Justin Wilson (chef)
Wilson before a table of Cajun foods
Justin E. Wilson
April 24, 1914
Roseland, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||September 5, 2001 (aged 87)|
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.
|Resting place||Port Vincent Community Cemetery. Port Vincent, Livingston Parish, Louisiana|
|Known for||Cajun humorist and chef|
|Relatives||Brother-in-law Bolivar Edwards Kemp, Jr., Louisiana Attorney General (1948-1952)|
Wilson was born in Roseland near Amite, the seat of Tangipahoa Parish, one of the "Florida Parishes" of southeastern Louisiana. He was the second youngest of seven children of Harry D. Wilson, the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry from 1916 to 1948 and a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. Harry Wilson was of Welsh descent. His mother, the former Olivette Mintern Toadvin (1880-1976), of French descent and known as Olivet Wilson, was an expert in the improvisation of meals and taught Justin how to cook. Olivet Wilson was also a pianist and a composer of instrumental music well into her nineties.
Wilson began his career as a safety engineer while he traveled throughout Acadiana. The safety lectures that he made to refinery workers prompted him to become a Cajun storyteller. He remembered it this way on the back cover of The Justin Wilson Cook Book:
Way back when I first started as a safety engineer, I took myself pretty seriously, and I found I was putting my audiences to sleep. So having lived all my life among the Cajuns of Louisiana, and having a good memory for the patois and the type of humor Cajuns go for, I started interspersing my talks on safety with Cajun humor.
Wilson later recorded several comedy albums, beginning with The Humorous World of Justin Wilson on Ember Records. He also recorded several albums for Jewel Records on the Paula label and a few for Capitol Records. He later appeared as a guest on the popular CBS series The Ed Sullivan Show. He was known for the catchphrase, "I gar-on-tee!" (I guarantee).
As a comedian, Wilson was enormously popular in Louisiana, and to a lesser degree in neighboring states, but his humor may have been a little too specifically regional to enjoy the wider popularity of Southern comics such as Jerry Clower or Archie Campbell.
He composed ten songs, as well as composing the background music for his cooking show and recorded one album of Christmas songs with a jazz band. Wilson wrote seven Cajun cookbooks and two books of Cajun stories. He hosted several cooking shows on PBS that combined Cajun cooking and humor. Most were aired from the studios of WYES-TV in New Orleans.
In 1997, he published the cookbook "Looking Back", which combined his first two cookbooks in a hardcover format, with additional photos, and notes on how his cooking techniques had changed (i.e.: using olive oil instead of oleo) since those early cookbooks were published. A companion series was produced, also titled "Looking Back" and broadcast nationwide on PBS, which was a repackaging of Justin's very first Television Cooking show from 1971, with new intros by Justin himself. This was the first time the 1971 programs were ever seen nationwide, as they were originally produced by Mississippi Educational Television and, at that time, were only broadcast regionally.
As the son of the former agriculture commissioner who died in office in 1948, Wilson was politically active in his early years. In 1951-1952, Justin Wilson was the manager of the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Lieutenant Governor William J. "Bill" Dodd. He and Dodd were close though they often disagreed on political philosophy. Wilson's brother-in-law, Bolivar Edwards Kemp, Jr., was the Democratic attorney general of Louisiana from 1948 to 1952, while Dodd was lieutenant governor. Kemp served between the two terms of Attorney General Fred S. LeBlanc of Baton Rouge.
Known for his emphasis on patriotic themes, Wilson over the years became involved in numerous Louisiana political campaigns. Former State Senator Don W. Williamson of Caddo Parish recalls Wilson having cut a commercial for Williamson's Democratic challenge in 1979 to incumbent Insurance Commissioner Sherman A. Bernard. Williamson recalls that Wilson just volunteered to help him. Williamson only narrowly lost to Bernard, who later was imprisoned for fraud in the handling of his state job duties.
Justin Wilson was married four times. His third wife died and his three other marriages ended in divorce. He had three daughters: Sarah Sue, Pam, and Menette. Wilson's last residence was in Summit in Pike County, Mississippi. He is interred beside his third wife at Port Vincent Community Cemetery in Port Vincent in Livingston Parish.
By Justin Wilson
- The Justin Wilson Cook Book (1965)
- Justin Wilson's Cajun Humor (1974)
- The Justin Wilson #2 Cookbook: Cookin' Cajun (1979)
- Justin Wilson's Cajun Fables (1982)
- The Justin Wilson Gourmet and Gourmand Cookbook (1984)
- More Cajun Humor (1984)
- Justin Wilson's Outdoor Cooking with Inside Help (1986)
- Justin Wilson's Homegrown Louisiana Cookin' (1990)
- Justin Wilson Looking Back: A Cajun Cookbook (1997)
- Justin Wilson's Easy Cookin': 150 Rib-Tickling Recipes for Good Eating (1998)
- William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics. Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991.
- Kevin S. Fontenot, "How Y'all Are: Justin Wilson and Cajun Comedy" in Accordions, Fiddles, Two Step and Swing: A Cajun Music Reader. Ryan A. Brasseaux and Kevin S. Fontenot, eds. Lafayette: The Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006.
- The Humorous World of Justin Wilson, Ember (1960)
- I Gawr-On-Tee, Project Records (1961)
- Justin Wilson's Wilsonville U.S. and A. (1965)
- How Y'all Are! (1967)
- Whooooo Boy (196?)
- Justin Wilson Says, "Me, I got a frien'!" (196?)
- The Wondermus Humor Of Justin Wilson (196?)
- Hunting With Justin Wilson (1972)
- Justin Wilson, The Old Master Story Teller (1972)
- Justin Wilson Meets Jean (John) Barleycorn (1973)
- A Cajun Christmas with Justin Wilson (1973)
- The Sport (1974)
- Justifyin' Justin Wilson (1975)
- Justin Wilson Reading Christmas Stories (1975)
- Caught Dem Fish (1979)
- Courtin' Songs (1979)
- Christmas Cajun Style (1979)
- Laugh A Little With Justin Wilson (198?)
- Truckin' With Justin Wilson (1980)
- Justin Wilson's Ol Favorites (1982)
- The Unforgettable Stories Of Justin Wilson (1985)
- Pass(ing) A Good Time With Justin Wilson (1986)
- The Crazy Cajun Comedy Of Justin Wilson (1987)
- Shot Dem Duck and Hunt (1996)
- If It Ain't Fun, Don't Do It (200?)
- Justin's Picks (200?)
- Cajun King of Comedy (2009)
- "Wilson Slated as Speaker at Appreciation Banquet for Educators January 26," Minden Herald, December 29, 1960, p. 1
- "Fabled humorist Justin Wilson dies". The Livingston Parish News. September 9, 2001.
- "Justin Wilson, 87, Humorist And Cajun Cook on Television". The New York Times. Associated Press. September 7, 2001.
- The Billboard, issue dated October 31, 1960, page 50.
- The Billboard, issue dated November 6, 1961, page 50.