The world famous Camellia Red Beans appear in Ann Arbor
by Ari Weinzweig
Natural Law #8 on the list of “Twelve Natural Laws of Business” says, “To get to greatness you’ve got to keep getting better, All the time!” There are countless examples of this Natural Law in action across the ZCoB. The Creamery tweaking almost every cheese ever so slightly each week to get better flavor and texture; the Bakehouse’s amazing work around fresh milling of grains; Mail Order’s efforts to reduce waste through better packing. The one improvement that’s on my mind this week is the Roadhouse starting to buy from Camellia Beans down in New Orleans. I’m not sure what took us so long. Camellia has been working with beans for nearly 150 years now, ever since the Hayward family started trading in the Crescent City in the second half of the 19th century. The Haywards have been formally selling their beans around the country under the Camellia label since 1923.
Putting Camellia Red Beans to work in the Roadhouse kitchen has been a big eye-opener—they’re truly exceptional! Of course, all that’s happened is that we’ve finally figured out what nearly everyone in New Orleans has known for ages. Camellia beans bring killer quality to the kitchen!! No joke—you really can taste the difference. Camellia beans clearly taste better and have a creamier texture. Back in the early 1980s when we opened the Deli, Camellia had already conquered the bean loving city of New Orleans. Even back then, nine out of ten bags of beans bought in the city were Camellia.
Can there be that much difference in a bean? The simple answer is “absolutely”. And why not? Beans are just as much an agricultural product as any other produce that comes out of the ground. And you wouldn’t even flinch if I told you that one variety of tomato was more flavorful than another. And the same is true for beans.
Every taste test I can find online, and every conversation with culinary experts I know, all say the same thing. Camellia beans are first class; creamier, tastier, more terrific. The family has become famous for buying well above the USDA’s highest for beans—their minimum is now known amongst Louisiana bean growers as the “Hayward Standard.” In a wonderful interview that I really recommend listening to, nationally-renowned, master seed saver John Coykendall said, “Camellia beans? Mercy! I love those things!”
In New Orleans you eat red beans and rice on Mondays. It’s a tradition that goes back over 200 years. Our Monday night red beans and rice is a tradition at our home, cooked by my wife Emily, ‘the bean queen of New Orleans.’ It’s a tradition that we cherish and now can’t imagine living without. Emily is obsessed with only using Camellia, swearing that the beans just don’t taste right without them. I agree. We bring them with us all over the country so we can get the real New Orleans flavor whenever a pot of beans are on.
Longtime Roadhouse head chef Bob Bennett, who spent a few days with Alon and Emily in the Roadhouse kitchen for the special dinner we did last fall, has been putting the Camellia beans to work by having Red Beans and Rice on the menu at the Roadhouse regularly for the last few weeks! Those world-class Camellia red beans, simmered with a mess of smoked pork and spices, then served with the incredible Carolina Gold rice we get from Anson Mills, are super terrific! In a bit of a take-off on the British baked beans on toast, we’ve also been serving Red Beans on toast too. Tremendously good!
Red beans and rice were also one of the many specialties of the wonderful Mrs. Leah Chase, longtime owner of Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans. Mrs. Chase, sadly, passed away last month at the age of 95. I had the honor of meeting her a few times—she certainly inspired me and many others! Dooky Chase was amazing for many reasons, one of which is that it was the first restaurant in the city serving integrated audiences in an era when segregation was still standard practice. Read here and here for more on Mrs. Chase.