Festive Fete

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"Celebrate the holidays NOLA style"

“Crab cakes and hushpuppies can be made in advance, portioned and frozen. Then you can pan fry them up and they brown up really nicely.” Chef Dominic Raso

Surprise your friends by throwing a cocktail party with a twist this holiday season. Enough of the ho-hum usual cheese balls and stuffed olives; try serving Cajun and Creole favourites from the Big Easy to excite your guests.

Chef Dominic Raso has been cooking NOLA-style for 20 years. Having started his tenure in the kitchen here in London at the much-loved Latin Quarter in 1975, Raso moved west and enjoyed a successful career there until returning to London to open the Bourbon Street Cajun and Creole Kitchen and Bar two years ago.

He loves the openness of the kitchen culture in New Orleans, and chefs there respond by sharing recipes with him. Raso travels to the Crescent City often to enjoy some professional development time at that city’s famous eateries. He’s especially enamored of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s and Emeril Lagasse’s takes on good eating.

When setting the menu for Bourbon Street Cajun and Creole Kitchen and Bar, Raso followed the latter’s pattern. “Chefs like Lagasse are moving back to traditional Cajun-style food, like going back to using rice in jambalaya.” He explains that many New Orleans chefs reinvent traditional southern favourites and put their own stamp on it, like substituting pasta for rice in jambalaya and gumbo.

Fortunately, advises Raso, many of these traditional NOLA favourites can be made ahead so hosts have more time to enjoy their guests. “Crab cakes and hushpuppies can be made in advance, portioned and frozen. Then you can pan fry them up and they brown up really nicely,” he says.

Gumbo and jambalaya can not only be made in advance but this also lets their flavours meld. For a cocktail party, try serving them in tea or coffee cups with demitasse spoons to allow your guests to keep circulating as they savour.

To top off the evening with something sweet, a New Orleans favourite is Bananas Foster; try serving small portions in martini glasses.

Adult libations are also an important part of celebrating New Orleans style, and who better than to advise on what to serve than two of NOLA’s finest.

Sommelier Patrick Van Hoorebeek, of Patrick’s Bar Vin located in the heart of the French Quarter, says that the spiciness of a dish dictates its wine pairing, so white wine often goes nicely with hotter dishes. However, he enjoys turning that theory on its ear.

“One time I paired crawfish (which is a very spicy southern dish) and slightly chilled Chianti and it was the talk of the town; no one could believe it and they loved it,” he explains.

Likewise, pairing iconic cocktails – like Sazerac, one of city’s most famous drinks – is elemental to any Big Easy feast, according to celebrated mixologist Cheryl Charming, of the Bourbon O Bar, located right on Bourbon Street and is the party district’s finest drinking establishment.

Charming has a couple of tips for hosts to smooth their evening: serve two cocktails that feature different spirits as their bases and are different styles (not both creamy or fruity) to ensure that there’s something that everyone can enjoy. Serve them punch-style so guests can serve themselves. Have the bar and food service areas set up in different areas of your home to ensure good flow to the party.

When it’s time to celebrate the holidays or bring in the New Year, do it New Orleans style and ‘laissez les bons temps rouler.’