ABBEVILLE — A 12-foot skillet sat Sunday in the middle of Abbeville’s State Street in anticipation of the 31st annual 5,000-egg Giant Omelette Celebration.
Since 1984, when three members of the Abbeville Chamber of Commerce attended the Easter Omelette Festival in Bessieres, France, the city has hosted the annual event.
“It’s about bringing us closer to that French heritage,” said Whitney Atchetee, the Grand Maître of the 2015 event. “It’s about seeing these visitors from all across the world and forming lifelong friendships through this giant omelette.”
Seven cities in five countries — Bessieres, France; Frejus, France; Dumbea, New Caledonia; Granby, Quebec, Canada; Malmedy, Belgium; and Pigue, Argentina — participate in the omelette festivities each year.
The giant omelette, prepared in the middle of the street in a 12-foot skillet over a makeshift fire pit, consists of 50 pounds of onions, 75 bell peppers, six gallons of milk, 15 pounds of Louisiana crawfish tails and 5,031 eggs — 5,000 plus one for each year of the festival’s existence.
The fire preparation began at 8 a.m. Sunday when sand was placed on the roadway and the wood was gathered. The fire was lit at 11 a.m. and the cooking began at 1:30 p.m. Once completed, the omelette was given away to all in attendance.
Atchetee said they were fortunate to dodge the rainy weather of the past few days.
“At first we thought we would make a giant egg drop soup this year,” Atchetee joked. “But the skies cleared up for us today, so we’ll just continue our tradition of making a giant omelette.”
According to the festival website, the history of the omelette dates back to when Napoleon and his army were traveling through the south of France near the town of Bessieres. Napoleon feasted on an omelette prepared by a local innkeeper and ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village and prepare a huge omelette for his army the next day.
The omelette became a tradition to feed the poor of the village at Easter. In 1984, Emery “Bichon” Toups, Tracy Kays, and Sheri Meaux were knighted the first of Abbeville’s Chevaliers, or chefs. Each year, representatives from each of the seven cities are knighted as chevaliers into Abbeville’s Confrerie, or fraternity.
Laurie Hulin, of Abbeville, was knighted for the 2015 celebration. She said she’s been a member of the organization for four years and was delighted at her chance to become a chevalier.
“The board gets together to select two members to be knighted,” Hulin said. “We take an oath to pass the omelette tradition to our children and to uphold the French heritage and culture. It’s a really great, family-oriented festival that promotes our culture and local artists. I think it is a vital part of our community.”
There is also a children’s omelette, which is cooked alongside the giant omelette and made with 600 eggs. Atchetee said it is important to pass the omelette tradition to the next generation.
“This will continue as we give this tradition to our children,” he said. “So that even when I am gone, the omelette will be here.”