Guide at a Glance
Lafayette, Louisiana, United States
Food Tour, Lifestyle
Get To Know Cajun Food Guide Marie Ducote-Comeaux
I was in education administration before, and I was kind of losing my passion for what I was doing. I was praying about a new passion and I stumbled upon taking a couple of food tours while I was travelling. I had never heard of food tours before, so after doing a few and continuing to pray about my own passions, those two things just one day totally out of the blue came together and I had this overwhelming cathartic experience that I needed to do a food tour.
I’m Cajun, and I’ve always been passionate and proud of our area and our food. I secretly began plotting my business without telling anyone: one of the first things I did was buy a bus and start customising it into what I had in my mind. While I was finishing out the school year, I was preparing the business, so that when the school year ended, within about a month, I was prepared to launch it.
What is the best part of your job?
Meeting people from all over the world, being a part of them having a great time, and sharing my passion for this area with them.
Have you got a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?
My style is heavily based on my personality, which is very much centred around Cajun hospitality. What a lot of people say is that I treat them like they were guests at my home. It’s very personal, I call everybody by name, if someone tells me it’s their birthday, then I’ve got a surprise waiting at dessert (with candles!), and the bus decorated with streamers and happy birthday signs, things like that.
I’d say 99.9% of the people on my tour are absolutely blown away by how incredibly delicious the food is and a lot of them say they have nothing like this at home, or that they didn’t know what they were missing. A lot of them tell the restaurant owners: “Why don’t you open one of these in my city?!”
I think it’s very unique because of the Acadian influences and because of some of the unique ingredients that we have in this area. I think part of the reason it’s so good is the blend of spices and seasonings and that comes from not only the influence of the Acadians but the influence of the Native Americans, the Spanish, and the Germans who eventually came to this area to settle among the Acadians.
What does a typical tour day look like for you?
I prepare the bus, load it up with all the things that will make the tour comfortable for people, like iced water and koozies, let all my restaurants know what time I’m coming, then I pick all the people up and we go on a three and a half hour tour. I talk while I’m driving, about the history of the food, what’s unique about it. We practice pronouncing the food people have never heard of, then we talk about the history of a particular restaurant because most that I go to are locally-owned, family businesses. We do six stops in three and a half hours to try a variety of Cajun staples, like boudin, alligator, jambalaya and gumbo.
Plenty of people don’t eat everything on the tours. Some people, after the third spot, leave food on their plate because they know there are still three spots to go and they’re already getting full.
I had been in business for only a couple of months so I still wasn’t sure if everybody was enjoying the tours until one day this lady got on the bus and said, “I’m just a little upset with you. You need to put on your website not to eat before you come and to wear stretchy pants!” So I said, “Well that’s a great idea, I’ll put that on there.”
Shortly after I’d put it up, a lot of people obviously read it, because they’re always making comments and one guy, after we’d just finished at the third spot, walked on the bus and plopped down on the seat and said, “My stretchy pants have officially engaged”.
What’s the most bizarre or craziest experience you’ve had on a guided tour?
One time, I had either a bad battery or bad alternator, and we had to jump start the bus wherever we went, and one of my customers wouldn’t even let me lift the hood, he kept saying: “No no no, I got this, I got this!” We had to make an extra stop on that tour at an auto repair shop to get a new battery installed.
It could have been horrible, but instead, everybody was joking about it and they actually felt special because I was going to remember them, because they were the tour where the battery kept dying.
I think it’s just that being a one-person business, I don’t have the routine to my week. Every day is different, which can be good but can also be frustrating because it seems like there’ are not enough hours in the week to get everything done.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
To actually have someone from that area, especially born and raised and lived their whole life there, they’re going to be able to give you a perspective so much deeper than what you can read online or in a pamphlet or the like. I know people talk about my enthusiasm and my passion and you can’t read enthusiasm and passion online.
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
I think someone who is passionate about the area that they’re introducing to people and someone who is very hospitable to their guests and all that that means. So someone who knows what hospitality is and what it means and takes it to the nth degree for their guests every single time.
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I am happy to call myself Cajun! There is no place I’d rather live than right here in the heart of Acadiana. As a former Louisiana history teacher of 15 years, I am proud of our resilient past, our friendly people, our rich heritage, and our fun-loving culture; but I am especially proud of our uniquely incredible food! I can’t stand the thought of anyone coming to this city and not tasting our local favorites. Everyone who lives here does it; we either cook our own Cajun treats for our visitors or we drag them all over the five-parish area, making sure they experience what we get every day.
My 90-year-old grandmother loved the tourIn November of 2010, I went on my first walking food tour in Baltimore, MD. History, culture, sites, and we get to eat?! That’s my kinda tour!? After the tour, I thought “Someone should do this in Lafayette!” The following summer I took a food tour in Seattle (right around the time we were named best U.S. food city in the Rand McNally-USA Today “Best of the Road” contest,) and I thought “Our food is so much better than this; someone really should do this in Lafayette!” Finally, in November of 2011, I took my first bus food tour in Louisville, KY. That evening lying in the hotel bed praying, I was terrified by the calling that someone was going to do this in Lafayette and it was going to be me! After months of trying to pray it away, I finally gave into the idea just as Lafayette won Southern Living’s title of “Tastiest Town in the South!” So, I quit my job and bought a bus!
I can’t wait to meet you and to share the things I love. I love South Louisiana; and I love good food.
Allons manger! (Let’s go eat!)