On Tuesday, April 30, at 2 p.m., chef Charles Oppman will offer a special adult program on Cajun cooking.
“He came in the library and proposed this idea, and I thought it was a really wonderful idea,” said South Coastal Library Assistant Director Barbara Litzau. “I’ve been here 10 years, and I don’t remember ever having a cooking demonstration before. I think this is a first for us, and I think it’s going to be really popular. I’m really excited about it, and I think the other staff is, as well, because it’s such a different kind of programming that we’ve done here at the library.”
“We joined the library, and I noticed they had lectures about various topics, and I asked the librarian if they were interested in me doing a lecture on the history of Louisiana cuisine,” said Oppman.
Oppman went to culinary school in New Orleans, La., after deciding to leave his career as a hospital administrator.
“Becoming a chef was a career change for me. I used to be a hospital administrator. I changed careers in 1980, and I happened to be in New Orleans at the time. What better city in North America to learn cooking, other than New Orleans?”
After three years in culinary school, Oppman worked as an itinerant cook in the Big Easy and eventually became a pastry sous chef at the Inter-Continental Hotel there.
In 2011, Oppman published his first book, “Accidental Chef: An Insider’s View of Professional Cooking.”
“I just felt I had a story to tell about the world of cooking that I thought a lot of people would find interesting. I talk about my experiences in the world of cooking. There’s a lot of consumer information about how restaurants operate,” he explained. “It’s a window into the world of cooking — behind the kitchen door, so to speak, what it’s really like to be a chef, not what you see on the Food Network, but the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Oppman moved to the area a year ago with his wife, Barbara, from Alexandria, Va. where he had owned a restaurant.
“It’s such a nice place to live. My wife and I love living here. Virginia was so much more expensive and a lot more crowded. We just love the lifestyle here. Everybody we’ve met has been so welcoming and so charming.”
Oppman also loves New Orleans and its cuisine, because, as he says, it’s “uniquely American.”
“New Orleans — one of the things I love about is it’s uniquely American. It’s America’s first unique regional cuisine. You have the melding of different cultures — African, Spanish, German, French and Native America. They all contributed to a completely new cuisine that the world had never seen before.”
During his cooking demonstration, Oppman will also offer a tasting of chicken and sausage jambalaya and give attendees a history of Cajun cuisine.
“I’m kind of a food historian. I come from a really big food family. I have seven brothers and sisters, and we’ve always been real food-o-philes,” said Oppman. “The Cajuns were originally exiled from Acadia, one of the Maritime Provinces in Canada. They were expelled by the British in the 1753. The English kicked the French out of Canada, so the French took refuge mostly in Louisiana because it was a French colony already. So they took refuge in the swamps and they lived off the land, eating game and shrimp and crawfish and turtles and gators. That’s why their cuisine is completely unique.”
Oppman is currently working privately, doing cooking demonstrations and small catering jobs.
“What I do now is cooking demos for people in their homes, and I also do small-scale dinner parties. People hire me, and I come in their house and cook dinner for them and their guests,” he said. “It’s loads of fun.
“When I had my restaurant I did hundreds of cooking demonstrations. I just enjoy talking about food, living it, eating it, breathing it. It’s just a lot of fun. There’s this big explosion in interest in cooking and chefs. It’s just a lot of fun doing them because people ask questions and it’s very interactive. People get excited about it.”
Litzau said that she hopes the program — which is free and open to the public — will be well-received by library patrons and that everyone has a good time.
“I hope people turn out. I think it’s going to be a good one. We’ve had a lot of people asking about it. I think it’s going to be great. I think people are going to want to come out and, hopefully, really enjoy themselves and learn a little bit too.”
For more information, visit www.delaware.gov/SouthCoastal or call (302) 539-5231. The South Coastal Library is located at 43 Kent Avenue in Bethany Beach.