King Cake Returns in 2022

With the christening of a new year comes a new Mardi Gras season, and while the state of the 2022 Carnival season is facing uncertainty amidst COVID-19 surges, Louisiana’s passion for the king cake is as strong as ever according to this profile.

Last year when many Mardi Gras parades, balls, and parties had been canceled or significantly limited due to the pandemic, Louisiana citizens proved that the spirit of the season wasn’t going to disappear along with the celebratory events. This was seen in the steady king cake sales seen by bakeries during the 2021 Carnival season; in fact, some bakeries even saw an increase in profits in the year despite many traditional festivities being canceled.

So it stands to reason that as the calendar has transitioned into 2022, the interest in king cakes will not have been subsidized in the least, even as the prospects for the 2022 parade season are masked in uncertainty. With king cakes becoming available during the first week of January on Twelfth Night (January 5th), the start of Mardi Gras season is officially underway, and this year’s Carnival will be nearly two weeks longer than last year’s. The 2022 Mardi Gras season is held between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras Day, which lands on March 1st, giving the public over seven weeks or 55 days of delicious king cakes to enjoy.

Many Louisiana bakeries are seeing the lengthier season as an opportunity to be more competitive in the name of the Carnival spirit and thus more inventive with their king cakes. This inventiveness is coming in the form of new flavors, textures, and partnerships. In a traditional year, New Orleans bakeries can showcase a competitive spirit due to the limited window of king cake availability despite the ever-growing public demand, but this year is shaping up to showcase a new cooperative spirit as various collaborations have already begun.

One such collaboration is the King Cake Hub which stands as a centralized location that houses several king cakes from various restaurants and bakeries in one spot. At the King Cake Hub, one can survey a variety of flavors, textures, and confections all in a single location, allowing you to truly compare different bakers’ approaches to the opulent dessert. Originally created in 2019 by Will Samuels, who was a notable community leader in New Orleans known for his previous forays into the Crescent City food and music world.

This year, the King Cake Hub has returned to New Orleans through the help of Samuel’s wife, Jennifer, who has brought back the celebrated and innovative king cake epicenter in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Will Samuels passed away from cancer at the age of 52 this past September, but his dream lives on in 2022 in two locations: the Zony Mash Beer Project on Thalia Street and The Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, which is accessible through the museum and cultural center’s gift shop on Royal Street.

In a similar spirit of Mardi Gras resilience, Steve Himelfarb, the founder of the Marigny Bakery and Restaurantpartnered with his neighbors at the NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) to bring back his legendary king cake to benefit a local high school’s culinary program. Himelfarb’s bakery had closed in 2020, but that didn’t stop him from returning in 2022 at the King Cake Hub and offering king cake preorders online as well.

Speaking of online sales, one of the areas of king cake commerce that saw tremendous growth in 2021 was the shipping of king cakes around the country. Because king cakes travel well and serve as a great way to share the holiday spirit with loved ones, 2022 is projected to similarly be a successful year in terms of king cakes sales and shipping. Now’s the time to conduct your research and support your favorite small bakery with a king cake shipment, allowing you to start the Mardi Gras season in spectacular style.

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Artists Stay Afloat with Mardi Gras House Floats

When New Orleans transitioned from traditional parades to house floats in an effort to celebrate Mardi Gras safely and responsibly, it created opportunities for Crescent City artists to find work in a year where that’s been hard to comeby, according to an article from The Times-Picayune and

One such group of artists thankful for the creative outlet is Stronghold Studios, as they’ve recently finished an extensive stint of building house float props for customers across New Orleans. Stronghold Studios is a perfect example of a quintessentially creative section of New Orleans, and this recent phenomenon of creating house floats has given a community of float builders, sculptors, painters, carpenters, and others craftspeople steady opportunities to work in a less than ideal (or profitable) year.

Stronghold Studios is owned by Coco Darrow and her husband Ian, and while they never intended to end up in the business of decorating house floats, they are more-than-thankful for the opportunity. While the studio typically produces movie props and party decor, their “bread and butter” is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Studio, located in Mid-City and founded by Coco Darrow’s father-in-law Bill Darrow produces the signage over the food booths at Jazz Fest as well as the musician sculptures that adorn the stages and festival environment.

The team of artists at Stronghold has also been behind some of the most impressive house float examples. Two iconic examples of the studio’s work are the St. Charles Avenue mansion that features a cutout of a vaccine syringe-yielding Dolly Parton as well as the second story cutout of Chef Lea Chase stirring a giant gumbo pot in Mid-City.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent cancelation of Jazz Fest, parties, movies, and all other events that would normally supply the artists with work, Darrow and her husband began to consider closing the studio in December 2020. Then, just after thanksgiving, the studio received a call from the Krewe of House Floats, and they were given an opportunity to sell their leftover props and begin working on outfitting houses as if they were themed floats.

Darrow told The Times-Picayune that the unexpected flow of commission requests “was like getting a last-minute reprieve from the governor. We were really hurting. The Krewe of House floats saved us. We knew all the spring events were canceled. This place holder gave us solid ground to stand on.”

In no time at all, the studio was booked up with countless house float projects with homeowners coming to Stronghold with ideas, and the studio bringing them to life with their materials and expertise. In an unexpected miracle, the Darrows were able to rehire the nine artists who had previously been out of work since the cancellation of Jazz Fest. Many of the artists had been out of work since the start of the pandemic, but the house float phenomenon had brought them back into the game in January.

While building iconic house floats was a surprise this year, the Darrows reported that they wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t stick around and be an important part of the studio’s calendar in the future. Ian Darrow had said, “This was never a season for us, we were usually just waiting around for Jazz Fest.”

Coco Darrow said that Stronghold is already booking float jobs for 2022, and she’s quite confident that this newfound custom of house floats will continue. She even went on to propose that the city declare a sub-holiday called “Skinny Tuesday” wherein citizens can tour house floats on the Tuesday preceding Mardi Gras.

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Mardi Gras Lives on with City Park’s Floats in the Oaks

The Mardi Gras spirit lives on in New Orleans for the 2021 season thanks to City Park’s “Floats in the Oaks” event, as detailed in a article.

When the 2020 Mardi Gras season led to rising COVIS-19 cases in Louisiana, many thought that the 2021 season simply couldn’t be done. Such pessimists must have never met a Louisiana citizen who has been denied their self-given right to celebrate the Mardi Gras, because efforts quickly came together to offer the Crescent City public: “Floats in the Oaks,” a drive-thru, krewe-populated, and stationary Mardi Gras Parade. The event, set to take place February 4-14 in City Park, will be similar to 2020’s drive-thru version of “Celebration in the Oaks.”

Though this time, the line of cars won’t be driving to see holiday light displays, but instead the tour of visitors will pass by signature floats from many of the city’s 34 krewes. The lineup already includes the krewes of Alla, Argus, Babylon, Bacchus, Carrollton, Druids, Femme Fatale, Hermes, Iris, King Arthur, Mid-City, Morpheus, Pygmalion, Rex, Thoth, Tucks, and Zulu. Though, City Park is hoping to hear from more krewes that would be interested in participating.

One of the biggest challenges of staging “Floats in the Oaks” was the fact that many of the taller Mardi Gras Floats would not be able to pass through the low-hanging oak trees of City Park. City Park Chief Operating Officer, Rob DeViney, who is also the co-captain of the Krewe of Argus Parade, was well aware of the challenges. To ensure that the floats would fit, DeViney contacted local master float manufacturer Barry Kern, who dispatched a logistics team to measure the height requirements of the task.

The task was eventually accomplished by driving around in a golf cart that was surmounted by an 18-foot pole, and according to DeViney, “surprisingly, it worked.” Soon after, he contacted krewe captains to gauge interest in the event, and he assured any hesitant captains by promising to provide floats with rain-resistant tarps, 24-hour security, and insurance.

The initial idea for the stationary float parade came to the public’s attention in early January when Delgado Community College baseball coach Joe Scheuermann and his daughter Nataly began floating the idea across social media. The concept eventually ignited a fire of public enthusiasm from the Carnivale-crazed community that was hard to ignore.

Alongside Scheuermann’s campaign, DeViney also had drafted a similar drive-thru plan, which just assured him of the public’s support for a safe Mardi Gras season. Scheuermann was quick to deny being the originator of the idea, as he was simply happy to see City Park’s acceptance of the event. He explained by saying, “I can’t take the credit, but maybe our little story got it over the hump.”

Similarly, as DeViney sought out official city approval and began to make the Krewe contacts, he was reportedly “ very encouraged while [we] were working behind the scenes.”

Both men put pride aside in the spirit of the Mardi Gras season, by simply being excited that the the traditional celebration wouldn’t be another sacrifice of the pandemic. In fact, as soon as Scheuermann learned of City Park’s plan, he purchased his ticket immediately. “We’ll be one of the first ones through,” he said.

Conventional Carnival parades were impossible to plan for the 2021 season due to the continuation of the coronavirus contagion. Though, this didn’t discourage the spirit of New Orleans, and “Floats in the Oaks” represents the resilience of the city and its residents to safely celebrate in a traditionally unique manner.

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2021 King Cake Sales Remain Steady Despite Pandemic

While most Americans might look forward to Valentine’s Day as soon as the New Year’s festivities are finished, Louisianan’s are often found anticipating the Mardi Gras season alongside its promise of king cake, and according to a recent feature by Houma Today, 2021 is no different.

As Louisiana history goes, Mardi Gras festivities have only grown in size, popularity, and community acclaim over the past few decades, though due to  the current climate of social distancing and pandemic precautions, many in the state are left wondering what a 2021 Mardi Gras season will look like.

In the New Orleans area, as well as most other cities across the state, Mardi Gras parades have been canceled in light of the criticism received from last year’s celebrations in New Orleans. 2020 parades contributed to a drastic increase in coronavirus cases in the state. However, as many New Orleans area bakeries are realizing: people will still want to eat king cakes despite not having festive parades or elegant costume balls to attend.

One such baker is Will Samuels who has been running the King Cake Hub, a seasonal shop that offers king cakes to 15 New Orleans Bakeries, for the past three years. Samuels reports that sales have been just as good this year with him selling nearly 1,000 king cakes a day, saying, “it’s fantastic. Surpassing the numbers that I expected.”

Once known as a rather simplistic dessert in Louisiana, the classic king cake was merely composed of  a brioche ring of cake topped with purple, green, and gold frosting that represent the colors of Carnival. Nowadays bakers, chefs, and consumers from across the south have made variations of the classic confection, such as being filled with cream cheese, stuffed with berries, or packed with praline filling. Though, one constant filling remains among nearly all king cake varieties- in most cases a plastic baby. If a slice of king cake with the baby inside is served to someone, tradition dictates that they must buy “the next king cake”.

Between the start of Carnival on January 6 and Mardi Gras Tuesday, a high percentage of New Orleanian’s daily caloric intake comes from ingesting king cakes. So it’s no wonder that these southerners haven’t let the pandemic quiet their desire for this cake that many start to look forward to as early as Ash Wednesday.

With most offices being closed and countless Mardi Grad balls or parties being canceled in fear of being a potential super-spreader event, most bakeries are noticing most individual or medium-sized king cakes being sold. Baker Chaya Conrad, of Bywater Bakery, was initially prepared for a less-than-ideal king cake season, fearing that her business would be in trouble without that annual sales boost, however this season has been steady thus far, and it’s only the beginning.

Conrad reported, “it’s madness. It’s through the roof,” she said. “Thank God for king cake season,” and for the first time in her bakery’s history she is shipping her king cakes. On a recent Monday, she shipped out 200 cakes and sold over 300 from the physical store itself, which is quite comparable to last year’s 250-300 daily cake average. Conrad said, “people can’t travel to New Orleans. This is the one thing people can do for carnival.”

In addition to the Mardi Gras season, local bakeries had seen additional orders stemming from the New Orleans’ Saints playoff run earlier in 2021. Ryan Haydel’s third generation Haydel’s Bakery reportedly sees a 25% sales increase following every Saints victory, and in a year marked by uncertainty and surprises, the constant that is the New Orleans king cake is a welcome 2021 treat.

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A Guide To Cajun Mardi Gras

You already know about the carnival-style Mardi Gras, but what about a Cajun Mardi Gras? Cajun Mardi Gras is exactly what it sounds like – Mardi Gras – Cajun style. Traditionally, this festival is known as Courir de Mardi Gras and takes place throughout Acadiana.

This festival is rooted in French medieval history and was brought to Louisiana in the 19th century. Cajun Mardi Gras is celebrated on Fat Tuesday, which is February 25, 2020, and is commonly referred to as “the real Mardi Gras”. There are plenty of traditions that take place during Courir de Mardi Gras, like chasing chickens, a unique twist on trick or treating, and gumbo cookoffs.

Luckily,Louisiana Travel put together a guide to the traditions of Courir de Mardi Gras. Here they are!

Trick or Treat: Gumbo Style

 This main festival event is rooted in the name; a couriror “run” led by thecapitaineof the Mardi Gras. Participants will dress up in costumes and masks and will travel by horseback, foot, or trailer to make their way through the neighborhood while doing the other ancient ritual of begging. In Tee-Mamou, the capitaine will raise a flag to let the Mardi Gras runners to dismount their transportation and begin chanting the “begging song” called Le chanson de Mardi Grasand approach the houses.

The participants will then go from house to house singing and dancing for the owners so they can get different ingredients for the communal gumbo that is served later in the evening. The last ingredient and the main spectacle of the entire festival is the chicken.

Chase the Chicken

Much like most traditions, each town has a unique take on how they put on the Courir De Mardi Gras. Since the chicken is the highlight of the celebration, it’s hilarious to watch people chase the chicken throughout the neighborhood! In addition to the chicken run, you’ll see beautiful costumes and masks, hear traditional Mardi Gras songs, and try delicious homemade Cajun cooking.

Certain towns, like Mamou, Iota, Elton, Church Point, Faquetigue, and Soileau, you’ll experience food and events more authentic than the towns hosting the festival.

Want to experience a Cajun Mardi Gras yourself?

In Eunice, Louisiana, the week long festival begins on February 21, 2020. The first couple days set the tone for the celebration with music, crafts, and every traditional Cajun dish you can imagine, from boudin and crackins to backbone stew. Then, on the day of Mardi Gras, you can participate in the Courir de Mardi Gras downtown and collect ingredients for the communal pot of gumbo. You can end the celebration with a Cajun dance party at Lakeview Park and Beach.

If you head to Church Point, you can catch their 59th annual Courir de Mardi Gras that takes place on February 23, 2020. Here you can see buggies, wagons, and horseback riders decked out in colorful costumes, listen to live music, chase the chickens, catch a greased pig, and enjoy delicious gumbo!

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Twelve Things You Can Only Find in Lafayette, Louisiana

Lafayette, Louisiana, also known as the Happiest City in America, is at the heart of Lousiana’s Cajun and Creole Country. It’s the perfect city to add to your bucket list if you want to find fields of rice and sugarcane, bayous and cypress swamps, discover authentic music, and delicious cuisine.

Lafayette is a town immersed in Cajun culture, which is what sets it apart from many of the other towns and cities in Louisiana. As a matter of fact, Lafayette has many unique experiences you can only find in this unique part of the world.

Here are 12 things you’ll only find in Lafayette, Louisiana!

1.  Cajun French Culture

This area of Louisiana was settled by Acadians who were kicked out of Canada in the late 1700s when they refused to give up key aspects of their culture. They found refuge in southern Louisiana, and to this day keep their culture alive. Around town, it’s easy to pick up on the Cajun-French dialect that saturates the town –phrases like cher bébé, meaning darling, and names like Boudreaux and Thibodeaux.

2.  Festival International de Louisiane

Hosted annually in April, the Festival International de Louisiane is the largest international outdoor Francophone music and arts festival in the country. More than 300,000 festival-goers come to celebrate their French heritage through music, food, and art.

3.  Cajun Music in Lafayette

Home to artists like Lost Bayou Ramblers, Pine Leaf Boys, Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie, The Magnolia Sisters, and Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp BandArcadiana is fertile ground for local and internationally recognized musicians.

4.  America’s Largest Swamp

America’s largest swamp, theAtchafalaya Basin, is bigger than the Florida Everglades. You’ll find this swamp features in the History Channel show Swamp People and Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid.

5.  Cajun Food

Not to be confused with Creole, Cajun food is true southern soul food. Most recipes start with the holy trinity – green bell pepper, onion, and celery. A few Cajun dishes you must try are crawfish étouffée, jambalaya, rice dressing and chicken and sausage gumbo.

6. The Best Boudin and Cracklins  in Lafayette

Boudin and cracklins were invented from resourcefulness on the Acadian’s behalf. They made it a point to utilize every aspect of the pig when cooking, which led to the invention of boudins and cracklins. This is a roughly half-pound, half-foot length of sausage available for purchase in most every local meat market and grocery store. Cracklins are fried morsels of pork fat with the pork skins.

7.  Avery Island

Avery Island is where Tabasco sauce originates from, created by Edmund McIlhenny in 1868. You can tour the factory and museum and make sure to get a unique souvenir at the gift shop!

8.  Popeyes Only Buffet in Lafayette

With over 2,600 franchises in the world, you can find the only buffet version of the fried chicken joint in Lafayette, Louisiana. Fill up your plate with buttery biscuits, red beans and rice, mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, spicy chicken, and coleslaw.

9.  Evangeline Maid Bread

Evangeline, a famous Acadian refugee, has her memory in everything. Now 100 years old, Evangeline Bread is still produced specifically in Acadiana, where half a million loaves are made weekly.

10.  A One-of-a-Kind George Rodrigue

Painted by George Rodrigue, this painting depicts the poet Longfellow about the reunion of Evangeline and her lost love, Gabriel. Fans can see his artwork at galleries in Lafayette, New Orleans, and California, but this hidden gem can be seen in Asma Boulevard off of Kaliste Saloom Road.

11.  Courir De Mardi Gras

Courir de Mardi Gras, meaning Fat Tuesday Run, is a unique tradition to Acadiana. This is where partakers where masks, pointed hats, and homemade costumes, then go door-to-door begging for ingredients to make a communal pot of gumbo.

12. Borden’s Last Ice Cream Shoppe in Lafayette

Borden’s dates back to the 1800s as a highly recognized dairy brand and mascot, Elsie the Cow. Visitors can visit the last standing ice cream shoppe for a blast to the past and ice cream malts, shakes, sodas, and scoops.

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