For New Orleans chefs, Christmas is a time to honor old customs that have migrated from homes to restaurants.
“The Réveillon has evolved,” says Chef John Besh, whose upcoming book My New Orleans will include a chapter on the tradition, and whose Restaurant August is among local eateries that prepare prix-fixe menus throughout December. “This is a chance to really showcase our culture. It gives people like me, who normally do very inventive things, a chance to return to age-old Creole staples.”
Like his counterpart Tory McPhail at Commander’s Palace, Besh looks to antique cookbooks and old restaurant menus for direction. The result is a seven-course menu of elaborate comfort food, including the likes of shellfish étouffée or daube beef stew―“slow-cooked, complex, [with] lots of love,” he says―and desserts such as a white cake layered with bananas Foster and frosted with Creole cream cheese (Louisiana’s unique clabbered cream, similar to sour cream). For his part, McPhail’s prix-fixe menu combines his zeal for locally sourced ingredients with years of tradition in a robust feast likely to feature a spicy gumbo, glazed quail, and bread pudding soufflé with whiskey sauce.