My New Orleans childhood dining experiences in the 1970s involved fried seafood from SidMar's, Creole Italian from Mandina's and chicken cordon bleu from Delmonico.
While all of this sounds glorious now, for a kid constantly on the prowl for new taste sensations this was torture. After school visits for ice cream had me seeking licorice ice cream with bits of bubble gum. When I was 7, I learned of chicken Kiev and whined until a book with a recipe for the concoction materialized. While other kids watched The Brady Bunch and Speed Racer I assumed the lotus position on the floor in front of the console television to absorb Julia Child on PBS.
The 1980 opening of Benihana of Tokyo in the French Quarter gave me my first experience at the communal hibachi cooking table, my first taste of seaweed, my first bite of raw fish. My patient father (still carrying a grudge with the Japanese for bombing Pearl Harbor) sat mystified, probably grossed out, and wandering who's offspring he had mistakenly carried home from the maternity ward at Touro Infirmary 12 years before.
Now, 50, I have written hundreds of articles and columns on Louisiana culinary culture, a few cookbooks, and, through my job with the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, have taught hundreds people who want to learn to cook our signature dishes.
I also continue to celebrate and explore the culinary culture of others through my role as menu planner for the Feed Justice Team (FJT) at First Unitarian Universality Church (2903 Jefferson Ave., 504.866.9010, firstuuno.org). The cornerstone of the Unitarian philosophy is to welcome anyone seeking community regardless of their religious beliefs(or lack thereof), sexual orientation, political affiliation, or whatever other differences people manufacture to keep us apart from each other. We practice radical hospitality, welcoming whomever shows up. As part of this practice, FJT hosts community dinners on the third Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. We strive to make our menus fresh, economical, seasonal, interesting, and relevant. On Tuesday (March 19)we will host a non-denominational dinner celebration of St. Joseph's Day with a menu of marinated beans with ricotta salata; stone fruit with shaved fennel and aleppo pepper vinaigrette; torta pasqualina (savory tart of Swiss chard, Italian cheeses, and eggs); Creole red gravy with angel hair pasta and sautéed mushrooms; and garlic bread. The suggested donation for dinner is $5-$20 to support the work of FJT but no one is turned away due to lack of funds. Our dinners are becoming increasingly popular so RSVPs are appreciated (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also in recognition of St. Joseph's Day, on Saturday (March 16) the Southern Food & Beverage Museum will host New Orleans a musician, band leader, and event producer David Roe and nuns from the organization of the Sisters of Henriette Delille as they demonstrate the assembly of a St. Joseph's Day Altar. Roe will explain the meanings and history behind the annual practice of building the altars and discuss and share the cookie and bread recipes used in its assembly. The group will distribute bagged cookies, the St. Joseph's prayer card, fava beans and bread in exchange for donations to St. Augustine Church.
The program begins at 1 p.m. in the Rouses Culinary Innovation Center by Jenn-Air (609 Oretha C. Haley Blvd., 504.267.7490, southernfood.org). Samples are first come, first served. Participation is free with museum admission.
Also on Saturday, the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade is returning to its historic route after years of re-routes due to road construction. The Irish Channel Marching Club will step off from Magazine and Felicity streets at noon with floats bearing riders tossing – in addition to beads and whatnot – cabbages, potatoes, and carrots bringing up the rear. The group will head up Magazine to Louisiana Avenue where it will take a right heading toward St. Charles Avenue where it will take another right to head back downtown to Jackson Avenue for yet another right to end at Annunciation Street.
While New Orleans' African-American Mardi Gras Indians mask, parade, and perform throughout the year, with the exception of Mardi Gras Day the most significant days for the tribes are springtime Super Sundays when they don their dazzling, hand-made feather and bead suits for public gatherings. Each year on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph's Day (this year March 17) the Uptown tribes gather at noon at AL Davis Park and parade through Central City. The parade starts at Washington Ave. & LaSalle St., moves on to Simon Bolivar Ave., turns left onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., turns left on Claiborne Ave., turns left again on Washington Avenue., and returns to A.L. Davis Park for a festival to include two stages and more than 50 food and craft vendors. The festival is free and open to all.