Born in south Louisiana on the feast of the Epiphany, Chef Nathan Richard of Cavan in New Orleans has Mardi Gras in his blood. The former Thibodaux King of Carnival and active krewe member has been celebrating in his hometown of Thibodaux since birth, and over the years has developed a unique appreciation for the food, traditions, and pageantry of the season. The collection of dishes below make for a uniquely Cajun carnival celebration.
A descendent of the Krewe of Ambrosia’s founders, Nathan has fond memories of Carnival while growing up. When he wasn’t riding in the parade, his father would shut down the family-owned store on the parade route, hire a band, and cook for anyone who showed up.
“Thibodaux Mardi Gras is very family oriented,” Nathan says. “Everyone’s out in the streets dancing, partying, boiling crawfish. We’d pass the hat to help pay for everything, and if we couldn’t make ends meet, that didn’t matter. It was all about celebrating with the community and having a good time.”
As an adult, he finds the little details of Mardi Gras have become more noticeable, sometimes paralleling aspects of his life as a chef.
“I appreciate the art of what goes into creating these floats. I think it’s unbelievable that they spend a year putting all of their blood and sweat into a float and it’s used for one day and then completely torn down and rebuilt from scratch. It’s kind of like cooking, you put everything you have into a plate, and in five minutes it’s gone.”
Of course, in his line of work, it’s the culinary traditions that are closest to his heart. Nathan’s Cajun Mardi Gras menu is inspired by a lifetime of Carnival experiences, and each dish has meaning.
An avid hunter and part-time instructor at the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Nathan teaches a butchering class where he demonstrates how to break down an entire alligator. The inventive chef doesn’t waste a single part, creating playful preparations like “wings” from the knees and a Frito Pie from ground alligator meat.
On working with alligator he offers this advice: “Alligator can be really tough, so low and slow is my motto. You just have to take your time with it, marinate it, and braise it, and the meat becomes surprisingly tender.”
The king cake, too, is a tradition that Nathan holds dear, and for more than one reason.
“Being born January 6th, I never had a regular birthday cake; it was always king cake,” Nathan says.
Though his family typically bought king cakes from local bakeries when he was growing up, as a chef Nathan adds flavor-forward, seasonal twists like satsuma and Creole Cream Cheese to the traditional Carnival treat.
A Carnival Celebration in Thibodaux
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