The Quintessential New Orleanian

It seems that I spend too much time lately writing obituaries for good friends who have left too soon.

img_0921.jpgYesterday I got the bad news about Vince Saltaformaggio.  He died suddenly of a heart attack early Tuesday morning.  Most people reading this blog won’t know Vince, but anyone who has encountered him for just a minute will never forget him.  He was the big guy with the big smile and the New Orleans accent, trying to feed anyone who walked within 50 feet of his Airstream motorhome. He was always there, the organizer of parties and rallies, the leader of festivities, and the Head Chef at all times.

I first met Vince and his longtime companion Lonnie Carver  when I was working on an article for the Spring 2006 issue of Airstream Life (see excerpt).  I was looking for people who had escaped Hurricane Katrina in their Airstreams, and they had a doozy of a story to tell.  Vince suffered the loss of his home, and after the hurricane, he and Lonnie moved into an Airstream Class A motorhome on the Irish Bayou near New Orleans, and lived there ever since.

vince-s-spring-2006.jpgAt one point I described Vince as “the quintessential New Orleanian,” for his jovial attitude toward life, his ability to make friends almost instantly, and his amazing talent for cooking.   He liked that, and it stuck. Almost every time I saw him after that, he reminded me of the moniker I’d given him — and then he offered me something to eat.

At every rally, Vince and Lonnie were the center of the party.  There’d be a giant cast-iron double burner running day and night, heavy with stew pots and fry pans, and no matter when you came by there would be something terrific to eat.  There was usually a glass of something near Vince’s right hand, and his beloved pug dog would be nearby as well. I learned to seek out Vince at every rally, because I knew I’d be welcomed with a giant bear hug and the smile of someone who is genuinely glad to see you.

It seems to sell him short by remembering Vince primarily for his cooking, because he was such a generous and amiable person.  But his cooking was so wonderful and honest that it was an emblem of his entire personality. Eating Vince’s food was like being invited to Paul Prudhomme’s home kitchen.  It was spectacular.  Although professionally he was a photographer, I (and doubtless many others) told him he should really start a second career.  But he cooked just for fun.  Vince knew how to speak to people through his cooking.  Every dish was great warm hug, a taste of comfort from The Big Easy, and a reminder that even amidst strife life is worth living.

Certainly Vince lived well.  He and Lonnie were on the road often, attending rallies all over the southeast with their massive outdoor kitchen setup.  They were always happy when I saw them, just enjoying life and their many friends.  Two years ago we met Vince, Lonnie, and a group of their friends who go by the names “Dixie Camperz” in Ft Morgan, AL.  They literally spent day and night cooking and feeding the group in what seemed at time to just be one continuous meal.   No matter what was going on, there was Vince in the background, sometimes wearing chef’s whites and a coonskin cap, cooking, cooking, cooking.

I did something foolish at that event.  Despite the incredible meals we were being served, I let slip that I was surprised there hadn’t been any crawfish boil.  After all, I reasoned, we’re in the south and that’s a traditional meal — and I hadn’t had it in years.  Vince said, “Oh, so you like crawfish eh?”  The next day $200 worth of crawfish arrived for a massive boil-up.

I was simultaneously flattered and mortified.  That was far too much money to spend on my whim, and neither Vince nor Lonnie would accept any contribution to the food budget.  But oh, was it good.  Emma had her first taste of crawfish there, and that night we were inducted into the Dixie Camperz in a hilarious ceremony featuring nose glasses.  I still have the embroidered t-shirt in my collection of momentos from our years on the road.

 

In the Airstream community, Vince is also remembered for his love of vintage trailers.  He owned a 1959 Airstream Tradewind that he had lovingly restored and polished.  He also owned various other Airstreams, and had started a new restoration project recently.  But as much as he polished his ’59, the trailer was always outshined by his extraordinary personality.  Vince Saltaformaggio was one of those rare ambassadors of Airstreaming who exemplify exactly why we go to rallies, why we travel, why it’s so much fun.  We need more guys like him, but they aren’t made every day.  To say Vince will be missed is barely enough.

Vincent Charles Saltaformaggio

Comments

  1. says

    Wow, really sorry to hear that news! We met Vince at the Texas Vintage Airstream Rally in 2008 and caught up with him again at this year’s vintage rally. He was a bundle of laughs, encouraging us to get our Airstream fixed up and showing me his handiwork in his own vintage rig. He definitely shared the Airstream spirit and every time we saw him he had a crowd around swapping stories and smiling. I missed out on his famous meals and now we’ll all be missing out on a great fellow Airstreamer.

  2. Sal D'Antoni says

    Hi, Rich, I met you with Vinny in Fort Morgan, I had the 40ft MONACO, between you and Vinny, I was 1 of his best friends. Thank’s for the great editorial, Vinny would be proud. We will miss him alot.

  3. Hugh Ridenour says

    As one of Vinnie’s Emeril-ettes who “assisted” Vinnie often, he will be sorely missed by us all. Airstreaming will never mean the same thing to us that it has meant in the past. We moved up from Orlando three years ago, and Vinnie was one of the first people we met that we felt comfortable with. We knew we were always welcome with Vinnie and Lonnie. God Bless you, Lonnie! We’ll miss him too. Hugh and Euna

  4. says

    PS- I just clicked on your “massive boil-up” link above and read: “….. I encourage everyone else to find their freedom and enjoy that too — whatever it is. Don’t wait for ‘someday’.”

    Vince definitely didn’t “wait for someday” to live life to the absolute fullest. And his sudden passing should be a big reminder to all of us to take your advice.

  5. Pahaska says

    Vinny cooked for over 200 folks at our Vintage Rally in February, and then he and Lonnie hosted the Mardi Gras Rally, which we will never forget. When they made Vinny, they broke the mold. He loved everyone and his aim in life seemed to be to make everyone that he met happy (and full of good Cajun food).

  6. Barry says

    Vince and I never met, yet I feel I knew him from your story. He left us much too young, and my prayers go out to Lonnie and his family.

    A loving descriptive post to a man who enjoyed life, never meeting a stranger. Well done.

  7. says

    Rich, I didn’t know Vince, but you brought his bigger-than-life persona to life on the page. Sorry I missed his meals—good cooking (and good friends eating) is deep communication, no words necessary. I’m sorry for your loss.

  8. Brett says

    I had the pleasure of being introduced to Vince by Rich at the International in Perry in 2007. He was a warm and welcoming guy, he seemed to know everyone, but I think some folks were friends he just had not met yet. His cooking was amazing and I still have fond memories f his Gator etouffee. I for one regret that I did not get to spend more time with him. His loss affects so many lives that I know of, not just mine. He will be missed.

  9. Anne & Ronnie Mollere says

    In May’05 Ronnie & I walked into a Region 6 Special Events Rally in Canton, MS without knowing a soul – without ever having heard of WBCCI – or its Vintage Airstream Unit – and without having ever taken our “brand new to us” ’62 Globetrotter out of our driveway. There we were introduced to Vince (with a last name I couldn’t say much less spell) & Lonnie and our lives changed forever. As “Charter” members of the Dixie Camperz, we came to know what the words “Southern Hospitality” really meant, we learned about loyality, life-long friendship, & unabandoned FUN & LAUGHTER (and REAL Cajun/Italian cooking). Vince loved Lonnie 1st, foremost, above all & forever. Then came Cayenne (his pug), Little Red (his vintage airstream), The Dixie Camperz (his good buds), WBCCI (of which he would someday have become President), friends, good cooking, great adventures, and great stories! And, how he loved a great story – both the telling & listening! Many hours I’ve sat around the circle listening to Vince’s stories & laughing until tears were streaming down everyone’s faces! Well, today the tears are still streaming but not from the joy of being with Vince but in our missing his presence with us. Airsteaming lost a giant & right now, I can’t see it ever being the same as it was before. With that said, there’s grace too because I know Vince is doing just fine — he’s up there right now cooking for all the angels & heavenly hosts & giving them sou chef instruction (he wasn’t a good “prep chef” -that duty was delegated to Lonnie & his earthly Sou Chef team!) And most of all, he’s loving all the attention we are giving him & the wonderful things being said. He knows now he’ll be remembered & loved — especially Tuesday when, after his services, all the Dixie Camperz will put on their noses & toast Vinnie, our beloved Supreme PooBah & founder — with, of course, a glass of frozen concoction from the Marguarata !

    Thanks, Vince, for being our friend……..

    Anne, Ronnie & The Dixie Tramper

  10. Sandy & Bill (JJ) Johnjulio says

    Sandy & I enjoyed a wonderful weekend with Lonnie & Vince on our way to the Cajun Caravan. Vince went overboard to make us feel like family. We had lunch with their unit in Greater New Orleans Unit on Saturday and then Vince cooked us a Gourmet Dinner. Helen and Charles Bourgeois joined us for dinner. Vince had caught a couple of flounder that week and had saved them for us.
    He stuffed them with crawfish and crab, cooked them in a black iron pot and served jambalya on the side.

    He was a very loving person and shared his love of life with so many of us. We need to pray for Lonnie and the family.

    We were looking forward to having Vince & Lonnie at our Region 4 Rally. Vince was also planning on coming to the Antelope Rally in Medicine Bow, Wyoming in September..
    He said “JJ I won’t shoot one but I will help cook it”

    We will all miss our dear friend so much. May he be at peace with God.

  11. says

    Vince was larger than life! He always met you with a bear hug and a big smile. We met Vince at the Vintage Rally in Montgomery where he had a pot of jumbalaya and a margarita machine going strong. We knew then that we had met a “real cajun”! He and Lonnie shared their love of New Orleans, cajun cooking, and the South at the Mardi Gras Rally which was a huge success. We know Vince is leading the parade in Heaven, making sure “Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler”, and the crawfish is cooked just right!

    God and His Angels welcome one of their favorite Airstreamers home….