Carnival food 101

The post below was from 2014 but is reposted for the kickoff today of Carnival 2016 in New Orleans. Our holiday season really begins today and runs through the first weekend of May when JazzFest ends.  It includes St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day in mid March so it is a ongoing parade route season! What that means is friends visiting, parties at various homes and listening to music and dancing and eating are on our schedule for the next few months. Don’t be fooled by the media’s focus on Bourbon Street or on bead-throwers: Carnival is a street celebration that allows citizens the chance to gather and offer satirical pokes at the powers that be. It even includes a demand by Rex on Mardi Gras Day that the city cease functions on its day:

“I do hereby ordain decree the following,” Rex says, “that during the great celebration all commercial endeavors be suspended. That the children of the realm be freed from their studies and be permitted to participate in the pageantry.”
And to the city’s political leaders, he adds:
“That the mayor and City Council cease and desist from governance.”

The mayor responds: “We will fulfill the will of the people and turn over the key to the city to you, so that tomorrow in New Orleans will be a day of abandon; Happy Mardi Gras.”

The Carnival season ends on Mardi Gras Day, February 9,  which is a very early end to Carnival this year.

We have officially begun the 2014 Carnival season in Louisiana. The season starts on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan 6th and runs through Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday,

Interestingly, January 6th is also the birthday of the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc who is honored in New Orleans with a startlingly gold statue and her own lovely parade today. That parade along with the Phunny Phorty Phellows parade held on the St. Charles streetcar line tonight are the first parades of our season. As you probably can tell, all of this is closely linked to the Catholic tradition deeply embedded in French Louisiana.

The link to the video shows how a commercial king cake is made, which is the cake we eat throughout the season. The tradition is explained well in the video, so I’ll just add that with the surge in local and artisanal foods, many more types of king cake are now available in the area. Whole wheat cakes, french-style Galette des Rois cakes and more can be found at markets, at stores and bakeries. Happy Carnival!

The best ones ( I think) are made of brioche and have a cinnamon flavor, but there are so many kinds to choose from these days

The best ones ( I think) are made of brioche and have a cinnamon flavor, but there are so many kinds to choose from these days

Yes that is a plastic baby in there- If you get that in your piece of cake, you buy the next.

Yes that is a plastic baby in there- If you get that in your piece of cake, you buy the next.

Galete des Rois

Galete des Rois

How a king cake is made

Dipping in to JazzFest

Sometimes being a consultant and researcher needs to be combined with more hands-on experience in actually making something or serving customers to remind me what market vendors or staff have to do and how I can help to find or create resources for them. When I feel that way, I take myself to a market or to a farm or an artist’s workshop or store to help. This last week, I was able to do just that and to experience the first weekend of the massive New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s 47th year, 45 of them held at the Fairgrounds in the Gentilly neighborhood. For just a little while, I became a dipper for La Divina Gelateria.

I first met gelato wizards Katrina and Carmelo when they applied to become vendors at the Uptown farmers market in 2006 or so. We knew that they weren’t likely to stay forever as vendors, but their locally sourced ingredients, business savvy and wide set of connections around New Orleans made them a good choice to become a short-term vendor, especially in those post-levee break times. See, many of our vendors had not returned yet but we did have thousands of repairing residents and first responders greedy for any sort of authenticity and regular activity flocking to our Tuesday market. We thought LDG’s energy would be helpful in those months, and it was.

They quickly moved from their umbrella spot to a few storefront locations around town, but remained regular shoppers at the markets and supporters of the organization, even selling our market t-shirts in their stores for a while. I follow them on social media and try to catch up with Katrina whenever possible, so when they let the universe know they were searching for volunteers to work their stand set up next to the Fais Do-Do stage, I emailed her. She wrote me back right away offering me a spot on the first weekend for 2.5 hours and the chance to attend the rest of the day for free (JF costs 80 bucks a day to just get in the door!) along with the use of their own locked port-a-let and tent area for crew members to hang out when not working (don’t laugh-people would pay large amounts of money to get those added items if they could.)


The festival has dozens and dozens of selections of the best food in town, some of which is only available during these 2 weekends.That is because even when some of the city’s classic restaurants close, they hold on to their spot out at the fairgrounds to continue to sell their items to appreciative audiences; it helps that the festival actually has a “no carnival food” policy to guide their choices and maintain the quality.


The yellow booths all over the map are the food booths

I well know how the festival food staff was instrumental in 2006 + in getting some of their hardest hit vendors back to the festival, doing what they could to help those struggling by finding them kitchens to work from and (rumor has it) even assisting with resources when possible. I heard about the encouraging calls from the festival staff that made a great deal of difference to many of those who lost their homes and businesses and were done without any expectation of a return by those vendors or to gain any publicity for their actions.

What everyone does know is that the presentation, food handling and prices are managed extremely well by the festival’s food staff and by the vendors who work from the extensive rules and suggestions of the festival staff. If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen my post last Saturday about the connections between the market and the festival:

…The relationship between JF and CCFM has a long history, starting with the excellent food handling experience that the Fest food staff shared with the market (which allowed the market to write one of the best risk management systems of sampling, temperature controls and product handling of any market that I have seen) and also included a few staff who worked at both the Fest and the markets, and a whole era of food demonstrations in the Grandstand area from market vendors back in the day. …

(I maintain a tattered hope in finding a funder interested in letting me uncover best practices of fairs and festivals to build the professional skills and organizational capacity of farmers markets in areas such as production, sponsorships and educational activities- if so, certainly this festival’s experience would be one of those selected.)

Anyone can see that being a food vendor at a festival that attracts 60,000* people per day on a slow day and double that on a big day and runs for 7 days over 2 weekends requires some planning, effort and some sleepless nights.

So LDG’s tent became my workplace for a little while last week. They offer 8 kinds of gelato under a double tent, close to the main walkway that meanders around the infield.


This is owner Carmelo on Day 1 at his tent, telling food writer, radio and tv host Poppy Tooker that the espresso machine was malfunctioning and the affogato was not ready to go yet. She was clearly horrified but gracious about the lack of espresso since she gladly came back the next morning.


Once I got in the tent, Katrina gave me a 2-minute tutorial on where to stow items, what each person would be doing and what was being offered that day.  The flavors were: Milk chocolate, butter pecan, cookies and cream, creme brulee, red cream soda, strawberry balsamic, azteca (spicy) chocolate, and salted caramel. She told me to pull 3 full scoops each time and how to know if it was to be in a cup or cone. She explained the precise actions that would happen for each order.

I was assigned as a dipper, standing next to the other (more experienced) dipper on a tiny platform (that I almost stepped off 2 or 3 times without noticing ) with my back to the cashiers but within earshot and sight of my expediter. The platform is necessary cuz the cooler is raised off the ground (per food storage guidelines),  allowing the machinery to work better on the grassy infield which also means water intake from flooding is less of an issue in case of rain (as happened on the first Sunday, delaying opening of the festival for 3.5 hours.**)


Owner Katrina working as a dipper when it got very busy during a shift changeover.

The other dipper did 60-70% of the orders as her cashier was nearer to the list of flavors and mine was sitting in a camp chair which made her hard to see when you walked up. However, she made up for it with a flair for customers and energetic calls to those standing out front and for orders ( “Come on up folks! Order here.” “AFFOGATOOO AzTECa please!”  “Twooooo milk chocolate cones please!” )

My expeditor was a young woman visiting New Orleans, there to be an intern for a season for local community initiatives. She was excited about the opportunity to get into JazzFest, able to help a local business and was a hard worker.

I did fine for the first 2 hours keeping up with my minimal orders without problem. Then, the crowds came. Interestingly, even though the gates open at 11 or 11:30 each day, thousands of attendees don’t arrive until well after 3 pm even though the stages shut down by 7:25 pm with no exceptions. The biggest names draw those who only come for their show and who don’t care to wander the grounds seeing what else is available at the 11 other stages and the dozens or so craft and demonstration areas. (I know- it makes locals crazy.)

So my last half hour the orders came fast and thick and still, for the most part I kept up. The other dipper had explained how to place a cup or cone as each order was called at the flavor asked for and then dipping each and handing to the expediter. All went well until a slew of affogato-style cups came which meant each time the expediter had to leave the area and walk across the tent to the espresso machine, waiting for the shot to be added, then to walk it back to the customer. As a result, I had to dip each regular cup or cone, step off my platform and hand it to the customer myself. It mostly went fine but I give my expeditor lots of credit for helping me catch up when she got back.

Other more experienced staff were also on hand to help,  watching levels of gelato, switching out them quickly between orders and cleaning the scoopers as needed in the 3-part set up for washing, rinsing and sanitizing.

Still, except for a few that I missed hearing and delayed in getting out for a minute or two, my expeditor and I  did fine and the good news is once that person gets their gelato in hand, all delay is forgiven.
When Katrina thanked me and let me go, I was grateful to have done the shift and even more grateful that I had not impaired them too badly on my initial run. I learned the complexity of a simple gelato cup and the teamwork it takes to make great food happen on a grassy area of a festival.

(Next week: I’ll be holding down the fort at my pal’s St. Charles Avenue shop while she vends at the Contemporary Crafts section of JazzFest.)unnamed.jpg

*From Wikipedia: Record single day attendance was 160,000 for the Dave Matthews Band and Mystikal on Second Saturday, 2001. Elton John in 2015 probably drew 130,000+, and that’s the only other time they’ve passed 100,000.  The old record was 98,000 on Second Saturday in 1998, when Jimmy Buffett headlined.  Typical attendance is 60,000 on a weekday, 80-90,000 on a weekend.


** Sunday: torrential rain and tornado warnings delayed the opening of JF until 3 pm and left the vendors camped out in the Grandstand building, hoping the water would not make it in their tents. Some of these folks were not so lucky..18222686_10154661461639366_739334513336050751_n.jpg18194856_10154661461674366_793755088390801239_n.jpg

Patron saints of food, Mardi Gras style

Monday the 27th and Tuesday the 28th of February are the final days of two months of Carnival in New Orleans this year, which means it has been a particularly  long season! The season always begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th and ends the day before Ash Wednesday, known as “Fat Tuesday” or in French as Mardi Gras. This is because New Orleans essentially remains a Catholic city and takes Lent (more or less) seriously. Lent of course is the religious season to prepare for Easter.  The date of Easter changes because it is literally a “moveable feast ” (feast meaning religious observance, not food party!), linked to Passover which changes based on when the Passover (Paschal) full moon falls. (Wonderful to  see how many religious and secular traditions are based on the natural world’s rhythms..)

Today,  I am highlighting the local work of Dames de Perlage (Women of Beadwork) who used the theme of “Patron Saints of New Orleans” for their 2017 krewe. Each member spend their nights and “off-time” throughout the year designing and beading a new beaded corset and headdress and making the relevant costume based on the theme they choose after the previous Carnival. Each corset takes 150 or so more hours to make each.  This krewe marches with brass bands in a few parades and are a delight to see in person.

Great podcast with one of their krewe members describing the work they do and how parading works for those unfamiliar with them. Many of the riders and marching groups craft their throws and costume work in community get-togethers over the year. Pride in handmade items remains a vital part of the New Orleans culture as does the tradition of handing down skills.

These are some of the “saints” beadwork that I chose because of the connection to food and farming:


Dan Gill, our longtime Extension Agent for Orleans Parish (county) and now a writer and radio host. answering everyone’s horticulture questions.


This is amazing beadwork and costuming highlighting a Carnival/spring tradition: crawfish boils!


The great chef Leah Chase is honored for her many contributions to New Orleans food and 7th ward culture. That is an excellent likeness of this great woman.


This is my favorite one, and just coincidentally made by my pal Rachel. This is St. Satsuma which honors the citrus we see at markets starting in October and ending this week or next.




Chef Paul Prudhomme, patron saint of jambalaya!

Up next: New Orleans, Vermont, Massachusetts

Over the last ten years, my travel schedule has remained pretty constant in the late winter and spring: a.k.a. farmers market/agricultural conference season. Sometimes it means that I am leaving New Orleans during Carnival season, (or my fav festival event) the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival or just at the loveliest time of year. Still, I am honored to be invited to participate in so many market development workshops and say yes to as many as I can manage.

This year my conference travel has taken me to North Carolina, Atlanta and Illinois and next up are three meetings, two in places I know and love, and one new to me:

New Orleans: AFRI-funded “Indicators for Impact” project team/market pilot sites meeting.

Vermont: NOFA-VT Farmers Market meeting

Massachusetts: Mass Farmers Markets meeting

• In New Orleans, I will serve as the host team member and support the FMC team in presentations, facilitating open discussion among participating markets and in absorbing those markets feedback on their first year of gathering and compiling data. This University of Wisconsin-led research is informing the development of Farmers Market Metrics.

• In Vermont, I return for the 5th or 6th year to support my colleague Erin Buckwalter in her work at NOFA-VT to build capacity for direct marketing outlets and to support VFMA. I’ll be presenting some retail anthropology techniques for markets to consider when refreshing their markets. Sounds like I’ll also be called on to facilitate a open session on EBT issues, which should be helpful to the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School (CAFS). The students are leading the design of a Legal Market Toolkit along with project partners NOFA-VT and FMC. Exciting stuff coming out of this project, I promise.

• Final stop of the season is to one of the most established state associations and to work with one of the longest serving state leaders, Jeff Cole. I remember well that in the formation days of Farmers Market Coalition, our Market Umbrella E.D. always came back from those meetings with great respect for Jeff’s input. Since then, I have called on him to offer analysis in some of my projects (shout out to some of my other informal advisor mainstays: Stacy Miller, Amy Crone, Sarah Blacklin, Ben Burkett, Colleen Donovan, Copper Alvarez, Kelly Verel, Suzanne Briggs, Helena St. Jacques, Richard McCarthy, Beth Knorr, Leslie Schaller, Jean Hamilton, Paul Freedman, Devona Sherwood  along with a whole bunch of others..)   Jeff has asked me to do an overview on market measurement history (RMA, SEED, PPS audits) and recent evolutions like FM Tracks, Demonstrating Value, and of course Farmers Market Metrics.

So, keep yourself busy on other blogs while I sit in meetings, learning and sharing for the next few weeks. And if you are attending any of these meetings, please say hello and share your news or ideas with me. Maybe it’ll be the next best practice that I post on my return to these pages.




Restaurant Day

Restaurant Day enthusiasts sell food that they have prepared themselves in locations as creative as the fare they serve up – in parks, on street corners, in courtyards, or in their kitchens. The foodfest takes place roughly every three months. It offers anyone the opportunity to set up a restaurant, coffee shop or bar, for just one day, without having to apply for official permits – as long as alcohol is not on the drinks list.


Restaurant Day is the world’s biggest food carnival and happens worldwide four times a year. All together 9600+ one-day restaurants by estimated 38 500+ restaurateurs have catered for estimated 1 060 000+ customers in the past Restaurant Days.

21 May 2011: 45 restaurants, 13 cities
18 August 2011: 190 restaurants, 30+ cities, 4 countries
19 November 2011: 287 restaurants, 40+ cities, 2 countries
4 February 2012: 304 restaurants, 50+ cities, 12 countries
19 May 2012: 711 restaurants, 90+ cities, 19 countries
19 August 2012: 784 restaurants, 100+ cities, 17 countries
17 November 2012: 702 restaurants, 130+ cities, 25 countries
17 February 2013: 629 restaurants, 130+ cities, 31 countries
18 May 2013: 1701 restaurants, 200+ cities, 30 countries
18 August 2013: 1683 restaurants, 220 cities, 35 countries
16 November 2013: 1383 restaurants, 190 cities, 31 countries
16 February 2014: 1210 restaurants, 27 countries
One-day restaurants have so far popped up in 56 different countries including Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, USA and Uzbekistan.
Please note that all restaurants with a clearly commercial, political or religious aim, or restaurants linked to existing commercial brands, or advertising a commercial space or a business, will be removed from the service.

Restaurant Day Map

Fat Tuesday food

Today is a holiday in my city and region, combining the best parts of tradition and public spectacle, and food is an important part of the tradition of Carnival. Our own Poppy Tooker talked about it on NPR last week.
Happy Mardi Gras everyone.

Rex decrees:
“I do hereby ordain decree the following…that during the great celebration all commercial endeavors be suspended. That the children of the realm be freed from their studies and be permitted to participate in the pageantry.”
And to the city’s political leaders, he added:
“That the mayor and City Council cease and desist from governance.
“We will fulfill the will of the people and turn over the key to the city to you, so that tomorrow in New Orleans will be a day of abandon,” Mayor Landrieu said. “Happy Mardi Gras.”

all to eat on a Mardi Gras day…

Hot topics in cold Vermont…

Living in New Orleans used to mean that I had a mild winter (if any) to deal with each year and January was about celebrating Carnival from Twelfth Night up until Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). Now as a market consultant, I spend the winter traveling to conferences and meetings, oddly almost all held in the northern climes!
Even with my aversion to cold, I am excited to be returning to Vermont for my third visit with NOFA-VT, and the second time I will be attending their Direct Marketing Conference held in lovely South Royalton VT.

Beginning last fall, I started work with NOFA-VT and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to study their card and token currency systems in the markets and comparing them to other states’ systems in view of the 2020 implementation of WIC to EBT cards – as well as the new technology that is swirling around like Square and the new upcoming Novo Dia Group smart phone app for cc/debit/food stamps. Also included in this research is the need to ascertain if these systems (which of course include incentives, FMNP coupons, WIC vouchers and in some states veggie prescriptions too) are working well at market level and how to measure them.

I have been calling on my colleagues across a dozen states and networks to hear their analysis which has been shared most generously. Now, I go to Vermont to gather some case studies from farmers and market managers to round out the raw data which then will need to be crammed into a manageable report for Vermont come early spring.

wish me luck.
And, email me or call me if you have data on a network or state level that you wish to share.

How Mardi Gras Boosts New Orleans’ Economy

Economic measurement is the first ruler we need to apply to the world of food systems, and specifically to our farmers markets. In many ways, Mardi Gras has a lot of similarities to the alternative food system- it’s informal, held mostly within the public space and all about entrepreneurs. This report shows how spring Carnival season adds value to the GNO region. This type of evaluation wis possible for markets to have for their own by using’s SEED tool which shows the impact a farmers market has on its own region.

How Mardi Gras Boosts New Orleans' Economy.