I walk up a long staircase, following a voice and the familiar sound of a wooden spoon dinging on a heavy-sided pot, like the brass hammer of a boxing ring bell.
“I’m in here.”
I turn the corner into a small kitchen and adjust my eyes. Two glinting Magnalite pots temporarily blind me. Mia Young, known everywhere else as Mia X, is stirring the smaller one, rendering down smoked sausage, chicken, bell peppers, and onions into a fragrant base for jambalaya. She turns and greets me with a quick hug, and then goes to work on some fresh parsley, gently removing the stems and tearing the leaves.
“My mother would be so mad if she saw me doing this,” Mia explains, referring to the tearing of the parsley, instead of chopping it finely. For a city girl born and raised in the 7th Ward of New Orleans, the rough-hewn ingredients resemble country cooking. Or as she calls it, “Creole Soul.”
Unexpectedly, she makes me a big plate. “I want you to try it and tell me how it is. The key is the chili powder.” Of course it’s delicious, and as I juggle my fork, plate, camera, and recorder, this interview already feels almost too intimate.
Mia X has sold over six million records worldwide, and influenced countless MCs. Her albums on No Limit Records, Good Girl Gone Bad (1995), Unlady Like (1997), and Mama Drama (1998), are legendary. She is a rapper, author, actress, chef, businesswoman, cancer survivor, and humanitarian. And she is just as likely to eviscerate you on the mic as she is to invite you over for dinner when you request an interview.
Currently, she is in the process of taking over the world for a second time. She has partnered with the Geaux Beautiful brand of hair and beauty products to produce a line of wigs, the “Mia X Collection,” which supports women with cancer. Her self-published memoir-cookbook, Things My Grandma Told Me, Things My Grandma Showed Me, was released last July. She also appeared in Lily Keber’s critically-acclaimed documentary on New Orleans culture, Buckjumping. At the Pythian Market, Mia and Chef Melissa Hinton sling traditional New Orleans supper plates at their weekly pop up. Also in the works is a food truck and TV pilot with former NFL player Vince Wilfork.
But more than anything, Mia is a champion of New Orleans culture—the music, cuisine, traditions, and people. We discussed all of this over jambalaya and root beer.
First of all, thank you for the jambalaya because it’s delicious. Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to recently? Where have you been? What have you been doing?
I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. I’ve also been mentoring some young girls. I’ve been writing music. I’ve been doing a lot of things.
And you partnered with the Geaux Beautiful line of wigs, you pop up once a week at the Pythian Market, you feed the homeless, you produce, you act… so, that’s not even a question!
Well, when I had cancer, some ladies made wigs for me, and Geaux Beautiful is a hair extension line. They wanted to take their extensions and create a wig for me, but I asked them could we partner? And one of the reasons I wanted to partner was because I wanted to be able to gift cancer warriors and survivors with wigs. So, we went into this partnership and I was like, for every six wigs that the Mia X collection sells, I would like to gift the seventh wig to a warrior. So that is the inspiration behind the Mia X collection and the Geaux Beautiful company.
How did you find out you had cancer?
Well, your body talks to you, so you have to listen to your body. And my body was giving me signs that was totally different from the way I normally felt. And so I scheduled an appointment. I went to the doctor and then after that there was some testing done. This was 2014. One was a transvaginal ultrasound, and they were able to see something, which was followed up by a biopsy, and that’s how I found out.
And you’ve been cancer-free how long?
Two years now!
Cancer probably changed your outlook on a lot of things. How did it affect your creative process?
Well, creatively, I think I was charged with a little adrenaline because… you just don’t know. We don’t know day-to-day anyway, but I felt like I needed to do things that I wanted to do. So whenever I wasn’t feeling bad, I was in the kitchen cooking and creating recipes, or I was in the studio making records just for myself, not even to release. I was writing a lot. But my outlook was definitely changed because you understand that any moment is—you’re either here or you’re not. And it made me want to take better care of myself. It made me want to educate women on the GYN cancers because they are underfunded and under-researched, and we really don’t know much about them. And so, it did a lot of things as far as my outlook, as far as the way I feel about things, the way I look at people, the way I look at life. Because we are pretty lackadaisical when we don’t have a clue with what’s going on with us health-wise, and then once you kind of get a grip of that, you move differently.
Was it the first time you felt mortal?
No, it actually wasn’t. You feel mortal in childbirth. [laughs]. But it was the first time I felt real fear.
Mia X performs at the 102.9 Summer Jam circa 1990-2000 (photo by Polo Silk)
That’s an interesting thing to say, coming up in New Orleans. I know you’ve had friends that have been lost along the way, but that’s the first time you felt real fear?
Real fear, yeah. You know, losing friends—even losing my parents and grandparents—I felt pain and sorrow. This is the first time I felt fear, you know? Because my mom would call me a daredevil; it wasn’t much I was really afraid of, no matter what it was. But this is the first time I can say I felt fear.
Your on-mic persona is pretty fearless, so, that’s interesting. Did you think about your legacy at all during that time?
Hmmm… Well, I didn’t. Because one thing I’ve noticed—just from losing so many friends in the industry and around the way in the 7th Ward—when you die, it seems like that’s when your legacy jumps out and everybody talks about who you are and what you did and how great you are, how nice you were. So I was expecting that part.
They’d put you on a t-shirt.
Yeah, you know I’d do that so… I didn’t too much think about my legacy, as much as I just thought about my children and my grandbaby and some close friends that I’ve been blessed to meet. I thought about people more than I thought about me or what I did.
You’ve been working on a lot of projects lately. You had a part in Lily Keber’s Buckjumping and I know you are a big second line proponent, the Ancestors Church. How do you see second line music and rap and hip-hop in New Orleans coming together? Do you think there’s a connection? Do you think that they influence each other?
Yeah. I mean, I can’t speak for anyone else outside of New Orleans, but I know our hip-hop culture is definitely influenced by second line, by brass, brass jazz, and by the tribes. I’m first-generation bounce music and we had a series of chants where we would just chant our raps, and we can rap to second line music even if they’re not doing a cover of hip-hop or R&B. If they’re just doing a traditional second line record, we can jump up there with them and turn that into a hip-hop song.
Were your chants inspired by Indian culture?
Yes, yes, most definitely. When the tribes meet and they talking smack to each other, it’s like a battle rap… they talk a lot of smack and sometimes they even rhyme, you know?
Who was your neighborhood tribe growing up?
My family, Yellow Pocahontas.
So, Tootie [Big Chief Tootie Montana].
Yes. That was my grandmother’s cousin.
So these roots run deep.
Yes. Very, very deep in my family. There was the Jolly Bunch second line club. My great-grandfather was a member and one of the founders of that club, and so I’ve always been a part of the second line culture and always been a part of the Mardi Gras Indian culture.
Can you tell me a little bit about what your role in Lily’s film was? What did she focus on particularly about your role?
I was boiling seafood and I was pretty much there to introduce her to the Original Four. I have a friend that second lined with them named Herman, and on the day that she came to interview me, it was their second line, and so I was just there to kind of introduce her to them and to bring a little clarity to the culture, because a lot of people think it’s just dance. They don’t understand that on a Sunday in Congo Square, Black people would congregate and dance and sing and chant and parade in the street, and we did that for happy and sad occasions. And I wanted her to get more of the cultural side of it and not just the dance side. Just like with the Mardi Gras Indians: a lot of the slaves, when they would escape, tribes would let them come with them and then when they would dress up and move around in the streets, they looked so much alike you couldn’t tell who was the indigenous first people of New Orleans versus who was the actual African slaves. And so the bloodline between African slaves and indigenous tribes run real deep. Especially the roots run deep downtown, so I just wanted her to know that when I say Ancestors Church, that’s for real, that’s not a made-up word. This was the way that our ancestors worshipped and praised without it being known that they were really worshipping and giving praise, because everything was taken from the tribes as well as the slaves, as far as their religion, and things that they grew up being accustomed to. Those ways were stripped, so this was a way that they could worship and praise.
It was an act of subversion really because—to build on your point—I don’t think enough people understand that aspect of it; they focus on the beauty of the suits.
The outfits, the suits that the tribes make, and the creativity in the second line clubs, yeah. And the culture sometimes gets lost in it. But if you pay attention to the tribal suits, they all tell different stories. And if you just look you’ll see that many of them—like 95% of them—stick to the culture of it all when they beading and sewing the suits.
So Tootie was your uncle?
My cousin, but this is how it goes: if you are old enough to be my father, then you are Uncle, even though you are cousin.
Building on what you were saying about the suits, there’s a very distinct difference between an Uptown Indian and a Downtown Indian. Do you have any idea why Tootie decided to go three-dimensional with the suits and not sew patches?
I know that’s very distinctive, especially for Yellow Pocahontas, but the three dimensional was to be able to distinguish that particular tribe. And you know with every gang you do something different so that they can know you.
Uptown and Downtown isn’t just about musical styles or Black masking Indian styles, but it’s also about cooking styles. Talk to me about what’s it like to be a cook out of the 7th Ward.
7th Ward is Creole Soul. The people in the 7th Ward, we didn’t cook with a lot of meat and a lot of pork; we cooked with a lot of seafood because most of our grandfathers and uncles and fathers, they fish (when you retire, you fish every day). And so we were used to eating from the water. And then we talk about Creole and Cajun; you know Creole is like tomato-based, Cajun is kind of brown-based. Creole Soul is somewhere in the middle. So I feel like a lot of Uptown cooks, they cook real Southern food to me. You can get neck bones and things like that Uptown. I see a lot of food Uptown from people in Alabama and Mississippi, and I know a lot of people from Uptown have cousins and they roots is like deep in Alabama and Mississippi. Whereas in the 6th Ward and the 7th Ward, the roots is the swamps… Even the 9th Ward cook a little different from us. You can tell people from the 7th Ward. I think 7th Wardians are food snobs.
What’s the distinguishing characteristic of 7th Ward cooking?
So our trinity—you know how you say, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?—it’s: in the name of the onion, the garlic, and the bell pepper. [laughs] We use celery and bell pepper with onion and garlic, but we never leave the bell peppers out; we almost put bell peppers in everything. You know what else in the 7th Ward?
Will you leave the celery out?
We don’t. It’s like the fourth thing, so you know, they say: onion, garlic, and celery and we say really it’s onion, garlic, bell pepper; or you could do onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper. We do four things. And we add thyme to all the gravies. Got to have thyme in ‘em, so it gives it a distinctive taste. If you go to somebody’s house from the 7th Ward, you’ll taste that. But if you go somewhere else, you won’t taste the thyme in the gravy.
Thyme in your gumbo too?
A little thyme in the gumbo. Anything that have a gravy base we put thyme in it.
So, would I be wrong to say that gumbo is kind of the dividing line between the different areas of the city? You can tell where a cook comes from. Is gumbo a definitive dish?
You know why? In some areas, a lot of my friends Uptown, they mamas put chicken feet in the gumbo; my people didn’t do that. Some people have egg in the gumbo; my people didn’t do that. Some people have different meats in the gumbo that we didn’t put in the gumbo. So I can pretty much tell when I go places where people are from just by how the gumbo looks. Some people gumbos look kinda reddish and some people’s gumbo is brown; some people’s gumbo is kinda light brown. A lot of people in the East, their gumbo wasn’t really, really dark; it was kinda light… The way my grandmother explained it to me, gumbo was one of those dishes where, after you make your roux, the various meats that you had, you added it. It was one of those things almost like a potluck in one pot and it’s really no wrong way to make it, as long as you cook clean and you cook with your heart, because everybody’s palate is gonna be different. And Mamaw grew up during the Depression, so they had to make do with a lot of things—especially food—because she said they would always run out of food by the time they got to the Black people. So you really had to be creative. So I learned. That’s why a lot of us, you know, we eat from the swamp, because you had to be creative if you wanted to eat. [laughs]
What goes in your gumbo?
Hot sausage, smoked sausage, chicken necks, gizzards, shrimps, crabs, smoked ham. That’s it.
That’s it? [laughs]
It’s a pretty rich dish.
Yeah, all the flavors—you know, that’s what make gumbo good, when all the flavors get to hang out and just do them.
Do you use Kitchen Bouquet?
Sometimes. So, when it gotta go fast, I use Kitchen Bouquet. But most of the time, no.
Your cookbook is kind of a cookbook and a philosophy book at the same time, right?
It’s a memoir.
Can you tell me a little bit about it?
It’s about me and my grandmother. I was with her from birth until I was 31 years-old… She had a potty mouth, that’s why I curse in my raps and that’s why I curse every day [laughs]. She had a no-nonsense attitude. She could make the pot sing. She was a great cook. But she said a lot of profound things, and so I wanted to write about the things she said and tell people like, well this is what was going on when she said this to me. So like when she said, “I’d rather have a second job than a wet ass from a poor dick”—when she said that, that was just her way of making us understand that you shouldn’t be laying up, broke and lazy, and you shouldn’t be laying up with a broke and lazy man. You should want to have a second job before you’re just laid up looking in somebody’s face, and y’all don’t know when you’re going to get put out or when the lights going to get cut off. So she said different things like that and it was just to get us to understand what she was saying. When we were younger and we would get all dressed up and get ready to go out to the club, she would say, “Don’t be stupid, giving your ass away like trick-or-treat candy” and that just was like, you know: don’t be fast, don’t be easy. And so I decided to write the book and tell them, “Well, when we was making chicken or when we was making Creole stew, we was having this particular conversation and this is what she said.” My hope is to bring people together to start cooking again. My hopes is that families can sit around the table and just converse and bond through food. And that was the whole reasoning behind the book, to pay tribute to her.
“New Orleans always had the dopest girls as far as rhyming, girls that actually write their music.”
Do you think what your grandmother showed you and told you enabled you to rhyme and to rap the way you did and to kind of turn that on its head?
Well I definitely believe that my sharp tongue was influenced by Mamaw, and it was just listening to the records. My first record came out 27 years ago, and it was just listening to the boys say things about us. And I was like, I wonder how they would feel if we said some stuff back to them? That was the birth of Mia X—standing up for the ladies and showing the guys that, if y’all say this, we can say this too; and it doesn’t feel good being called a bitch and a ho and a trick. And so I decided to even up the playing field, you know? I definitely owe it to Mamaw because my grandmother said some things you just would not believe. Like, how do you make this stuff up? We just used to look at her like, I don’t believe this lady just said this, you know? It was always something strong, something real. I used to tell a lot of people when they come in the house: if you could get past Mamaw cursing us out, you gonna get something.
What was the most memorable thing she ever said to you?
My first heartbreak, she said, “Baby, your heart don’t care how stupid you look, it just knows what it feels. But your common sense have to step in and have your heart’s back.” That’s when I started to understand the emotional roller coaster of love and how, in matters of the heart, you will make yourself look stupid sometimes, be it if you’re being a sucker or if you’re being angry, and the heart doesn’t care about any of that. It just cares about the emotion that it’s feeling. So I was able to put a lot of things in perspective when it came to breakups and dealing with people.
So, Good Girl Gone Bad didn’t chart, but No Limit had faith in you and Unlady Like did chart. What did that feel like? Did it legitimize what you knew you were doing?
Yeah, because I had worked at Peaches Records and we used to look at Billboard all the time, so to see me in the Top 200 with all of the rock stars and everything, I was like goodness gracious, wow. Never thought this would happen. Because with Good Girl Gone Bad, it was like [Master] P’s 99 Ways to Die. That album didn’t chart for him. Good Girl Gone Bad, we was expecting to move like about 10 or 15,000 copies, so it way exceeded our expectation. We just was trying to introduce me to the world.
It was certified gold, right?
Yes. I couldn’t believe that hundreds of thousands of people actually bought the record, because they didn’t know me. I was just a girl from the 7th Ward. They don’t know anything about me and I figured well, just New Orleans is gonna buy the record, but that didn’t matter to me. But then, wow, a lot of people bought it.
So, next was Unlady Like and then Mama Drama, which was a double platinum record. So you were at the height of your popularity, No Limit was blowing up and, I don’t want to say you stopped—
I did stop! I literally said, “I quit!”
Well, my parents and grandparents played a major role in the raising of my children, and I was allowed to tour and to make a living for us thanks to them. And then my parents died back-to-back. My sister was in college. I didn’t want to hire anyone to look after my children—they were 9 and 11. So I was like, well, I quit. I’m gonna go and be a mom and a big sister and a granddaughter. I felt like my grandparents, their health was deteriorating—especially after my mom died—and I felt my children had such a heavy void after she died. I needed to step in and be who I am first and that’s Mia, not Mia X.
Was it frustrating at that time, not being able to tour?
I didn’t miss it, not even a little bit. I didn’t even really think about it at all.
Were you writing for other people during that time?
Yeah, I’ve always done that, even when I was just a local artist. Love having alter egos. I love being able to write something that I might not feel like saying, but I want to hear somebody else say it. I like doing that. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.
You talked a little bit earlier about mentoring, and I think this is probably the best time, maybe ever, to be a woman in hip-hop and rap. Who on the New Orleans scene have you helped, mentored?
You know, I’m not mentoring artists. I’m mentoring girls with this organization called the Outstanding Mature Girls. We just started a chapter here. They all originated in Baton Rouge. We have our conference coming up and it’s about 800 at-risk girls… trying to keep them on the right path. And once they join the organization, they stay on that path and they go to college and it’s just a beautiful thing. But as far as hip-hop artists in New Orleans, the females, I will say this: I have had an opportunity to bond with most of them over a 27-year span. I’m thankful because they will take my advice. They know that they can call me whenever they need me. They listen to me. I’m grateful that they respect me enough that if they feel a type of way about something, I’ve been able to calm a lot of ‘em down and get them back on track; which is: focus on the music, keep your eye on the prize. I’m grateful that they respect me and I respect them and I can pick up the phone and call anybody in hip-hop and, be it a problem, be it a favor, be it whatever—I can have those conversations. The girls here, I feel like they look at me like a mother or auntie. I’m older than most all of ‘em. None of ‘em ain’t older than me, matter of fact. I remember when none of ‘em had children. I always say that, whenever we together and I see so many girls… Like Ms. Tee’s baby graduated from high school, and her other baby graduated college and I’m like, I remember when Tee didn’t have any kids! I remember when Cheeky didn’t have kids. I remember when the Ghetto Twiinz didn’t have kids. I remember Lady Red didn’t have kids. Like, I remember when they were all girls, and to see them grow up and be these powerful women with these strong children? All of that just makes me smile big.
“When we were younger and we would get all dressed up and get ready to go out to the club, [MaMaw] would say, ‘Don’t be stupid, giving your ass away like trick-or-treat candy’”
Who should we be looking at coming out of the New Orleans music scene?
We should be lookin at Briki Fa President, 3D Na’Tee, G.I. Peachez, Ms. Allie Baby. There are so many. I’ma say this about New Orleans, I’m just putting this out there: I always tell my friends from other coasts, New Orleans always had the dopest girls as far as rhyming, girls that actually write their music. Because a lot of places girls are popular, but they don’t have a pen game. I’m lost in the shuffle all the time amongst girls that didn’t write they raps, and I’m like, well damn how they in the Top 5 and, well, how that go? But you just keep it pimpin, shrug, and keep it moving. [laughs]
I think some of that is generational though. We’re just about the same age, and as a Generation Xer, do you ever feel that you get lost? Our era was kind of lost in the shuffle between the big era behind us and the big era in front of us, and the big populations on either side.
I think we’re lost in the shuffle because we were the first guinea pigs, you know? We were after the whole civil rights movement. Most of our parents were probably hippies, but we were the guinea pigs cuz they pushed machine guns on us and they pushed crack on us, you know? I always tell people, “Yeah my era, what was it y’all invent? We invented crack.” And I think that set us up for a lot of emotional issues, you know? We have a lot of friends and a lot of them are addicts. And so, since so many of the X’ers are addicts, our dreams got lost in the shuffle, and the things that we actually do kind of get lost in the shuffle because there are so many epidemics that came out of watching us grow up. Once we became grown, it was crack, it was AIDS, it was all kind of stuff… I think we’re responsible for bridging the gaps—the X’ers—because, racially, the X’ers made friends and then we had children, and our children didn’t see a color line. So then when history repeats itself and stuff come around and now we get a lot of racially charged hatred, the kids that was born in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s and the 2000s, this is a shock for them because they got a chance to go to school with everybody. They got a chance to make friends with everybody. We went to work and, myself included, we bought homes in the suburbs. So all the children got a chance to play together and go to school together. So when bad things happen, it’s kind of like a shock for the kids cuz they don’t even know how to move. At least we still knew how to move coming off the civil rights era cuz we would listen to our parents say certain things. But the kids nowadays, they don’t know how to function, they don’t know how to identify hatred because by the time we started having children, everybody was pretty much blended. I remember we used to be like, “Oooh I ain’t going to Chalmette.” By the time I started having children, all the Black children and white children in Chalmette was making children, you understand? So what’s going on now, it’s a brown baby running around and his great-grandfather was probably a Klansman, but he love him so much, you know what I’m saying? Like, that’s what’s happening now: everywhere you go, you seeing people who have blended their families and blurred lines, so when bad stuff happen, it’s a heavy blow.
You didn’t see that when we were growing up, but—
But see, I’ma give the credit to hip-hop. Hip-hop is the reason why cultures really get along because… I’ll never forget a concert I had in Spokane, Washington. I’d never been there before in my life. When I stepped out on stage, it was all white people out there. I was like, what in the world? How they know me? But they knew me and they liked me and they bought my music. And so you go all the way back to Run DMC and you’re merging the hip-hop and the rock together, and then you go back to the beginning of MTV, and Black children and white children watching this channel, liking this music, buying tickets to events—companies were created. Black and white children began to run these companies. We gotta give that credit to hip-hop for blurring that line and then creating generation after generation after generation. Hip-hop is 44 years old, so generation after generation, we watching my kids and now I’m a grandmother. Rap is just for whoever is dope.
“This is our culture: food, music, creativity. That is who we are, and this place can’t turn into some other place. This place is just this place. So, if you’re not gonna accept the way this place is ran, don’t move here. Just visit.”
To tie this back to New Orleans, recently we’ve had a lot of people come here. Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” video featured New Orleans heavy heavy. Drake came here, and there’s a cutout of Drake in Gene’s [Po’boys], right? [laughs] But do you feel that New Orleans is finally getting its due for its influence, or do you still feel that it’s really overlooked in how much influence the New Orleans sound has had in the world of rap and hip-hop?
I don’t think it’s overlooked. I think it’s looked at and almost preyed upon. One of the things that I don’t like is when the essence of bounce is taken, people everywhere else act like that’s just something new, and they pretend—I said they PRETEND—they don’t know where it comes from. They pretend it’s a new sound. They pretend it’s something different and those same people have been singing with DJ Jimi for almost 28 years. Those same people who pretend can still sing Bustdown records. But I’m grateful for what Drake and Beyoncé did because both of them reached back. Beyonce went and got Freedia, Drake got Freedia, he got Weebie, he got Bobby Jean, he got BlaqNmilD. So, I’m grateful that these artists get an opportunity—even the ones that’s not here like Magnolia Shorty—they get a opportunity for people to say, who is that? I don’t think New Orleans has gotten its just due yet for many things, even with the second line influence in some musics, you know. I can’t wait until people just finally acknowledge that New Orleans people can actually master all genres of music. That’s what I want them to say about us. I want them to say that we are an island in America, we a bowl or something, I don’t know. We feel different. We don’t even talk like people from Baton Rouge, you know? And I want people to acknowledge this very unique melting pot of people and talents. I want them to acknowledge us, cuz they don’t. I don’t like that, it makes me mad.
So, you’re popping up over at the Pythian Market with Chef Melissa Hinton. How long have you been over there? How did it start? How did you guys get together?
I’ve been at the Pythian for two months now. I was contacted by the Director of Affairs. She felt I would be a good fit, and it’s been very, very successful. I met Chef Melissa… we were both recipients of the Lady Chef Awards in 2017, and so I wanted to do the Pythian but I know I’m also busy because I still tour and I still go other places to cook. So, I asked her would she team up with me? And I was like, on days that I’m not there or whatever, you can just be there. And she said yes and it’s been a pretty cool thing because we each offer an entree, but we do it New Orleans supper style. We serve dessert and to-go drink with our food, because that’s the way the suppers went when I was a little girl.
Explain to someone who might not know what New Orleans supper style is.
OK, so my grandmother gave suppers since before I was born on Fridays and Saturdays. You could get anything in your supper plate—fish, shrimp, stuffed bell peppers, meatballs and spaghetti, whatever. But your entree always came with the lagniappe of a dessert, and lagniappe means something extra. Your dessert was included and your soft drink was included. So, you might have meatballs and spaghetti with salad and garlic bread, but then you might have a slice of pound cake and a drink to go with it. A supper plate is a one-stop-shop; you have everything on it. You know, your salad or your vegetable, your entree, your dessert. It’s very popular in New Orleans. Suppers were given to raise money. My grandmother always gave suppers to have extra money to put us through school. Suppers are given when people don’t have money to bury people. Suppers are given when children need to make the debuts. It’s just a way to make extra money and fill that financial gap. So, since the Pythian is a place with a lot of history, I thought it would be a good idea to bring the supper plate and the tradition of the supper plate to the Pythian, for the tourists especially, so that they could get a idea of the way the locals really eat. I’m still trying to gauge the people in the Pythian as far as what they eat. I’ve been very successful. I usually sell out all of my food, but I’m trying to just gauge even when the tourists come through, what is it that they’re looking for, you know? I’m always trying to figure that out: Think they want red beans? Think they want butter beans? I know I did butter beans, and they tore them out the frame. Cabbage. I was so shocked, every white person that came up, I was saying, “Now they’re not gonna want this damn cabbage.” Shiiiit….
That cabbage was delicious, I had it.
“Can I get the cabbage?” I was like oooooh, alright, OK. Well that mean I can bring my greens here, you know?
Your macaroni—probably your most popular?
Yes, I am the macaroni whisperer. So yeah, they will buy five of the macaroni, and that’s cuz of the macaroni roux! You know, you gotta get that right. It gotta be creamy, it gotta be cheesy, gotta be buttery. It can’t be a big clunk o’ something that flour is holding together, or eggs.
Because the Pythian’s pretty diverse, it doesn’t have what you would call a lot of traditional New Orleans-style food. It’s getting harder and harder to find traditional New Orleans-style food. So is this something that was important to you?
Very important to me. You know, the preservation of the New Orleans culture is extremely important to me… As we watch the neighborhoods change—I don’t particularly have a problem with the neighborhoods changing, I don’t really have a problem with seeing people buy things and improve the neighborhood; however, it’s important for people to know that when they buy property here and they buy property not to flip but to actually live in, you can’t have a little piece of Maine in New Orleans. You can’t do that. So, when we have noise ordinances, that really pisses me off because… you have to understand, I remember when Phil Frazier and Kermit Ruffins put Rebirth together, and I remember when they would practice. I remember many of the greats being on the corners of our neighborhoods or in front of someone’s house that had a larger portion of the sidewalk. I remember the bands gathering and playing. I remember when bands were not so good, but we would all get in the street. I remember when the boys had buckets to beat on and not real drums but out of that the greats were born. And so sometimes they try to stop that, but you can’t come here and fall in love with the place but then don’t know why you fell in love, see? You just come on the tail end where the musicians are already at the Grammys. But in New Orleans we were there when these musicians and these legendary names were being built, and how they were being built probably is outside of your damn door with the trumpet screeching and not on key or whatever. But they gonna get better! And this is our culture: food, music, creativity. That is who we are, and this place can’t turn into some other place. This place is just this place. So, if you’re not gonna accept the way this place is ran, don’t move here. Just visit.
Do you feel the culture’s gonna survive all the changes?
I believe so. Listen, as long as there are Black people in New Orleans, the culture will never ever die, because we can’t survive without our culture. We can’t… And that’s why we lost so many of our elders during that whole Katrina-Rita situation. They died of a broken heart. This place live in us, you know? We bleed this culture. We bleed the culture so much. I know when we went to Texas, we went to the stores and was like, look: we need Camellia red beans. And Camellia butter beans. The only kinda packaged beans we’re gonna eat? They have to say Camellia. You need to call and order that. We need pickled tips. “What is that?” It’s like a pickled pork brisket, I don’t know. Call ‘em and ask ‘em what it is, but we need that. We need hot sausage—not y’all hot links. You can order this thing called Patton’s. We have so many sausage makers in New Orleans—the Vaucressons, the Mulays—like look, we need these things to be able to cook. So, this one store held us down, Fiesta. They got everything you need from New Orleans in there, and we was able to cook. Cuz being in Texas and Monday come and ain’t no red beans, you start getting physically sick. Not so much because you have to have the food, but it’s the conditioning of the culture. Like, that’s the way we’re conditioned, you know? And then Friday come and they say, well, they had this fish called tilapia. Well I’m not about to fry that, I don’t know even know what that is! …And when they had to be reminded of the harsh times of the racial division, being in different states where it wasn’t like New Orleans, you know? Cuz people always say, “Oooh the New Orleans people, even the white people—y’all all sound alike!” [laughs] You know? So as long as Black people are in New Orleans, this culture will be what it is, and I think if Black people was not in New Orleans no more, white people wouldn’t even like it. That’s what they better understand.
Mia X will be performing and recording a feature on a live version of Gumbo with PJ Morton at Essence Fest on Friday, July 5. On Sunday, July 7, she will be at the Convention Center demoing her “best crab cakes evah.” Also be on the lookout for a food truck, a TV Pilot with Vince Wilfork, and her supper plate series at the Pythian Market with Chef Melissa Hinton. For more info on the Mia X line of Geaux Beautiful wigs, check out geauxbeautiful.com For Mia’s books, check out teamwhipdempots.com.
Transcription by Michelle Pierce | photos by James Cullen