Bite of the Arts is the premier fundraising event for CJFCI held annually in November. Each year a different theme is chosen, highlighting Louisiana culture or one of the seven nations that formed Cajun/Creole Cuisine as we know today. Festivities begin with a cocktail reception and hors d’oeuvre, followed by a three-course dinner prepared by well-trained culinary students under the direction of a distinguished visiting chef. Special guest chefs and other key people in the food industry are also in attendance. All dishes are centered around the theme for that chosen year.
On March 23rd, Chef John Folse & Company hosted the inaugural “Dinner of the Century” event with proceeds benefitting construction of the new culinary arts building at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. More than 300 guests and dignitaries were present including Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, La. Sen. Norby Chabert and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The dinner, held at The Royal Sonesta Hotel, featured an elaborate menu reminiscent of a meal prepared at the White House, prior to the British invasion during the War of 1812. Featured delicacies ranged from escargot and oysters to venison, duck and lamb. The star-spangled roster of guest chefs, all of whom were past Lafcadio Hearn Hall of Honor awardees or Distinguished Visiting Chefs at the Institute, included Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace, Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen’s Restaurant, Chris Lusk of Restaurant R’evolution, Susan Spicer of Bayona, Brian Landry of Borgne (the John Besh Restaurant Group), Tenney Flynn of GW Fins, Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, Slade and Allison Rushing of MiLa, Michael Gulotta of MoPho and David Harris of Chef John Folse & Company. Students from the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University participated in the event as ambassadors, servers and kitchen assistants demonstrating their culinary and service skills.
“This event marks the first of a series of historical dinners that will be recreated annually as a fundraiser for The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute,” said Chef John Folse. “As the namesake of the Institute, I want not only to help raise the much needed funds to complete the construction of our first Institute building, but also to serve as liaison between the Institute, industry and the community at large.” In 2013, the Institute broke ground on a new, state-of-the-art facility that will span 33,000 square feet. The new building is scheduled to open for Spring 2015 classes.
With the help of President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison (re-enactors from Montpelier in Virginia) as well as harpsichordist Dr. Carol Britt and 13-year-old musician James Linden Hogg, Folse took the attendees on a historical journey through 1814 that began with the story of the British burning the White House in August. The historic dinner also commemorated the 200th Anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s poem, “Defense of Fort McHenry,” that was later set to music and became the National Anthem now known as the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
At the inaugural “Dinner of the Century,” Nicholls State University and Delgado Community College signed a memorandum of understanding making it easier for culinary students to cross-enroll at Nicholls and Delgado, as well as to seamlessly transfer between both schools. The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute is the only public university in Louisiana to offer a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Culinary Arts. Since its inception in 1996, nearly 600 degrees have been awarded.
Patrick Lafcadio Hearn was born in 1850 on the Ionian Island of Leucadia. At the age of 19, Hearn was sent to the United States in hopes that he could support himself. In November 1877, Hearn traveled to New Orleans aboard the steamboat, Thompson Dean, to write articles about Louisiana politics for publication in the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper. Upon spending time in New Orleans (and developing a passion for Creole food), he enjoyed it so much that he decided to move from Cincinnati to New Orleans and call it home. Believing there was money to be made in the restaurant business, Hearn lived in low-end apartments, cooked his own meals and hoarded the $100 needed for the initial investment.
Hearn started publishing cookbooks with his first one, “Gombo Zhebes,” in 1885. Hearn’s good friend and physician, Dr. Rudolph Matas and Matas’ wife, provided much of the background material Hearn needed for the book. Mrs. Matas was extremely helpful in providing recipes for Hearn’s “La Cuisine Creole,” also published in 1885. Other culinary books by Hearn include “Creole Cook Book: A Literary and Culinary Adventure” and Creole Sketches.”
Hearn was obviously enamored with the Creole city of New Orleans and found it imperative to document the history of the culture and cuisine of New Orleans and its evolution for future generations. Thus, he documented the fabulous Creole recipes of the day, and we at CJFCI at Nicholls State University follow the tradition by assuming his role in the 21st century.