The old adage goes, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette.”
But Sunday, it took exactly 5,030 eggs, 50 pounds of onions, 75 bell peppers, 4 gallons of onion tops, 2 gallons of parsley, 6½ gallons of milk, 52 pounds of butter and 15 pounds of crawfish tails.
Add to that three boxes of salt, two boxes of black pepper and 1½ gallons of cooking oil, and you’ve got yourself an omelette — or more accurately, something that resembles scrambled eggs.
Welcome to Abbeville’s Giant Omelette Celebration.
Now in its 30th year, the festival began as a way to bring classic French heritage to Louisiana.
An old legend claims that Napoleon Bonaparte was marching with his army through the French countryside when he stopped at an inn in the town of Bessières in southern France. There, he was served an omelette so delicious, it’s said, he ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the area to feed his army.
Every Easter since then, the city continued the tradition of making a giant omelette and serving it to the poor.
In 1984, the festival was brought to Abbeville, joining a global confrerie, or fraternity, of cities continuing the tradition, including Fréjus, France; Dumbéa, New Caledonia; Granby, Quebec; Malmedy, Belgium; and Pigue, Argentina.
Louisiana’s celebration takes place during the first weekend in November every year.
There are local arts and crafts, food vendors, bands that play, an antique car show and an official Mass to begin the day Sunday.
But the main draw — what really sets this festival apart from the countless other Louisiana festivals — is the omelette.
Early Sunday morning, the maître du feu, or master of fire, begins tending to the pile of wood and sand that will cook the eggs.
Later in the day, chevaliers, or chefs, from Louisiana and other cities in the confrerie parade to the area near the fire where they’ll be preparing the omelette.
Dressed in traditional all-white chefs’ garb, the chevaliers begin cracking the eggs by hand, dumping the yolks into large, metal, 5-gallon buckets and adding in salt, pepper and milk.
While the chevaliers are preparing the eggs, a forklift picks the skillet up and sets it on top of the fire, where chefs then add butter and begin sautéeing the onions, bell peppers and crawfish tails.
When everything is ready, the chevaliers add the eggs to the 12-foot skillet and begin walking counterclockwise around the giant pan, using giant wooden paddles to stir and scrape the bottom of the skillet as the eggs cook.
The whole process takes about an hour, and when the eggs are done, the forklift carries the skillet off the fire and chevaliers begin serving bowls to the crowd.
The spectacle and atmosphere of the festival, Erath residents Anthony Hebert and Julius “Spider” Morvant agreed, is unique.
“There’s definitely nothing else in the world like it,” Hebert said. “They’ll try across the country and across the world to copycat, but they’ll never get it right.”
Sunday was Morvant’s first trip to the festival, and he said he ran into people he hadn’t seen in years.
“It’s like a gathering of friends and family,” Morvant said.
“It’s what they call true Cajun family,” Hebert added.
And indeed, this festival runs in the blood of many participants of Sunday’s celebration, especially chevalier Sheila Schexnaider, who has been participating for years.
She said she first attended the celebration about 15 years ago as the date of a man who was being inducted into the ranks of chevalier.
Now a participating chevalier herself, the event has become a family tradition for her.
She’s gone on to marry her date from all those years ago, and their son is a junior chevalier, among the ranks of those responsible for making a smaller, children’s omelette.
When asked what the festival meant to her, she responded simply, “Tradition.”
And as for the most important part — the taste — Hebert said it was good.
“It’s actually really good this year; it actually came out a little better than last year’s,” he said.