Every year since 2006, David Greco has journeyed to New Orleans to participate in the Italian American St. Joseph Society’s annual celebration. For Greco, chef and owner of several Italian delis in New York, it’s a way to observe his heritage.
“My father comes from the bottom of the boot — he lives for wine, women and mozzarella,” said Greco, whose accent sounds at home in the Bronx or Chalmette. “My mother from Naples cares about the five Fs: family, food, friends, faith forever. That’s what my life revolves around.”
At noon on Friday, March 9, Greco treats locals to pasta con le sarde at the World’s Largest Pasta Dish celebration, held by the IASJS at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. Together with Hilton chefs, he’ll mix 500 pounds of ingredients — pasta, sardines, mudrica (seasoned breadcrumbs), fresh parsley and golden raisins — in an 8-foot bowl.
“About 300 people come in and get a free plate of pasta con le sarde, a glass of wine, and that’s how we kick off the weekend,” said Peter Gilberti, IASJS president.
The next day at 6 p.m., more than 500 society members don tuxedos or white gowns when they take to the French Quarter streets for the 48th annual St. Joseph’s Day Parade. Featuring 15 floats, 22 gondolas, 100 maids, marching bands, dance troupes and sound trucks, the parade is an homage to St. Joseph, patron saint of many Sicilians.
“The celebration of the feast of St. Joseph dates back to the early 1800s, when there was a drought on the island of Sicily, and the farmers were suffering,” Gilberti said. “They prayed to St. Joseph for rain, and the rains came. The possibility of a famine was halted by the overwhelming growth of the fava bean.”
The blessed fava bean, as well as fig cookies, pizzelles, artichokes, olive salad, traditional breads, wine, mudrica and other Italian delicacies appear on three-tiered altars to St. Joseph on his feast day. These altars can be found in homes, Catholic schools and churches citywide — as well as on the parade’s lead float.
“This is New Orleans, and people like to celebrate in parade fashion,” Gilberti said. “So we take the St. Joseph altar to the streets in the form of a parade.”
More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the parade, which Greco describes as “a party in the street — and the Italians do it at a different level.”
Marchers hand out silk flowers, fava beans and red, white and green beads “in exchange for hugs, handshakes and kisses,” Gilberti said.
The parade culminates in the IASJS gala, where debutantes are presented, Uptown Funk plays and the tarantella dance reigns. Greco says he’s proud to be involved with the society, describing its members as hardworking, passionate and family oriented.
“I’m very honored to be down here. I have to tell you, it’s like having an extended Italian family,” Greco said. “I love to cook, hang out and feed people. In New Orleans, I fit right in.”
The World's Largest Pasta Dish Celebration takes place at 11:30 a.m. Friday, March 9 on the Hilton New Orleans Riverside’s (2 Poydras St.) second floor. The event is free and open to the public.
The 48th annual St. Joseph’s Day Parade rolls at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 10 at Canal and Chartres streets in the French Quarter.
The Italian American St. Joseph Society gala takes place from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday, March 10 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. Tickets start at $45. Call Joe Cannizzaro at (985) 807-4112 to purchase tickets.