Holidays tend to be a time of traditions and celebrations. New Orleans, a destination known for its celebration, honors the holidays with réveillon
dinners. A 19th century tradition once found in many homes is now celebrated in many of New Orleans’ fine dining establishments. In fact, during the month of December, visitors can enjoy portions of the dinner. Some restaurants not only do that, but also serve full réveillon
dinners on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve like Restaurant R’evolution
, featuring modern Creole cuisine by chefs John Folse
and Rick Tramonto
, located in the French Quarter
dinner is our way of celebrating with the best, and showing guests that we appreciate them and care about them,” says Folse.
“It is our way of welcoming them in our ‘home” and thanking them.
Meaning “the awakening” in French, réveillon
dinners were celebrated in regional areas in France. Since Louisiana has such a strong French history, it makes sense the city would also keep this tradition.
“The dinner celebrates the joy of living, and it’s a way to remember our roots,” he says. “There is no better way to do that than with a réveillon
The dinners were planned around the eve of major holidays, specifically Christmas and New Year, he says. The feasts were a great, lavish celebration for families and close guests to enjoy after fasting for eight hours and then attending midnight mass.
“The feasts were to ‘awake’ the senses and get ready for Christmas morning or New Year’s morning. They would go until four or five o’ clock in the morning.”
And the table tended to show off Louisiana’s rich culinary culture.
“While they might have differently slightly, the table would include a wild game of some sort, either venison or wild goose that was filled with apples and oranges. A modest home might present a baked mallard, prepared in the very best way.” comments Folse. “There would also be a great oyster dish as well as other seafood plates, all representing what was sourced from the Mississippi River, swamps and salt lakes.”
Others items included cornbread dressing, oyster dressing, rice dishes and more.
“The table would go on and on, and that’s not even including the sweets, liqueurs and cordials.”
According to Folse, red and white anisette liqueurs were a staple at the dinner as were ratafia liqueurs (fruit-infused liqueurs Creoles were known for.)
Of course the affluent households with their elaborate the tables had a wider variation of spirits. One popular one was a cordial known as a cherry bounce, made with black cherries, whiskey and sugar.
When it came to sweets, Folse says they tended to reflect the talents of the cook. However, the centerpiece typically was floatings islands, which was poached meringue floating on crème anglaise. Common items included a fruitcake, which he says was nothing like the fruitcakes of today. These fruitcakes would have a variety of candied fruits like pineapples, apples and raisins and nuts; of course the more variety of fruits and nuts indicated the wealth of the household.
“Coffee went into the flavor of the fruitcake as well as brandy or a similar-type of liqueur. The fruitcake would be baked in November, and every week an ounce of brandy would be poured on it to spike it. This would continue until the dinner when the cake would be cut.”
Other sweet offerings were pralines, fudge, cookies as well as four-layer coconut cake.
“The coconut cake was considered to be the ultimate gift for guests,” says Folse. “For someone to take time to get the coconut, shave it and prepare the cake, It showed how much the household about them.”
“No matter how affluent or modest a household was, the réveillon
dinner reflected the best they could put out for their family and friends,” says Folse.
photo: P&J Sizzling Oysters, Restaurant R'evolution, courtesy of Restaurant R'evolution