The Leruth Legacy

When Warren Leruth opened the iconic LeRuth’s in 1966, a new culinary era began in New Orleans that continues today with LeRuth’s Gourmet Foods.
Poppy
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.


An inquisitive mind fueled by unquenchable curiosity set Leruth apart from other chefs. Early in his career, the brilliant research chef was credited with creating Green Goddess salad dressing for Seven Seas and later, Popeyes’ legendary biscuits and red beans and rice. As commonplace as oyster-artichoke soup or a fried softshell crab topped with jumbo lump crabmeat may seem today, both made their debut appearance on LeRuth’s menu.

Larry Leruth recalled watching his father’s inquisitive mind at work.

“He was always teaching us something,” he said. “Every summer, Dad would close the restaurant and we’d go to Europe for a month. He carried little notebooks, where he’d record the menu for each of our meals along with tasting notes and drawings of dishes.”

Warren knew that his recipes and formulas were his treasure.

“He was highly secretive about his food,” Larry said. “All the cooks had to sign a nondisclosure agreement before working in the LeRuth kitchen. They weren’t ever allowed to leave the restaurant with anything written.” Warren premixed seasoning blends that he brought into the restaurant kitchen, ensuring his flavors’ secrecy.

When LeRuth’s closed in 1991, the father-son team formed a consulting firm specializing in food and flavor research, which they operated successfully together for decades.

“Dad was meticulous in his record keeping. He would say, ‘Date it, son,’ ensuring we could track information back that way.” His files included handwritten recipes and notes dating back to the early 1950s. “In his lifetime,” Larry chuckled, “Dad wrote to the moon and back a couple of times by hand.”

Warren passed away in 2001, leaving his estate to Larry’s mother, Marie. For 17 years, Warren’s meticulous records remained stored in a back building on Larry’s mother’s property.

Larry’s only child, Jacques, was 12 when his grandfather died.

Jacques met his future wife, Emilie Tutiaux, at a Mardi Gras party in 2017. Emilie, a native of Reims, France, was living in New Orleans, working for a small French wine producer. The two immediately bonded over a shared love of French food and wine. Emilie gleaned an inkling of the Leruth legacy during the first dinner at her future father-in-law’s home.

“Immediately I realized that these people were really involved in food, my greatest life’s passion,” she said. “Every time we ate at Larry’s, the food was different than anything I’d experienced.”

The couple married in Oct. 2019, and after Emilie became pregnant in the fall of 2020, she and Larry found themselves clearing out his mother’s home following her death. Once they reached Warren’s file cabinets, Emile was stunned, and her business wheels began to turn.

“I wasn’t going to be able to travel anymore once the baby arrived,” she said. “I [had] told Jacques, ‘I can’t work for your dad forever!’”

Emilie assembled a business proposal, researching everything from legality to profitability and putting it all together in a PowerPoint presentation.

“When Jacques and Emile asked to come talk with me, I thought they were going to ask for money,” Larry laughed. What the young couple actually wanted was access to the priceless Leruth legacy — Warren’s files.

“Potage LeRuth” was Warren’s original oyster artichoke soup. LeRuth’s Gourmet Foods initial offerings included the soup base, LeRuth’s Vanilla Flavor and Warren’s cookbook, Front Door, Back Door. The products were quickly welcomed onto grocery store shelves.

When Emile and Jacques set up at the Gretna Farmers Market, St. Francis sauce is added to the lineup, allowing shoppers to replicate LeRuth’s famed appetizer, Crabmeat St. Francis. For Jacques, the best part is watching shoppers sample their products.

“Their face lights up and they say, ‘Oh my God! It’s just like I remember…” The Leruth legacy is priceless, exactly because of taste memories like that!

 

Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.