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How's Bayou? Keeping Up Appearances II: When John met Thelma

"Fryin' chicken just tends to make you feel better about life," Minnie informs Miss Celia Foote, her new employer, in the movie The Help.
Thelma Parker, by Sharon Weilbaecher

Thelma Parker, watercolor by Sharon Weilbaecher

Thelma Parker, who oversaw Madewood's kitchen for several decades, would agree -- especially when Louisiana Uber-Chef and Purveyor of All Things Cajun, John Folse, decides that your fried chicken is just about the best thing going, poultry-czar Al Copeland notwithstanding. Thelma wasn't shy about her secret. After salt-and-peppering the chicken, but before shaking it in a bag of flour, she'd carefully rub hot sauce up under the skin. The effect was remarkable; and a guest who'd sampled it raved about the treat to John Folse, who was just starting up his first Saturday-morning TV cooking show.

So Thelma got the call -- and it wasn't one of those, "just show up at the studio half-an-hour before filming" kinds of call.

No ma'am: The limousine would collect Thelma and her husband, "G'int," at 6 a.m. from their home up the bayou in Bertrandville, where Thelma's people were from, and whisk them off to Baton Roux-edge, as we pronounce it in Napoleonville.

Thelma felt right at home in the 1980s studio kitchen, though it was much fancier than what she was accustomed to at Madewood. G'int avoided the bright lights and took a seat backstage, where Thelma joined him while Folse charmed the camera with his downhome intro.

A man poked Thelma's arm. "You're next."

Thelma smiled and ambled slowly into camera range.

"Well, if it isn't my old friend Thelma Parker," Folse boomed, never having laid eyes on Thelma before she stepped out of the limo that morning. "There's nothing Thelma and I love to do more than sit around in rocking chairs on the porch at Madewood exchanging recipes."

Thelma's eyes conveyed her thoughts: "Say what?" But she fell right into the scheme of things. "Mm-hmm," she nodded as she approached the counter laden with husky chicken breasts waiting for Thelma to get under their skin with her special hot-sauce touch.

She salted, she peppered, and the camera zoomed in as she lifted the skin on a plump chicken breast and rubbed in the hot-pepper sauce. A pass through the sack with other pre-loaded pieces, and everything was in the skillet, grease a poppin'.

"OK," Folse called out to an assistant as a commercial break sneaked in, "bring in the tray of finished chicken so I can sprinkle it with parsley."

Finished chicken? Nobody said anything about pre-cooking any pieces.

The camera swung back, and Folse, not skipping a beat, regaled his viewers in TV land with, "We'll just let Thelma's delicious chicken fry away and come back when it's done."

"Do something," someone demanded. And someone else gave G'int a twenty-dollar bill, hustled him into the limo and gave the driver instructions.

"Take him to that Popeye's down the road and come back with two large breasts, a couple of drumsticks, some wings and thighs. Quick."

"And here we are with Thelma's famous fried chicken. Want to test it for me?" Folse asked Thelma, as he carried out a tray of Popeye's, freshly garnished and extremely photogenic.

"Now you all be sure to head on over to Madewood in Napoleonville and try some of this wonderful chicken. You hear me?" he prodded his listeners with evident relief in his voice.

Thelma just smiled. And when she got to Madewood that afternoon, she was a full-fledged celebrity.

"Oh, I had a blast," she told the staff. "And I really do love that chicken from Popeye's."

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville. For more information on NolaVie, visit NolaVie.com.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.