by Laura Claverie
More than 200 years ago, wealthy families living in the French Quarter of New Orleans celebrated Christmas Eve as their ancestors from France and Canada did before them. Families gathered in splendid old homes just after Midnight Mass for a sumptuous meal that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.
Today, Réveillon meals are still hosted in many New Orleans households and restaurants throughout the holiday season. New Orleans native Sarah Landrum read about Réveillon dinners in Quebec, Canada, and knowing they were also an old New Orleans tradition, she decided to make them part of her family’s holiday celebration.
Sarah began the process by researching the foods served by 19th-century New Orleans families and adapting them for the 21st-century palate. She cooks as much as she can in advance of the big day. When she needs more space to work, she moves the base of her operations to her parents’ spacious kitchen, not far from her cozy Uptown apartment.
Preparing the elaborate meal for her 20 guests takes organization. Sarah lists every course and ingredient on a spreadsheet. As guests are added to the list, the amount of ingredients automatically changes on the spreadsheet.
Such detailed planning makes the execution of the food easier. “In my job, I have to be very analytical and organized. But when I cook, I get to use the creative side of my brain. It’s a good balance,” she says. True to the spirit of the classic Réveillon dinner, Sarah’s guests arrive before midnight. “My parents weren’t too sure about starting a party that late, but now they really enjoy it.”
Sarah and her mother Martha set the Landrum’s formal dining room buffet-style, using Martha’s best china, silver, and crystal. The art-filled home is decorated in its holiday finest, with candles and color making
a festive statement.
Guests feast on Sarah’s version of iconic Réveillon fare, such as Chicken and Sausage Pot Pie (adapted from an 1800s creation), Broiled Oysters with Spinach and Andouille, Chicken Liver Mousse, and her signature drink, the Jingle Bell Sipper. The party breaks up just before the sun peaks over the city’s horizon. She also prepares enough for a reprise to serve the following day when her grandparents, Betty and Stanley McDermott, celebrate with the family.
“I love the foods of New Orleans and reviving the old customs of my city. My friends think these Réveillon dinners are cool and appreciate the effort I put into them,” she says. “As my grandfather and mother taught me, good food is the best way to bring friends together, especially during the holidays.”