November 11, 2017
The Feast of Saint Martin
My generous host, Bernard Ussher, a Dublin lad now ensconced with his wife in Lafayette, Louisiana, is Irish to the core. Storyteller, merrymaker, prankster, bon vivant, chef sans portfolio, the gregarious fellow is always on the lookout to host some craic (a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland.)
The November 11 Feast of Saint Martin (if I hadn’t googled it I would have sworn he was making it up) was all he needed to call together a crew of pals for a Men’s Feast. The fact that none of us had ever heard of the good saint? Never mind. He’d tell us while we sat down to devour a table creaking, craicing?, with enough food to feed a band of starving crusaders.
The morning of the feast every surface in the kitchen is piled with fixings that depleted at least one market’s vegetable section. Yours truly is relegated to slice, peel, or dice heaps of red and yellow peppers, green and yellow zucchini, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, asparagus, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and corn.
The chef is busy trussing up a chicken to be fried upside down in a propane fired gizmo that people around here use for that purpose and to anyone north of the Mason Dixon line looks like a fryialater invention gone awry. Fry chickens? Upside down? Really?
Oh, and slabs of steaks and large links of Andouille sausage, all bound for the gas grill. Alongside one whole pineapple and a handful of peaches.
Without apparent forethought, the man empties cupboards and assembles a prodigious array of spices, seasonings and marinades. With the inspiration of Julia Child after her third glass of Chateauneuf de Pap, he begins to dust, dab and drench. Not a measuring device in sight.
“How much do you add?” says I.
The chef chortles and glug-glug-glugs or shake-shake-shakes bottles, jars, and containers, seemingly upon a whim, fearlessly, with a master plan known only to himself.
”About this much ought to do,” says he.
Combinations unknown to the faint of heart are thrown together. Through the eyes of this Yankee, the spirited scene feels somewhere between a Monte Python's Flying Circus skit and the madcap glee of a Johnny Carson skit of Carnac the Magnificent - high culinary theater in the kitchen!
Men arrive, ready to do justice to the memory of the good saint. Aromas of fried chicken, steaks, simmering vegetables marinated and seasoned liberally, tease our now fully engaged appetites. Spirits are quaffed. Stories are told.
Every platter and bowl in the kitchen is liberated and piled onto tables on the patio. Men on a mission, we heap our plates with aromatic, exotically spiced food. Julia would have been impressed. Our plates empty, we dig into the grilled peaches and pineapple. Temporary torpor sets in. Then more stories and huzzahs for the host.
Saint Martin, a patron saint of France, got around. His day is celebrated around the world. One researcher claims he was the uncle of Saint Patrick. More gist for stories. Today he was, in absentia, the beatific host of Bernard Ussher’s Saint Martin’s Day Men's Feast, a day to be remembered and put on the calendar for 2019.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.