I often come home from New Orleans inspired — this spring I was inspired to host regular, informal dinners.
As often happens when we travel, we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. We met Pableaux over a newspaper-covered table heaped with boiled crawfish and he quickly invited these out-of-town strangers to dinner at his house. He explained that every Monday he hosts red beans and rice dinners with a guest list that includes a mix of close friends and new acquaintances.
Pableaux is a food writer in New Orleans, a job I imagine is not unlike being a religion writer in the Middle East, where everyone has a deep, personal opinion about what you do. Had I known then he was nominated for a James Beard Journalism Award, I might have been intimidated … but Pableaux’s weekly dinner parties are as laid back and unpretentious as possible.
We walked in to find a huge dining room table with mismatched chairs and a repurposed church pew for seating. The table wasn’t set — guests grab a bowl and a spoon as they serve themselves from the big pot of beans in the kitchen. (Or, if you’re a vegetarian, from the smaller pan of beans, sans tasso and andouille sausage.) Help yourself to a beer from the fridge, introduce yourself to the person next to you and the fun begins.
Pableaux not only knows food, he knows people. He pulls together a dozen or so guests with an intuitive sense for making good conversation, and sets an easy tone with good music and minimal fuss.
So I should not have been surprised to find Pableaux’s tradition commemorated on the Epicurious blog in an article headlined, Red Beans & Rice Chez Pableaux. Chef and restaurateur Hugh Acheson writes in part:
This story has been written before, but I never read it. I just know it exists. But that’s OK. I am of the firm opinion that you can never have enough written about something so beautiful as red beans and rice.
The lore is that the dish became popular as a wash day meal and that wash day was usually Monday and that’s how traditions are made. It’s economical and feeds a crowd and is pretty darned easy to procure, ingredient wise, and cook, culinary wise. It’s a staple that has shaped a culture, and that culture comes back to rest on its timelessness every week.
I spent a lot of time in New Orleans during the month of June and a friend, Pableaux Johnson, invited me over to his Monday night meal of red beans & rice, which it soon became evident was the most sought after invite in town.
Hugh and I both experienced Pableaux’s beans and rice not just as a warm, friendly peek into New Orleans culture, but as a call to arms.
Pableaux has made a commitment to hold time in his busy week to feed his friends and his social life. I enjoy hosting a big blowout of dinner party once in a while, with fresh flowers, John’s mother’s silverware and a multi-course meal. But they’re a lot of work to prepare and clean up, while Pableaux has created a sustainable ritual that’s just built into his regular life.
And the most important take-away of all: I suggest co-opting this goodness as a weekly ritual. We owe it to our communities to find time to sit together over a brilliant simple meal and tell our tales.
John and I talked about importing the whole idea to New York, hosting red beans and rice on Monday nights. It felt a little too contrived to me. That’s New Orleans tradition, not Brooklyn’s.
Now we’re thinking it’ll be spaghetti night. When John lived in San Francisco, he loved to invite friends for impromptu spaghetti dinners, so we’re thinking that feels right.
A plate of spaghetti, some red wine, and if we’re lucky, conversations as nourishing as the meal.
My related posts:
- Cooking dinner for someone is a great way to deepen your relationship
- Party pointers from a hostess who learned later in life
- Life’s messy and that’s OK
- New Orleans travel tips, developed as fans of NOLA’s food, jazz and people
- Katrina spurred me to visit – and fall in love with – New Orleans
- Living someplace else temporarily leads to discoveries in that new place and back home