Oct 5, 200912:00 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Errol Laborde Visits a Really Big Omelette
Here’s a tip: The next time a general comes riding through your town with an army marching behind him, do not fix him an omelette. That, according to legend, is what the people of Bessières, France, learned when Napoleon Bonaparte showed up on his way to another conquest. The little general was hungry, so a local innkeeper served him a concoction in which he mixed several eggs together, threw in some spices and called it an omelette. Napoleon liked what he ate, so much that he ordered all the town’s people to gather their eggs and prepare an omelette large enough to, literally, feed an army.
Although the people of Bessières were apparently left eggless, there was some benefit from the experience. The idea of fixing omelettes in a large quantity became a local tradition, magnanimously modified to feed the poor on Easter. Those who did the cooking even formed their own society known as the Confrerie.
Napoleon tried to conquer the world but failed. The Confrerie, on the other hand, has—sort of. In 1984 three residents of Abbeville, La., attended the annual omelette event in Bessières and were knighted as chevaliers. They were given official permission to bring the art of making a really big omelette to the new world with the American epicenter being Abbeville.
Now on the first full weekend of each November people gather at Magdalen Square, where there are booths, vendors, music and general partying. On that Sunday afternoon there is parade in which the local members of the Confrerie d’Abbeville, all dressed as chefs, march around the square accompanied by the official TABASCO sauce drill team. After their march, they gather at their work area near the square where the logs are lit beneath a specially made frying pan practically big enough to be seen from the moon (on a really clear day with a really good telescope).
As a crowd gathers to watch the spectacle, the chefs crack open 5,000 eggs to be stirred into in the pre-greased pan. With the precision of ballerinas going through their steps, the chefs toss in spices, cheese and even crawfish while fellow colleagues stir. Back at the work stations, other chefs slice the bread to be served with the omelette.
This event was not the only creative moment in Abbeville on that day last year. At a Mass in the nearby St. Mary Magdalen church, the local choir was so good that it could have been the house chorus for St. Patrick’s in New York or St. Peter’s in Rome. Even if you don’t like eggs, visit Abbeville for the quaintness of the town and the magnificent church choir.
Back at the frying pan, watching over the proceedings was a delegation from Bessières and representatives from Granby, Quebec, where an omelette event is also held. There are now eight ordained places on the omelette tour, including villages in Belgium and Argentina.
Last year there was also a certified omelette-making superstar at the gathering, San Franciscan Howard Helmer, who holds the Guinness World Record of “world’s fastest omelette maker.” It is hard not to be in awe of a man who once cooked 427 omelettes in 30 minutes and who, on another occasion, flipped an omelette 30 times in 34 seconds. Why? He’s been on TV with Regis and with Oprah — and now he’s a star in Abbeville. That should be reason enough. Also, maybe he just likes omelettes.
So apparently did the hundreds of people who stood in line for a serving. As the sun began its slide west of Magdalen Square, once more the Confrerie had fed the hungry and the curious. It was a noble effort, though one wonders how the world would be different, and chickens more rested, had Napoleon been allergic to eggs.
Abbeville's Giant Omelette Celebration will be held Nov. 7-8, 2009. The omelette procession begins at 1:30 Sunday afternoon at Magdalen Square. Cooking begins at 2 p.m. For more information, please go to www.giantomelette.org . Due to work being done in St. Mary Magdalen Church, the 2009 Omelette Mass (9 a.m. Sunday) will be held at the Vermilion Catholic High School Auditorium.
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Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e- mail at email@example.com or (504) 895-2266.
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