For the fifth year running, GW Fins is set to offer its take on the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Vigilia). The seven-course meal with Italian wine pairings features a bevy of local seafood in a variety of traditional and contemporary preparations. We caught up with Chef de Cuisine Mike Nelson to talk about the return of this local favorite.
What inspired you to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes at GW Fins?
I didn’t come from an Italian family, but I was aware of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. I never had the opportunity to cook it, though. Being here in Louisiana with so many varieties of great seafood available, and working here at GW Fins, where the tradition lent itself so well to our concept, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate this feast. I’ve always done the wine dinners here, so I wanted to put together a holiday dinner, and it’s turned into a tradition.
What are some of the highlights of the feast for you?
The Feast of the Seven Fishes changes a bit year to year, but I like to get a bit creative with the first few courses. The meal starts off with an assortment of crudos, prepared simply with sea salt and olive oil. Usually, I’ll move on to a calamari or octopus dish, then a soup. I do a cioppino, which is my favorite course. It’s not a true Italian seafood stew—it was invented in San Francisco—but it feels authentic. I’ve adapted the dish to fit what we have near us in the Gulf. It’s a fantastic soup, but it’s got one ingredient that’s not from the Gulf—baccalà, Italian salted cod—and it gives the dish an amazing background flavor.
How does the meal progress from there?
For the first three courses, everyone gets their own plate paired with a glass of wine, but the last four courses are served family-style. By then everybody around the table has gotten to know each other and had a drink or two, so they’ve started loosening up. At that point, we come in with big platters of food and big serving utensils, and leave the bottles of wine on the table. It turns into a gregarious family atmosphere with everybody talking and having a good time. It ends up feeling like an Italian family dinner.
How has the Feast changed over the years?
We’ve embraced the dinner’s intimate, family-style atmosphere. I love sending out giant piles of linguine and clam sauce. People serve each other and pass the dishes around. The Feast of the Fishes is so much fun, and so different from how we usually do things at GW Fins.
808 Bienville St.
New Orleans, LA 70112
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