, a popular Creole-soul food restaurant in the neighborhood of Treme in New Orleans that has been frequented by the likes of Barack Obama, George W. Bush and countless other famous figures as well as many locals. Baquet is part of a family with a long lineage dating back to before Louisiana became a state. He is a renowned restaurateur in the local community.
At Lil Dizzy’s,1500 Esplanade Ave., Baquet talked about the history of the restaurant, Creole food and his family.
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Wayne Baquet from New Orleans. I’m a restaurant owner and chef, and have been in the restaurant business for over 50 years now. I’ve had seven different restaurants in my resume. Taken over the family restaurant from my father, Ed, Edward Baquet, and moved on and opened several restaurants called Eddie’s in different parts of the city.
Can you tell me about the founding of Lil Dizzy’s? What was the inspiration behind it, and what was the plan especially considering that you’ve opened a bunch of other restaurants?
What’s special about it is that things just happen. I opened a restaurant called Zachary’s on Oak Street, operated it for I’m going to say about 10 years, named it after my grandson, Zachary. People were coming to me left and right to purchase it. This was at a time when I was saying, “a little bit too early for me to retire.” But they made me kind of like an offer that I couldn’t refuse. Zach was my good-luck job, I named that restaurant after him, which did well, and I called him and I got a voice message saying, “You got me. It’s Little Dizzy.” And I know he played the trumpet, very well. He played in St. Augustine, his high school band. He’s still playing. He will be in a jazz fest this year. So I called him and said, “What’s up with this ‘Little Dizzy’?” And then he told me, “That’s my nickname.” He said, “Because when I play the trumpet, I do it with the swollen jaw, like Dizzy Gillespie.” And I said, “OK, I got it.”
I know your family is Creole and this restaurant is known for some original Creole food. Can you tell me what exactly is Creole? How do you define Creole?
To me, it’s where I grew up, in this neighborhood. It’s the oldest Black neighborhood in the country. When I grew up, it was mixed a lot. And then as things happen, as things evolved, it became less and less mixed, and became more and more Black. I’m into genealogy, and I could trace my family tree back before Louisiana became a part of the United States. The Baquet family is a mixture of French, Spanish, American Indian and African American. That’s basically what Creole is.
Can you describe Creole food?
Creole food is from a mixture of French and African cultures. The Africans knew how to cook and influenced the French because they’re the ones that were slaves back in the day. They were the ones coming out of Haiti, and they didn’t want the pick of the vegetables there. OK, so the French created Creole foods with red beans. Then it became really traditional, like red beans and rice. Red beans and rice was cooked every Monday in our homes in my day as a kid and every Monday in a lot of restaurants including ours. Why on a Monday? It’s wash day. OK, so you could put a pot of beans or put some pickled meat in it and season it up with some. First season it and let it cook on a low fire for six hours. So while it’s cooking you’re hanging sheets on the first day– that was a tradition. So you always have red beans on a Monday.
For more on Lil Dizzy’s menu, click here.