“Dinner with Degas” at Degas House
A Featured Chef’s Interpretation of Herne’s Creole Cookbook
Degas House on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans has been pleased to host, in its grand parlors, "Dinner with Degas". This is a unique event held for the purpose of recreating for guests the Creole hospitality of Impressionist Artist, Edgar Degas, when he lived with his New Orleans family, the Mussons, in the 1870’s. Degas House endeavors to provide guests with the ambiance of a dining experience in a historical museum home, adorned with reproductions of paintings and sculptures of Edgar Degas. Degas House is the only home or studio in the world open to the public, making this event an entirely exclusive experience. In 1872 and 1873, Degas enjoyed with his family some of the same types of Creole foods prepared at this dinner. Today’s guests enjoy a true Creole experience with absinthe, food, music and conversation, all surrounded by the art and spirit of Edgar Degas.
At each dinner, a noted featured New Orleans chef recreates a multi-course meal drawn from his culinary experience with recipes taken from Lafcadio Hearn's “Creole Cookbook”, published in 1885, to provide guests with a meal similar to one that Edgar Degas might have enjoyed in the 1880’s. The chef is encouraged to use ingredients native to Louisiana, such as alligator, seafood, duck and locally grown and available foods. Lafcadio Hearn’s recipes, when read, are a delight and bring about much laughter and hilarity from the guests.
This cookbook was the first Creole cookbook ever written and features a collection of Creole foods of the 1870’s and ‘80’s from leading New Orleans chefs and Creole housewives during that time. The meal is served with family-style seating at a long table, just as the family enjoyed their meals in the 1870’s. At the time Edgar Degas lived in the home, approximately 18 family members ate meals together in these same rooms.
Before each course is served, the original recipe for that particular course is read from the cookbook. The chef then explains his interpretation of the particular menu item, how he prepared it, where the ingredients came from, and what changes he made to adapt it to a menu item for today. This presentation continues for all seven courses.
A very popular drink enjoyed by Edgar Degas and his friends was the absinthe cocktail. One of Degas’ paintings features the absinthe cocktail, “L’Absinthe”, which is now in the permanent collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. For each “Dinner with Degas” a local mixologist creates an original absinthe cocktail for guests to enjoy as they enter.
The recipes from Lafcadio Hearn’s cookbook are fascinating. These photographs show some of the courses served during the multi-course meals. (The name of the recipe below from Lafcadio Hearn’s cookbooks is in quotes, followed by the ingredients that the chef used in his interpretation of that particular food. The items here were prepared by Chef David Barbeau of New Orleans.)
"Sweet Corn Pudding"
Sungold tomato herb salad, roasted pepper coulis
”Oysters Stewed with Champagne”
Resurrection Garden borage puree and blossoms
”Gombos, Okra Filé”
Smoked chicken, purple hull pea
Peach Compote, Louisiana Blueberries
Music was an important part of life in the 1800’s. A reproduction of Edgar Degas’ “The Song Rehearsal” hangs in the front parlor of Degas House and shows the Musson family in that same parlor singing and playing the piano. During Dinner with Degas, a pianist entertains guests throughout the meal on the grand piano, playing songs which were popular at that time.
Pianist, Harry Mayronne
"The Song Rehearsal" - by Edgar Degas
Pianist, Armand St. Martin; singer, Elizabeth Nicol
Allen Toussaint, a musician, composer, record producer and an influential figure in New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, attended one of the dinners. Mr. Toussaint was presented the National Medal of Arts award by President Obama in July of 2013. He kindly surprised Degas House guests by playing one of his songs on the grand piano.
The founder/chevalier of Degas House welcomes guests during the meal and gives a brief history of the home.
One of Edgar Degas’ great-grandnieces gives a presentation about the life of Edgar Degas when he lived in New Orleans.
What is fascinating about the food prepared at Dinner with Degas is that no food item will ever be prepared in exactly the same way again; no menu item from Lafcadio Hearn’s Cook Book will ever be interpreted in the same way as each chef prepares it. The Dinner with Degas event, because it takes place in the home where Edgar Degas lived with his relatives, and because it is the only home or studio in the world open to the public, can never be exactly replicated. Truly, this is a unique event which could only be done at Degas House in New Orleans.
Photographs by Pamela Reed Photography