A Word with Shawn Lindsay

A Word with Shawn Lindsay

Kara Johnson

I’d like you to meet Shawn Lindsay.  I consider him a friend and count myself lucky to be able to do so. This interview is a part of my series covering good cooks in the City of New Orleans.  My friend looooves to cook! On this day, he made a Mexican spread as good as anything you’d find in one of the finest Mexican restaurants. So, without further adieu, let me introduce you.

Shawn Lindsay is a well respected local attorney. I became aware of him, not because we were both in the same profession, but because he has star quality.  Seriously, Shawn has the “it” factor.  It draws attention to him wherever he goes and causes him to stand out.  He’s also one of the most positive, friendly people I’ve ever met. Though he hails from South Carolina, he has made a home for himself in New Orleans and in our hearts.  What strikes me most about him is that people genuinely like him.  Everyone knows Shawn, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard an unkind word about him.  The next thing I took notice of about him is the love and effort he puts into everything he does. I asked him to cook one dish and he threw a dinner party! Shawn made an entire meal, complete with pink lemonade margaritas.

I asked him where he gets his zeal and why he puts his all into everything he does.  He said it’s because he’s working for two and told me the story of his twin sister, Dawn. 

She was effervescent and determined to excel.  She always wanted to do more than what was expected. Dawn even decided they would graduate high school in three years.  That’s just how she was, always going the extra mile, always ready to put in the work to stand apart, to do more.  They were headed to pick up their tuition money from their mom when the unthinkable happened, a horrible, fatal car accident.  Dawn’s spirit transitioned that day, but her love of life, her zeal, and the joy she found in always putting forth her very best effort, live on in her twin brother.  Now I get it.  Shawn graduated from high school in three years and always has in mind the goal of making his sister proud.  Job well done, Shawn.  

 

Here's how our conversation went:

Kara:

Ok!  Let’s get started.  Shawn, tell me a little about yourself.  What is it you want people to know about you?

 

Shawn:

I’m originally from Columbia South Carolina.  I graduated Moorehouse.

Kara:

I didn’t know that.  I want Zack to go there.  How was it?

Shawn:

I majored in psychology.

 

Kara:

What brought you to New Orleans?

 

Shawn:

Law school.

 

Kara:

So why did you pick law school here?

 

Shawn:

It’s such a diverse community.  It

 

Kara:

Did you take a break or go straight through?

 

Shawn:

I actually did take a break…  I took a semester off, but always new I did want to go to law school.  So I took that time to prepare, study for the LSAT, get my score up

 

Kara:

So what made you stay in New Orleans?  Was there something that drew you to this city?

 

Shawn:

New Orleans is one of those places where when I first moved here, I didn’t understand it, but everyone refers to its character.  I really didn’t understand it at first, but then I learned that character meant the look and feel of New Orleans always stays the same.  And being an outsider, a transplant, moving into New Orleans where everyone knows everyone, and they’re all connected, the town always felt like it embraces you.  Actually when I first moved here, I moved down here with some college buddies, a U-haul truck my car; and it was about 11 o’clock at night. I’m lost, not knowing where I’m going.  It was a red light and I pulled up in my U-haul next to this lady, and she has her child in the car, and I said, “Excuse me. Can you tell me how to get to St. Charles?”, and I gave her the address.  The first thing she said was, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” And she led us all the way to house. That was my introduction to New Orleans. The other thing is that this is a bar town. When I was in school, I’d go to a bar with my buddies and you’d see everyone there; college students, professionals, locals, everyone hanging out together.  To me, this is the most European city in the United States.

 

Kara:

Right, I think so too. Ok, so how did you get into cooking?

 

Shawn:

I’ve always cooked, even from a young kid. I was a latch key kid. And for people who don’t understand what that is, it means that growing up for me, my parents always worked or were in school.  For me growing up, my mom worked and was in school, and my dad was a lobbyist. So for me it meant that a lot of times when I got out of school, I either went to my grandmother’s house, or I went to my house and locked the door.  And you didn’t open it up for anyone. And so, if I wanted to eat, I ended up cooking. I feel as though I took pride, from an early age, in cooking and preparing meals for my family, and seeing that they enjoyed it.

 

Kara:

Did anyone teach you to cook?

 

Shawn:

I would say I learned a lot from my grandmother, who will be 93 on August 9th.

 

Kara:

Oh wow! Was there a favorite dish of hers you learned to cook?

 

Shawn:

Everything.

 

Kara:

Everything.  So good Southern food?

 

Shawn:

Yes! And actually, in our community, potato salad… Knowing how to make potato salad is like knowing how to play spades. Either you know how to do it, or you don’t.  And of course my parents taught me from a young age, not to just eat anything from anyone’s house. You don’t just say yeah I’m hungry. Parents were protective. It was a defense mechanism.  Because if you don’t know the person preparing, you don’t know what you may get. So with the potato salad, I learned from my grandmother and then when I moved to New Orleans, I have a really good friend here, and her aunt gave me her recipe. And basically, I combined the South Carolina recipe with the New Orleans recipe, and now I feel like I have a solid recipe.

Kara:

I hear you have the best potato salad!  I think that’s one of the exciting things about cuisine in New Orleans right now. It’s a fusion of traditional New Orleans and other places.  It’s exciting because although I love the traditional, I love the other elements being introduced. Ok, so this question is sort of esoteric, but are there any lessons you’ve learned from cooking that you can apply to your everyday life?

 

Shawn:

Yeah! Basically, when you go into your pantry or refrigerator, you have to learn to make something out of what you have. Cooking isn’t necessarily about following a recipe, going to the store and buying all of the ingredients, because whether you’re hosting a group of people or you’re just making something on the fly for friends, you have to know how to go into your refrigerator and pantry, and make something out of nothing. An example is, when I was in South Carolina, I always refer to South Carolina, I would go visit friends and they would tell me “Oh, I don’t have anything to cook.” I would go into their refrigerator, find certain ingredients, and make this awesome meal. They would say, “I didn’t even know I had that.” All my friends who know me say, “I don’t know what I have in there, but you can see what you can find. I’m able to find different things and make an amazing meal out of it.

Kara:

I love that answer. The ability to see the possibilities in what you already have. That’s beautiful. So who or what inspires you when you’re cooking?

 

Shawn:

I would say my twin sister… Who I lost when I was 15.

 

Kara:

Tell me how so.

 

Shawn:

In the sense that I take pride in what I make. When I make something I just want everyone to enjoy it.  From the preparation to just making sure I wash my hands. I’m the type of person who as I cook, I’m cleaning. By the end of something that I’ve prepared, the kitchen’s clean. I don’t want to finish cooking and have a mess everywhere.  To me, it’s about putting love and pride into what you’re preparing. It’s like anything else you do. Whether it’s your 9 to 5, your job, if you take pride in everything that you do, it comes across, whether it’s in the flavor or the presentation.  It’s just something that I always want to make her proud of me.

 

Kara:

And what was her name?

 

Shawn:

Dawn Lindsay. Neither one of us have middle names.   

 

 Kara:

One of the things I noticed about you is that everybody loves you. You know everybody in the city, even though you’re not from here; and you just have this kind of exuberance, this kind of contagious joy. And where does that come from?

 

 Shawn:

My upbringing.  My family.

 

Kara:

So you have a very upbeat family?

 

Shawn:

Well, yeah... My mom. It came from my mom. She was always smiling, even when things weren’t necessarily going your way. Besides, life is too short.

 

Kara:

Last question  If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

 

Shawn:

The first thing that comes to mind is peace be still.

 

Kara:

I like that... Well that is it, Mr. Lindsay! You did an amazing job. Thank you for everything!

 

That’s the end. Thank you for joining me for a word with Shawn Lindsay.