King Cakes in the COVID Era
I suspect that this is going to be a good year for king cake sales, BUT there is also going to be a major crisis over the allocation of responsibility: In other words, who gets the baby now?
To begin with, because so many typical manners of cultural celebration are outlawed this year, people are still going want to do something anyway and whatever it is king cakes will be a natural, easy to get, colorful, flavorful addition that gives any activity some credibility as a carnival event. So, king cake sales should do well. That’s the good news,
Yet there is the other issue. There will be a decline in office parties because there is a steep decline in people working in offices. The Mardi Gras season started last Tuesday, Jan. 6. Usually, by now, I will have been exposed to enough king cakes to fill a nursery with the babies, but not this year. So far, and I am not hinting or anything, there have been no offers. No king cakes have crossed our trestle; there is no partially picked at king cake in the office kitchen with the limb of a baby conspicuously sticking out. Worse yet, there is no longer an office kitchen. So, if we want our king cakes and to eat them too, we have to get invited to someone’s experimental Carnival activity. So far, that hasn’t happened yet either.
(A couple of years ago an employee wrote a well-intended but firm message to the staff complaining about people who obliviously poke at the king cake with a knife hoping to avoid the baby. Such practices, I believe, are banned by the Geneva Convention and the Treaty of Ghent. People should do as our employee suggested and take the responsibility for getting the baby. Buying the next king cake if you get the baby should be considered to be a civic responsibility.)
New Orleans’ history now tends to be referenced within one of two eras; that which began in 1718 with the legal creation of the city and that which began in September 2005 as the recovery from Hurricane Katrina began. (Now we are heading for a third demarcation, the post-COVID era, which we hope begins no later than early 2021.)
King cakes were already a big sales item before Katrina. I maintain that the recovery made them even more popular because:
- There’s a new fascination with New Orleans.
- There is a new generation of young entrepreneurs who have moved to the city and who will create more offshoots to the king cake.
- Some restaurants, now facing new business challenges, are expanding their inventory by creating their own craft king cakes. (So you have an idea for a bacon and banana king cake? Sorry, that’s taken already.)
- Web-based ordering and quick delivery will give the king cake a global reach.
Then there are the Vietnamese who mastered colonial French baking techniques to create a Carnival confection that rivals the native brands.
Of course the central challenge of king cake consumption remains timeless, to discover or to avoid the baby. As time passes there will be more innovations to come from the post-COVID era, but please, there are some traditions that should be kept real, and never virtual.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.