As a first-time guest in The Big Easy, I knew there’d be plenty of culture for me to soak in, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d walk away with more culinary knowledge than when I first set foot in the city. For all the drinking that goes on in New Orleans — and there’s a lot, especially considering that I visited over Halloween weekend — it was the food that stole my heart (the frozen daiquiris on every corner placed second).
**SIDE NOTE: If you are looking for the best frozen drink in town, look no further than the multiple ingredient concoctions dreamed up by the brilliant, internationally (and locally) recognized Abigail Gullo, the head bartender at Compère Lapin, an elegant boutique hotel located just across the street from the Riverside Hilton.**
After arriving late on a Friday night, and heading over to Voodoo music festival, the ostensible reason for my trip, I woke up Saturday to find myself at a private cooking school called Langlois Nola where I would be learning how to make crepes. Though my mom makes a mean crepe, I always thought mastering the airy thinness of the dish was well beyond my grasp. Wasn’t it super complicated?
“We look for two very scientific terms: Poof and flutter,” Chef Mel joked with a laugh as I nervously eyed her crepe batter.
Though the cooking school is flexible to work out of almost any location, our group got the chance to work in the founder Chef Amy’s house, which is a historic old restored home nestled in the heart of the French Quarter, just off the main course of rowdy, alcohol-soaked Bourbon Street. The whole point of the place is to prove that cooking good food doesn’t have to feel intimidating.
The second step was an equally straightforward two-part command: tilt and swirl. Easy enough. As evidenced above, my turn at spooning the batter into a small omelette pan, waiting for it to poof and flutter, and flipping it all the way over was successful. Fixed up with some more help from Mel, the finished crepe was full of mirepoix, andouille sausage and topped with a bit of unexpected crunch — a Funyun. Though crepes originated as part of haughty French cuisine, the Creole and Cajun adaptions of the delicate pancake allow for quirky additions like this, and so does Langlois itself.
After working in Chef Mel’s gorgeous, fully-equipped kitchen, our little travel group headed out to the patio to dine outside. Chef Mel explained that her theory is food cooks itself, and we are merely the caretakers of the product. This attitude removes the idea that certain types of food are inaccessible to the rookie cook, and affirms even the efforts of even the most amateur chef.
Cooking class may have finished with completed crepes, but the eating in NOLA is never through. At Atchafalaya, a restaurant uptown known for its DIY Bloody Mary bar, I found fried chicken, gravy and biscuits (with an optional egg that) that had me texting friends at home. None of the New York or LA knockoffs I often frequent could hold a candle to the place.
Later in the night, after consuming quite a few of the city’s well-known frozen cocktails, a stop into the burger joint Port Of Call proved equally impressive. Instead of fries, every burger came standard with a loaded baked potato, a hearty reminder of the down home culture I’d stepped into.
Getting on the plane the next morning, hungover from a late night at the nearby casino, I felt like I’d experienced the city to the fullest extent. Tucked into my purse was a folder from Langlois that contained Chef Mel’s crepe recipe. This weekend, I plan to try watching for a poof and flutter on my own, although I might hold off on the frozen cocktail portion. I need to recover, and some things are best left to the confines of Bourbon Street.
1 cup milk — whole
1 egg — large
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 cup flour, all-purpose — sifted
1/2 stick butter, unsalted — cut in 1/4″ cubes (for Crepe flipping)
Prepare the crepes ahead of time or use prepared frozen crepes. In a blender combine milk, egg, salt, oil, and flour. Blend until smooth. The mixture should be similar to thick cream. Add more milk if you want it lighter. Let rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour or overnight.
Melt a teaspoon of butter in a small non-stick sauté pan. Place the pan over medium high heat. If the pan is hot enough, the batter will make a hissing noise when poured into the skillet. Use a 1 ounce ladle to pour the batter for the first crepe into the center of the pan. Immediately lift the pan from the heat, tilt and swirl. Coat the base of the pan with a thin layer of the batter. Return the pan to heat, lower to medium after you cook a few crepes or they will cook to quickly and burn.
After a minute or two, the crepe will turn brown at the edges and loosen completely from the pan. Gently loosen by tilting your pan down and up and flip it over. The crepe will slide to the edge of the pan itself. Cook the other side until any moisture disappears, just a few seconds. We call this “kissing the pan.” Transfer the crepe to a lightly oiled plate or parchment paper. Cover with a paper towel and cool to room temperature. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours or freeze for future use.