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Chef John Folse, born in St. James Parish in 1946, learned early that the secrets of Cajun cooking lay in the unique ingredients of Louisiana’s swamp floor pantry. Folse seasoned these raw ingredients with his passion for Louisiana culture and cuisine, and from his cast iron pots emerged Chef John Folse & Company.
When Folse opened Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant in 1978 in Donaldsonville, he set out to market his restaurant by taking “a taste of Louisiana” worldwide. He introduced Louisiana’s indigenous cuisine to Japan in 1985, Beijing in 1986 and Hong Kong and Paris in 1987. In 1988, Folse made international headlines with the opening of “Lafitte’s Landing East” in Moscow during the Presidential Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1989, Folse was the first non-Italian chef to create the Vatican State Dinner in Rome. Promotional restaurants also included London in 1991 and 1993, Bogota in 1991, Taipei in 1992 and 1994 and Seoul in 1994. In 1988, the Sales and Marketing Executives of Greater Baton Rouge named Folse “Marketer of the Year” and the Louisiana Legislature gave him the title of “Louisiana’s Culinary Ambassador to the World.”
The international success of Folse’s cornerstone property, Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant, spawned the incorporation of several other Chef John Folse & Company properties. White Oak Plantation in 1986 established Folse’s catering and events management division. Chef John Folse & Company Publishing, since 1989, has produced ten cookbooks in his Cajun and Creole series, plus a novel, two children’s books and a religious memoir by other authors. His recently released Can You Dig It vegetable cookbook won the Benny award for Best Cookbook, the highest honor in the 2015 Premier Print Awards. “A Taste of Louisiana” is Folse’s international television series produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting since 1990. Chef John Folse & Company Manufacturing, since 1991, is one of the few chef-owned food manufacturing companies in America producing custom-manufactured foods for restaurants as well as retail and foodservice industries. In January 2005 a new USDA manufacturing plant opened in Donaldsonville, and in 2007 growing demands pushed the plant to expand. In 2008, Folse cut the ribbon of his expanded 68,000 square-foot food manufacturing plant.
The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University (NSU) in Thibodaux, La., opened in October 1994 and is devoted to the preservation of Louisiana’s rich culinary and cultural heritage. In August 2015, the new culinary arts building was dedicated.
In August 1996, Folse began broadcasting his radio cooking talk show, “Stirrin’ It Up.” In 2001, “Stirrin’ It Up” expanded to a television cooking segment during the 5 p.m. newscast on WAFB-TV Channel 9 in Baton Rouge, La. In 2016, WVUE-TV FOX 8 in New Orleans started airing “Stirrin’ It Up” cooking segments during the morning show.
The bakery division was launched in 1996 to create specialty desserts, pastries and savories. In October 1998, a fire destroyed the 200-year-old Viala Plantation, which housed Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant, and in May 1999 Folse opened his former Donaldsonville home as Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant at Bittersweet Plantation offering fine dining and bed and breakfast accommodations. In the year 2000, Folse incorporated Digi-Tek Productions, a full service digital recording studio.
Folse has received numerous national and international accolades. In 1987, the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) named him “Louisiana Restaurateur of the Year.” In 1989, Nation’s Restaurant News inducted Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant into its “Fine Dining Hall of Fame.” In 1990, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) named Folse the “National Chef of the Year.” In 1992, Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., recognized Folse with an Honorary Doctorate of Culinary Arts, as did Baltimore International Culinary College in 1995. In 1994, he assumed the role of national president of the American Culinary Federation, the largest organization of professional chefs in America. In 1995, Folse was one of 50 people recognized in Nation’s Restaurant News’ “Profiles of Power.” In 1996, Lafitte’s Landing Restaurant received the Award of Excellence from Distinguished Restaurants of North America. (Folse served two terms as DiRōNA Chairman.) In 1998, Chef John Folse & Company Manufacturing received TGI Friday’s Inc. Procurement Product Development Award for assisting in the development of Friday’s Jack Daniels© Glaze; in 2011 and 2016, Folse received their “Food Vendor of the Year” Award; and in 2012, he received TGI Fridays Purposeful Innovation Award. In 1998, Food Arts magazine awarded Folse the “Silver Spoon Award” for his sterling performance and contributions to the food service industry. In 1999, the Research Chefs Association (RCA) named Chef John Folse & Company “Pioneers in Culinology” because of the efforts of Folse and his culinary research team. In 2001, Folse was elected to RCA’s Board of Directors and served as RCA president from 2005-2007. In 2006, Folse was inducted into National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s College of Diplomates. He was appointed by the Governor as the Marketing Specialist for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board in 2008, and also served as the Chairman in 2013.
In November 1999, the Acadiana Chapter of the American Culinary Federation inducted Folse into the Louisiana Chef’s Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions to the promotion of Louisiana cuisine. Additionally, Folse received the Antonin Carême Medal in November 2000 and has served on the National Dairy Council Chef’s Advisory Panel. In 2007, Folse served as the American Judge for the Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France. In October 2008, Folse was awarded the Louisiana Governor’s Cultural Economic Development Arts Award and Southern Foodways Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award. In August 2011, Folse was honored with the Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award by Baton Rouge Epicurean Society and in December he received an Honorary Doctorate of Commerce from NSU.
In August 2010, Folse announced his partnership with Chef Rick Tramonto and the formation of Home on the Range: Folse Tramonto Restaurant Development, LLC. Their first joint venture, Restaurant R’evolution, opened in June 2012 at 777 Bienville St. at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. In November 2014 Folse and Tramonto opened their second joint venture, Seafood R’evolution, in Ridgeland, MS, a bedroom community of the metro Jackson area. Seafood R’evolution’s menu pays homage to Mississippi’s heritage, focusing on the freshness and flavors of the Gulf Coast region. In just one short year, Seafood R’evolution has already made quite a splash! Executive Chef Payton Warren was recently named “Best New Chef” in the Jackson Free Press “Best of Jackson 2016” awards. Seafood R’evolution was also included as a “Best of Jackson 2016” finalist in the following categories: “Best Brunch;” “Best New Restaurant;” “Best Seafood;” “Best Gumbo;” and “Best Wait Person” (Josh Rushing). It also earned the “Best Seafood Restaurant” title in the Clarion Ledger’s “Mississippi’s Official People’s Choice Awards 2015.” In addition to multiple OpenTable “Diner’s Choice Award” honors, Mississippi Magazine’s “Best of Mississippi” also awarded it “Best Seafood,” and a spot on the “M List” for “Best New Restaurant.”
In August 2012, Folse was honored to represent Louisiana and the Gulf Coast with BP’s Spirit of the Gulf campaign at the London Olympics. He led a group of eight Gulf region chefs who prepared and served seafood dishes to guests at USA House in an effort to promote Gulf Seafood worldwide. In spring 2013 Folse received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Research Chefs Association. In March 2014, Folse received St. Joseph Cathedral Community Award given by Bishop Robert Muench, Bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. In August 2015, LRA honored him with the Hall of Fame award. In July 2017 Folse was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs (AAC) Culinary Hall of Fame, the highest honor AAC can bestow upon any individual. He also received the Châine de Rôtisseurs Academie Brillat-Savarin Medal at the same time. Currently, he serves on the Sister Dulce Foundation Board of Trustees.
Almost forty years of culinary excellence later, Folse is still adding ingredients to the corporate gumbo he calls Chef John Folse & Company, which is as diverse as the Louisiana landscape, and he would not want it any other way.