March 6th, 2008

Swedish Chef

Crawfish Pie "World Tour"

Here's the latest mayhem from my kitchen @ The Delachaise. This is the press release I wrote telling the news that we're simply gonna have too much fun re-inventing crawfish pies.

Crawfish Pie "World Tour" at The Delachaise

The Delachaise celebrates crawfish season with a most unusual event this Spring, 2008. Chef Chris DeBarr presents a globetrotting experience for the next seven weeks, showcasing Louisiana "mudbugs" as if they were on a "world tour" of crawfish pies.

"The idea," DeBarr says, " is to take our crawfish on a road trip to other cultures and find the ways we could imagine making crawfish pies in other lands." The result will be a seven-week playoff, featuring one new crawfish pie per week, with the ultimate winner featured during Jazzfest on the nightly Delachaise menu.

The new pies will debut on Friday nights, with prices from $8-$13, running for the rest of the week. The roster of pies is listed below with their starting dates and the country of origin for each.

Curried Crawfish, Potato, and Peas Samosas w/ Tamarind Chutney (India) Friday, March 7

Harissa Spiced Eggplant, Preserved Lemon, and Crawfish Phyllo Pies (Morocco) Friday, March 14

Steamed Bun with Crawfish, Chinese Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms (China) Friday, March 21

Pan-Fried Crawfish, Sauerkraut, and Bacon Pierogi (Poland)
Friday March 28

Crawfish and Black Bean Pupusas with Salsa Verde (Honduras and throughout Central America) Friday, April 4

Fried Crawfish & Boudin Arancini (Sicily, Italy) Fri., April 11

Crawfish Krachipuri with Feta and Herbs (Republic of Georgia)
Friday, April 18

"We'll be making all the doughs, except for the phyllo, by hand," states Chef Chris, "and we want to respect the original street snack cultures of each pie, yet show how simple it could be to add Louisiana crawfish to the mix." DeBarr, who is an avid hoops fan, wanted to add the playoff aspect to the event because it's a food version of March Madness, featuring crawfish, at The Delachaise. "I also wanted to honor the memory of Chef Jamie Shannon, who was my chef at Commander's Palace. He always had us make a crawfish pie appetizer at the restaurant for Jazzfest, but the pies subtly changed every year. So I thought it'd be good to do something wild and unexpected in his honor, with the prize as a slot on our menu during Jazzfest."

so that's the official PR. We're getting ready to rock the samosas this Friday and get the playoff started. There are few things more fun than testing yourself with a challenge, and I look at this event as a good chance for me to develop some time for baking skills in my little kitchen. I have always enjoyed baking, and furtively have done a bit of it at The Delachaise. People still talk about the goose confit & quince phyllo tarts we did exactly a year ago, where I peeled off the goose leg skin to turn 'em into cracklins, then crushed the cracklins with walnuts between the layers of phyllo. I've done other stuff, a few desserts here and there, but baking is time consuming! We also have only one oven, so that is limiting; and we don't run much prep time because our shifts are so long working in a bar that we can catch up our normal mise-en-place as the night wears on. All those factors combined have limited my capacity to bake.

For me, the hidden joy of this crawfish pie madness is to try to establish a little more time for baking, trying to develop a good habit. I am a little worried that the demand of curiosity could swamp us with this special; in other words, everybody will have to buy one and I'll be selling 20 a night -- which for our kitchen might be a struggle if it goes on every day thru each pie for 7 long weeks.

For instance, I had to remove Louisiana Risotto from the menu last year because that array of dishes sold too well. I know that sounds ridiculous, but a good menu sells across the board, almost with a Marxist zeal -- to each hunger a dish to satisfy its needs. Once a single dish dominates your menu, it distorts your prep time because you have to concentrate on re-prepping the same dish alla da time, AND sales of the other dishes suffer so you risk losing food because suddenly a once fairly popular dish ain't selling.

The pies are not designed to be super filling; instead, they are elevated snacky street food, so folks will hopefully also want to order other menu items, too. The risotto problem was that it was a large (by Delachaise portions) dish and filled ya up. The pies will hopefully serve to whet the appetite; drive business on a weekly frequency; and cause some discussion and debate as the 7 weeks progress. We'll find out just how it breaks down as it happens.

My early prognosis is that the arancini will be most popular, but that the pierogi will be close. Obviously, the Georgian krachipuri are the underdogs because nobody's heard of 'em, but I'm putting them last because I know they'll be quite good -- an unusual soda wrapper that will be unique, kinda like a cross of puff pastry and empanada dough, and the herbs -- herbs are huge in the Republic of Georgia to an extent similar to Vietnamese cuisine but more Western herbs used -- and feta ought to be nice and refreshing to the tastebuds as Spring heats up by then. Gonna use some of John Folse's really good Bulgarian feta he has made in Louisiana by his awesome Bulgarian cheesemaking "ringers!"

Finally, I simply want to emphasize that I put the source of inspiration for this squarely on Jamie Shannon, my wonderful chef at Commander's Palace. It's been a very long time since I worked there, and a shockingly long time since Jamie's death from cancer, but I often think of his mischievious devotion to having a blast. Even though cooking at a huge kitchen like Commander's could've been a factory-type production, he never let it go that way. He emphasized the seasons, creativity, and exploring rich traditions of Creole fare with an eye toward the future legacy of where Creole food could go. As I mentioned in the press release, this is just my way of tipping my hat to Jamie for instilling in me a go-for-broke attitude that cooking is meant to be a joy, even on the biggest stage. The idea of crawfish pie at Jazzfest seems like a great tradition to keep going, so I'll do my part. Maybe if all of Jamie's colleagues scattered across New Orleans and everywhere put their own version of crawfish pie on their menus for Jazzfest, it'd be a nice tribute to his unforgettable legacy in a subtle, but meaningful way.