Eatocracy has been in New Orleans this week getting ready for the second edition of our Secret Supper, and it's finally dinner time in the Big Easy.
Democratic strategist and Louisiana native James Carville, along with his wife, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin, have graciously welcomed us into their New Orleans home for this evening's soiree.
But tonight, it's more than just eating. Just as we have been all week, guests will be discussing the taste that defines the city - from oysters Rockefeller to your mother's gumbo - and how that taste helped a city cope in the aftermath of two disasters.
We’ve got a great line-up of guests including the “Queen of Creole Cuisine” Leah Chase, Bryan Batt of "Mad Men," local radio host and culinary activist Poppy Tooker, Captain Lance Nacio of Anna Marie Seafood, CNN Hero Derrick Tabb and many more.
But before the Sazerac cocktails and crawfish pies start flowing, a brief welcome message from the man in the kitchen tonight - cookbook author, restaurateur and James Beard Award-winning chef, John Besh. Besh has been a long-time champion of preserving the ingredients and foodways of his home - both before and after Hurricane Katrina. Besh and his team even went so far as to use his flagship restaurant, August, as a home base to feed Hurricane Katrina relief workers in the aftermath of the flood - and since then, he has continued to make it his mission to protect the city's unique culinary heritage.
The table is all set. As guests arrive, the likes of duck liver cannoli, venison-jalapeño poppers and crawfish pies are being passed around. Meanwhile, Carville is on the couch talking the state of Louisiana seafood with shrimper Lance Nacio and local farmer Chris Meredith.
A bird's-eye-view of the meal's preparation.
Venison-jalapeño popper straight out of the deep fryer. Along with seafood, New Orleans' cuisine heavily incorporates game meat like venison, as well as duck, rabbit and quail.
Blue crab waits for its trip into the gumbo pot. Chef Besh made a conscious choice of using locally caught seafood like this and lemon fish to raise awareness that, despite the BP oil spill, Gulf seafood is safe to eat.
Mary Matalin asks guests to raise a toast to the "First Lady of Food," Leah Chase. Chase is the chef of the legendary restaurant Dooky Chase, an influential gathering spot during the Civil Rights Movement and post-Katrina.
Chef Besh plates the Gulf lemon fish crudo with Becnel’s local blood oranges and a ghost pepper caviar vinaigrette.
Besh serves fried oysters from P & J - the nation's oldest oyster wholesaler. As Carville put it, "It's a good day when you eat fried oysters ... twice."
James Carville listens in as the table discuss the merits of a good roux - and how essential the making of it is to a good gumbo.
"Mad Men" actor and local interior designer Bryan Batt talks with Mary Matalin about the New Orleans' tradition of absinthe.
Chef Besh serves up the Carville family gumbo recipe. "There's nothing worse than cold gumbo," Carville says as he urges folks to dive right in. As for whose gumbo is the best, the table agrees: it's always your momma's.
Next course, a Mangalitsa pork belly “hot pot.” As Besh explained, the term "fusion" is thrown about but New Orleans' food is exactly that - a melting pot of African, French, Spanish, Native American, German, Italian and Cajun influences. He considers this his culinary tribute to the Vietnamese community in New Orleans.
For the final savory course, it's roasted wild venison loin, McEwen and Sons grits, market greens and Ponchatoula strawberries. Ponchatoula, Louisiana is the “Strawberry Capital of the World”. As for the grits - one guest unashamedly asked for a Ziploc bag of it to take home.
Let them eat cake! Last course is a deconstructed version of the classic Southern hummingbird cake, with braised pineapple, pecans and cream cheese ice cream. Is that a hum of delight we hear?
As the guests finish up their dessert and bid adieu, we hope you'll continue the conversation in the comments - there's a whole lot of New Orleans to chew on.
Follow @eatocracy and #CNNsupper on Twitter to catch up on even more action.
Dang. Do any of these people eat real normal simple food?
As a south Louisiana native, one thing that I find amiss in this dinner presentation/story is the singular focus on and abundance of meat. Sure, we have always eaten seafood, wild game and meats, however, not all south 'Louisianais' were born to life of privilege. Thus, while we ate meat(s) it was more like modern day France, Switzerland, Belgium et al – it was small portions and just a few times per week at best; not the gluttonous seven course carnivore extravaganza.
Our ancestors that settled in the areas surrounding New Orleans in the very late 1600s and early 1700s were master farmers. My grandfather had a two acre vegetable and fruit farm in which he supplied all of our family's produce. It was a nice story, but would have been apropos to include what many of us here consider to be the soul of our table – red beans, white beans, butter (lima) beans, haricots verts, eggplant, creole tomato dishes, macque choux, mirliton, etc and let a few of these become the star and portray a more accurate and comprehensive view of our cuisine.
New Orleans is amazing, my daughter lives there now in school, and we visit five items a year at least!
John Besh has been a big supporter of the community and is well respected. This meal he prepared looks incredible!!! But I have to be honest, we ate at August last fall for the first time. And it was probably one of the worst meals I've eaten in the city. HUGE disappointment! Just awful, from the flabby pork belly to the clammy cold trout. And we are always researching our restaurants, this one came highly recommended! We will give it another try this spring, maybe the chef had an off night.... hope it is better.
Thanks for sharing this remarkable get together and for being in New Orleans sharing the LOVE!!
I had such a wonderful time at the dinner. The stories that were told, the food that was served, the people I met...all amazing. Thanks to CNN and Kat for making it happen!
The table settin is beautiful . . . Mary, can't you get James to dress up???
LOL, she actually said that to him! He was in his Mardi Gras striped shirt.
I am rarely jealous of anyone. Today, I am jealous.
A perfect evening thanks to the delicious food, the incredible company and the generosity of the hosts! The Carville's dining room is surely one of the most beautiful in New Orleans. The city owes CNN's Eatocracy and Kat Kinsman a huge debt of gratitude for spotlighting our beloved NOLA in such flattering light. Cheers to all involved!
A night I will never forget!!!! Had a blast!
The best food i ever had in New Orleans was Mexican. I was in the Navy stationed on the West Bank in the early 70's. A Mexican restaurant- Tortilla Flats opened near the Steet car named Desire – near the French Market.
We were lucky enough to go there before the Underground Gourmet review was published. It seemed to be owned and run by hippies but the food was great- a friend and I thought it was so good we ordered another of the same
that night. The restaurant has been gone for many years but I still remember that meal- great Sangria too.
I forgot to mention what we had- Chiles Rellenos- a common meal- but it was so good.
This was the best dinner I ever had, I was so stuffed but could not stop eating until I eat every course that was brought out. The people and the stories that were told were so amazing. Thanks CNN for bringing all this together.
Lance, you were a huge part of why that dinner was special. It was an honor to have you there.
Ditto! I loved talking to you about what you do and especially loved looking at those great pics from the oil spill!
If Republicans and Democrats could learn to be one tenth as good at working together as James and Mary are our nation would make one hell of a good turn.
I've eaten Besh food many times at Harrah's and La Provence . . . never disappointed. I even have his cookbook.
As for the Rep. and Dem. Carvilles, I agree with her, even if he is from LA.
Talk to me later,
Mary and James have been my favorite political "adversaries" for years now. Their appearances with Russert were always political entertainment at its best and seeing them here at Eatocracy is nothing short of cool. We've seen them in New Orleans recently for both the bad (BP oil spill) and the good (The Saints came marching home), but always in good form together regardless of the circumstances.
As user "Catie" mentioned, "Politicians can learn a lot about getting along from this couple !!" Amen, Catie. Couldn't have said it better.
Looks like somebody posted the wrong video of Besh – definitely not the final cut! How embarrassing...
It was a quick, fun thing. Sometimes it's more fun when it's not shiny & perfect.
BEST DINNER I HAVE EVER BEEN TO!!!!!!
Politicians can learn a lot about getting along from this couple !!
Ah, to be a fly on the wall at that gathering. Looks lovely.
Dang mail man must have lost my invite!
Thanks for coming to the rescue. Your more appreciated than YOU know. :)
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