Chef John Folse meets with Donaldsonville and parish officials

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
A group shot of all who participated in the meeting and tour.

THE ISSUE: World-famous Cajun Chef John Folse invited City of Donaldsonville and Ascension Parish officials to tour his USDA plant in Donaldsonville to discuss his economic impact on the community.

LOCAL IMPACT: Folse said he has the potential to grow the plant exponentially, greatly affecting the parish and region. However, his biggest problem is employee retention and training. He loses 50 percent of his workforce each year.

Those fortunate enough to have dined at a John Folse restaurant may not be used to the fact that while Folse does gourmet, he also does bulk.

Last week, Folse opened the doors of his factory in Donaldsonville to the mayor and city council and also to parish officials. He gave a tour and discussed prospects for future expansion as well as current issues with the facility.

"Our smallest kettle is two tons," Folse said. "So we make a gumbo, we're making two tons."

The first issue discussed was terrorism. Folse said he cannot give regular tours of the plant because of how easy it is for someone to contaminate the food at a facility such as his. It happens all the time. The Folse plant is also a USDA facility kept under tight scrutiny. He told attendees that he has never had a contamination come out of his plant.

"We have to be extremely careful, especially with the companies we work with across the world," Folse said.

The Folse food product currently gets shipped to nine foreign countries, and that number is growing, but the latest venture he said was too new to put in the newspaper.

"Don't put that in the paper!" he snapped, at least three times during the tour.

Being global is nothing new to Folse. The little cajun chef from Donaldsonville has been around the world and back, sharing unique Louisiana cuisine and essentially building diplomacy with foreign governments his entire career.

Folse is a force in the culinary world. He currently offers the only four-year culinary degree on Earth in a program at Nicholls State. He cooks for Oprah Winfrey's birthday. He was the first American chef to cook in Russia. He cooked for the London Olympics. He even held a crawfish cook-off in Finland.

But the accomplished chef faces issues back home. The $14 million-dollar plant, which ships 15,000 cases of portobello mushrooms a day, currently has no partners or investors. It is 100 percent chef owned, according to Folse.

That is not the problem. The problem is that he loses almost half of his workforce each year. There are upwards of 280 in-and-out employees during the year when it is time to roll out a new project and 150-175 staffed all year. Additionally, he said he pays $25,000 a year with benefits to start, but has trouble with worker retention.

"We hire Ascension first, then Assumption," he said. "We have to train them. A lot goes into training someone who leaves in a few months."

Critics say Folse is difficult to work for because he is strict on sticking to his exact recipes. But perhaps with good reason.

Even if you haven't been to a John Folse restaurant, you may have eaten his product. For instance, he invented the Jack Daniel's glaze at TGI Friday's. He also ships food product to Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Flemings, Carrabba's, Joe's Crab Shack, Shoney's, Popeye's, Dave & Buster's, Cracker Barrel, and others.

Further, he also runs a publishing company, based in Gonzales, La., where he designs all of his best-selling cookbooks.

After the tour, Folse fed the local leaders in attendance and thanked them. The busy chef was off to another meeting.

Click here for an entire gallery featuring the John Folse and Co. food plant.