Chefs can be leaders in many ways, from the kitchens they direct to the causes they champion. This week, you’ll see two leading parades as well.
When the Krewe of Muses rolls Uptown on Thursday (Feb. 12), chef Sue Zemanick will be in riding high atop the krewe’s giant red high heel shoe float as this year’s honorary muse. Chef of Gautreau’s Restaurant (and the recently-closed Ivy) and a 2014 James Beard Award winner, she’s the first culinary professional selected for the role, which the Krewe of Muses created to honor accomplished women in the local community each year.
On Saturday (Feb. 14), another chef will lead a different parade, one that is much smaller but also specifically focused on paying tribute to New Orleans cuisine and also sharing the flavor of our city in a unique way.
The Krewe of Lafcadio takes to the French Quarter with chef Michael Regua of Antoine’s Restaurant as its king and Sterling Constant, a waiter now in his 47th year at Antoine’s, as the parade’s duke. They’ll ride mule-drawn mini floats and lead a pair of brass bands and 80 or so costumed marching parade members.
“In our view, Mardi Gras is about celebrating what’s great about this city and the food is a major part of that,” said John Kelly, the local computer scientist who formed the Krewe of Lafcadio in 2012 and serves as its captain. “You celebrate the food by celebrating the chefs.”
Some marchers don food-themed costumes, from the vegetables of the Creole “trinity” to Zapp’s potato chip wrappers, and others are organized in groups like the sous chef brigade or Hostess Cupcake Brigade.
As a marching parade, this one is light on beads but heavy on interaction with onlookers. Its signature throw is a wooden kitchen spoon, and along the route, you’ll hear people cheering and chanting for spoons like they were Zulu coconuts.
The parade is named for Lafcadio Hearn, a writer who documented New Orleans culture in the 19th century and published a seminal Creole cookbook in 1885. Hearn was also a satirist, and so in this spirit other krewe members create costume themes sending up the more dysfunctional aspects of Louisiana culture outside the kitchen.
The krewe also supports a program from the Navy League, a civilian advocacy group, that sends chefs from New Orleans restaurants to prepare meals for the crews aboard the USS Louisiana and USS New Orleans, two warships based near Seattle and in San Diego, respectively.
“It’s about sharing that culture with people who go into harms way on our behalf,” said Kelly, who serves on the Navy League’s board.
The Krewe of Lafcadio begins at 2 p.m. on Feb. 14 at Decatur and Dumaine streets by the French Market, and follows a route across the French Quarter, heading up Royal Street and back down Bourbon Street to disband back at the starting point around 4 p.m.
Chefs John Besh and Susan Spicer reigned as the inaugural king and queen in 2012. Tenney Flynn of GW Fins was king in 2013, with Megan Forman of Gracious Bakery+ Café as duchess.
Last year’s king was Alon Shaya of Domenica (and now Pizza Domenica and the forthcoming restaurant Shaya).
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.