Since 1819 a little known Mardi Gras tradition has accompanied New Orleans’ chefs as they make their way to work during the wee hours of the morning.
Along their way to work the chefs often nod and smile as they pass the members of the Skull and Bones Gang. No, these are not the northern members of Yale’s elite secret society come South. Rather they are followers of a tradition as old as Mardi Gras itself.
Dressed all in black, their costumes are painted with the outline of a fleshless human skeleton. Their faces are covered with large papier-mache skulls, making their true identity a closely held secret.
So attired, they knock on closed doors and tell those within to get up and start their day no matter the length of their evening before. Truly this is a message any weary chef can understand as he wait for his staff to arrive.
They remind sleepy business people on their way to work to remember that life is short, to make the most of every day, every hour – to be fair and honest in their dealings.
They tell the children leaving home to hurry along to school, that education is freedom and the creator of choice. They also warn the children to avoid drugs that hurt and harm.
In short, they are the early morning conscience of the City, reminding all that life’s lasting values are in the everyday, the normal flow of life. The exhilaration of celebration is delightful, but the truth of life lays in the reality of a day started and ended with purpose achieved.
And that is why the chefs of New Orleans and the Skull and Bones Men knowingly nod to each other in the early hours because they share a secret - a secret they hope everyone else will soon know as well, that life is shorter than we think. Why not honor this meaningful tradition by serving some 'bone' cookies to your staff, especially if they're running late.
Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2014