In New Orleans, there’s no day quite like Mardi Gras. An annual celebration that gives locals the day off (yep, for real!), you can expect to encounter over-the-top, colorful floats, tons of purple, green, and gold beads, arguably the best jazz in the world, and all the jambalaya you can stomach. But behind the scenes of the crazy, booze-inspired parties on the street and saxophone stampedes are the chefs who work tirelessly to make sure everyone is not only having the best time they’ve ever had, but that they’re well fed, too. We asked a few of them to give us a sneak peek into their lives by sharing their craziest Mardi Gras moment.
1. A Stolen Shopping Cart and a Keg
“My craziest Mardi Gras moment was when I first moved to New Orleans from Alabama. My new crazy friends convinced me that the best way to enjoy the parades was with a portable, unlimited supply of beer, so we spent every day pushing a keg around town in a stolen shopping cart. I was in shock because we would pass by many police officers, yet we never got in trouble. The cops would just simply say, ‘Laissez les bon temps rouler!’ [Let the good times roll!] It was at that moment, I knew I loved New Orleans.”
—Jacob Cureton, Executive Chef at Annunciation restaurant, a modern creole & Southern inspired eatery
2. A Successful Food Swap
“Two years ago when I was running Bouligny Tavern, John [Harris, the chef/owner of Lilette and Bouligny Tavern,] and I decided to make a sandwich booth because our location on Magazine Street was, at the time, on many Mardi Gras routes. Bouligny has a small little iron gate in front and we put our makeshift booth just inside. We made a lot of great, hot sandwiches, perfect for people who had been imbibing all day and they sold like hot cakes.
“I happened to have some close friends in town that year and they had brought along several of their small children. On one particular day during parades, I became frustrated because my friends' kids just couldn't seem to get any of the fun throws from the parade, like plastic spears, stuffed animals, and the larger, more prized beads. After seeing the kids' frustration come close to meltdown mode, I had an idea.
“I saw the members of the krewe drinking on the floats and figured they were probably pretty hungry. So I decided to use food as a bargaining chip. I would approach the floats with a hot, steaming sandwich and say, 'Hey buddy, you want a roast beef sandwich?' And, of course, they would reply, ‘'Hell, yeah!' So I would say, 'OK, great. Can I get some of those giant beads and some stuffed animals for the kids?’ And so we reached a deal every time and my friends ended up with more Mardi Gras loot than they ever really wanted. But obviously, the kids had a hoot."
—Michael Isolani, Executive Chef of Trinity, which opened its doors in the French Quarter in May 2016
3. The Time He Witnessed a Robbery
“My most memorable Mardi Gras moment happened recently when I saw a bike being stolen in the French Quarter. I was inside and was told that there was a man outside trying to unlock a bike from a post. I made it outside just in time to see a man—painted head-to-toe in black paint while also wearing black 12-foot angel wings and massive horns—sawing off the bike lock before riding off into the [French] Quarter. It was one of the more interesting calls I've made to the police, as I simultaneously tried to explain how they could identify the thief by his vast wingspan, while also convincing them that I wasn't hallucinating."
—Alex Harrell, Chef-Owner of Angeline
4. The Day He Met His Wife
"Years ago, I was working at a downtown restaurant that was located on the parade route. We had a parade-viewing balcony set up on St. Charles Avenue, so we were open on Mardi Gras day. On this day we served simple, traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras food. Think red beans and rice, jambalaya, fried chicken, with burgers and hot dogs to boot.
“I was getting out of work in the mid-afternoon, when a group of friends arrived at the restaurant. Let me just say, they were feeling no pain. We were going to walk to the French Quarter together. They stopped in for a bite and I noticed that one person, who I did not know, was dressed as Charlie Brown. The past year Charles Schultz had passed, so this was a tribute to him. The person in the Charlie Brown costume, I found out, was a woman. She had a creepy bald wig on and the classic yellow shirt with the zigzag pattern.
As a kid, I loved Peanuts, especially Charlie Brown. Damn that Lucy and her football! I had to meet this woman. We began talking at the restaurant and continued our conversation on the walk to the Quarter. I was enchanted with this Charlie Brown. Long story short: we are married with two kids."
—Chip Flanagan, Executive Chef, Ralph's on the Park
5. Many Bedazzled High Heels
“My wife Jennifer made a large sign that read, ‘Sucré loves Muses,’ and I held it during the entire Krewe of Muses parade (begrudgingly at first). At the end of the parade, I had a haul of nine Muses shoes. If you’re not familiar with this crazed tradition, these heels are coveted in New Orleans. It’s rare to even receive ONE during the parade, not to mention NINE bedazzled high heels.”
—Tariq Hanna, Executive Chef at Salon Restaurant by Sucré
6. The Moment He Proposed
“For many of us fortunate enough to be born and raised in New Orleans, Carnival is not simply a raucous annual festival, it is also inexorably bound with our own identities. The memories we have of Mardi Gras are some of the most treasured. One of my favorites happened in the late '90s. I am standing next to my girlfriend, Jennifer, at the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen Streets in the shadow of Cafe Brasil.
"As is my tradition, by this time I am outfitted in my mother's burgundy (a favorite family color, apparently) floppy hat complete with small plume, a tight fitting low-cut sweater of a hundred horizontal stripes (also my mother’s), and black spandex tights. It's Mardi Gras. You have to rock the tights, right?
"Jennifer is sporting a thrift store find of a velour blouse of roses upon a diamond pattern, jeans, and Dr. Martens. So, there we are amongst a swirl of boas and body paint, and sequins and exposed flesh, amidst a cacophony of stoned drummers and drunken trumpeters. Or, something like that. At this point, I remove a pair of large gold plastic beads from around my neck (oops, floppy hat falls to the ground), offer them to Jennifer, and ask her to marry me.”
—Anthony Scanio, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril’s Delmonico
7. The Plunger Ring Toss
“I was riding in the Krewe of Tucks with a plunger on top of my head when a game of ring toss turned into bead toss. Pretty soon parade goers and other riders joined in and I ended the parade with lots of bruises. It was a Mardi Gras I’ll always remember, but I still swore to never wear a moving target, or plunger on my head, again.”
—Alex Ventura, Executive Chef of Dat Dog
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