BATON ROUGE, La. (BRProud) — Mari Robillard found her passion for cooking after spending years living and working in the U.S. on the northern east coast. The Mississippi native decided to take a few classes for fun, but said she soon discovered the best means to learning new recipes was to embrace the community nearest her.

“My love for cooking started when I was there on the east coast, living with so many ethnic groups of people,” Robillard said.

After working in the corporate and legal profession for more than 45 years as a para-professional, Robillard returned to the south with her family and decided to take a risk by starting her own catering business. Cooking By Design quickly became a success — and a staple among Louisiana lawmakers.

Robillard has since catered events for the Black Caucus for more than a decade now. She has also prepared for the Rural Caucus, New Orleans delegation and others. “She’s been cooking for us for so long,” said Louisiana State Senator Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe). “She always takes care of the caucus.” Often times during the legislative session, Robillard can be found preparing meals for legislature gatherings at the Longview Home near the State Capitol.

One of her biggest joys, however, is giving back to the community. Robillard said she has lived a blessed life and wants to ensure those in need are also given the opportunity to enjoy a hot home-cooked meal. “Just doing that makes me happy, it brings joy to my soul,” she said.

Robillard shares her food and said she loves “having the ability to exercise a God-given talent.” She believes bringing people together for a meal does more than provide nourishment, it also feeds your soul.

When preparing a dish, Robillard said everything starts with the same base ingredient. “First of all, we start with love. Love is the impetus of everything,” Robillard said. “If you don’t start with love, then that’s not going to be a good pot of gumbo.”

Every third Sunday of the month, Robillard ventures to the Executive Center where she prepares warm boxed meals to be handed out in downtown’s Repentance Park. Her creations often include a savory Creole-style red beans and rice, inspired by her time in south Louisiana. Robillard said Sunday service in Repentance Park can sometimes reach up to 70 people.

“It’s a joy for me because I don’t know them. I don’t know their names and that’s not relevant – just knowing I’m able to give them a hot meal,” Robillard said. “Some people say ‘a church without walls.’ Its church under a tree.”

Robillard has also served the community as a former board member and president of the Community Association for the Welfare of School Children (CAWSC); former member and president of the modern day Greater Baton Rouge Interfaith Federation; former board member of Colonial Parc Community Development Corporation. She is a graduate of the Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program and currently serves as the correspondence secretary of Second Baptist Church.

Robillard is the mother of three adult children, grandmother to six children and great grandmother of two. “Sitting back and watching my children raise their children gives me joy,” she said, “because I know what was instilled in them as youngsters, they are repeating it with their children.”

If you are interested in hiring Robillard and Cooking By Design to cater your next event, call (225) 252-6864.