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Phantom Gourmet: Southern Cooking At Chef Wayne's Big Mamou

SPRINGFIELD (CBS) - There is a little restaurant in Western Massachusetts named Chef Wayne's Big Mamou. While the address may be Liberty Street in Springfield, the atmosphere is most definitely Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

For more than twenty years, Chef Wayne's Big Mamou has been serving some of the best Cajun, Creole, and Louisiana cuisine you can get outside of the Big Easy. While the food keeps customers coming in, Chef Wayne Hooker himself keeps them coming back.

"I enjoy people. I like to have fun. Anybody who knows me knows, if I say I'm throwing a party, you absolutely want to come to my party."

At the Mamou, it is always a party.

"It's lively, everybody's friendly, and that's just the way we do things. That's my philosophy. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Let the good times roll."

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Chef Wayne's love of Louisiana runs deep, so when he decided to open his own restaurant back in the 1990's there was no question he was going to serve a taste of the South.

"I wanted to give the area something they didn't have. We didn't need another pizza parlor, Chinese restaurant, Italian food, etc, etc."

What makes things at the Mamou even more fun is that this place is BYOB.

"There ain't no bar, you bring your own! People bring bottles, they share with people," Wayne explained. "A lot of people say it's like sitting in their own home and having a good time, and sharing their experiences and drinks with people sitting next to them."

Of course the difference between your kitchen and Wayne's kitchen is that you have to pay for the food here, but the prices are shockingly affordable. There's one ingredient that will cost you nothing at all:

"This is a fat free restaurant. We do not charge for the fat!"

If fat is good, then the food here is great. Especially an entree so tasty Wayne named it after himself: The Big Mamou Chef Wayne.

"My Mamou is crawfish tails, shrimp, broccoli, yellow squash, sautéed in a lobster brandy cream sauce, served with rice and puff pastry. It's rich, it's a fat trap. If you're on a diet, don't mess with it."

In fact, if you are on a diet, just stay away from this place altogether, because you're going to want to eat everything coming out of the kitchen… from the Cheesy Cajun Meatballs with penne and spicy tomato gravy, to the Blackened Rib Eye with Barbecue Shrimp, to the classic New Orleans style Gumbo.

"That's home cooking. That's what New Orleans is all about, flavors, comfort food," Wayne said.

Perhaps no New Orleans dish will make you feel better than Jambalaya, although Chef Wayne's recipe breaks from the traditional one pot preparation, so he can make sure nothing gets overcooked.

"Jambalaya traditionally is a highly seasoned rice dish, and everything is cooked together. Here I do my spin on it, whereas I'm not one to cook all the seafood and sausage as long as I cook rice," Wayne explained. "Even people from Louisiana, they say, 'It's not our Jambalaya, but we like this. This is a good idea.'"

Appetizers at the Big Mamou are not to be overlooked, like the Fried Green Tomatoes and Crawfish Tails; Southern style Spinach and Chicken Cakes with sautéed spinach and mushroom sauce; and the sensationally spicy Jerked Thunder Thighs, whose fiery flavor often take customers by surprise.

"They sit back. Damn! It's spicy!" Wayne exclaimed. "It's probably the spiciest thing on the menu."

Not all the dishes here are spicy, but everything is always hot because the second it goes from pan to plate, it is on the way to your table.

"I don't do cold food. I don't believe in it. If it's plated, it goes out. When you get a plate in front of you, you have to sit back and blow on it, because it's hot."

While Chef Wayne is certainly serious about serving great food, it is just as important to him to always let the good times roll.

You can find Chef Wayne's Big Mamou at 63 Liberty Street in Springfield, and online at

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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