Monday, November 3, 2008

Step One: Break 5,024 Eggs

The 24th Annual Giant Omelette Celebration, the celebration we began talking about yesterday, was about to begin. Each year chefs from around the world travel to Abbeville, LA, to participate in this event which has become the symbol of a world-wide fraternity (known as the Confrerie) rich in friendship, tradition and cultural exchange.

Late in the morning some 50 chefs from Abbeville and around the world gathered for the group picture. In 1984, three citizens of Abbeville attended the Easter Omelette in Bessieres, France and were knighted the first of Abbeville’s Chevaliers (chefs). To bring Abbeville closer to its French heritage, the city chose to host this celebration. Each year chefs from Bessieres, France; Frejus, France; Dumbea, New Caledonia; Granby, Quebec; Malmedy, Belgium; and Pigue, Argentina are invited to be knighted as chevaliers into Abbevile’s Confrerie. A handful of chefs were knighted this year.

All seemed ready for the procession of the chefs to begin. The flags of the countries represented by the chefs led the procession. Two chefs carried a ceremonial basket of eggs, and two other chefs carried four circular loaves of bread on a bar that was placed through the center hole of each loaf. Two priests were the final entrants in the procession.

The fire was started an hour before the cooking was to begin. The arrival of the cooking "utensils" began with a fork lift lowering the 12-foot diameter omelet pan over the fire.

The five-gallon stock pots into which the eggs would be collected were positioned on the table. [Since they were upside down, I inverted the photo so that the Celebration's logo (an egg with dark glasses) was clearly visible.]

A team of assistants arranged the instruments used to stir the giant omlet.

Before the serious work began, the chefs led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and a local woman led the singing of the national anthem. There was an international welcome in French and a moment of silence for chefs in the fraternity who had died in the past year.

Then the preparations began. A coating of oil was the first ingredient to be added to the pan. Then came the 52 pounds of butter, 50 pounds of onions, 75 Bell Peppers, some crawfish tails, parsley, salt, and pepper.

All was ready for the addition of the final ingredients. The 5,024 eggs had been beaten by larger mixers and 6-1/2 gallons of milk had been combined with the eggs. Each of the large stock pots was emptied into the omelet pan.

Then the stirring began. The aim seemed to be to keep the contents of the whole pan in motion. With this plan, it took a long, long time for the eggs to begin to set. But, the organizers have been doing this for 24 years, so I will assume they know how to prepare the omlet.

A final "too-many-cooks . . ." observation. It seemed that several of the chefs were given the instruction: "Go stand in front of the people with cameras and engage in random conversation with each other."

Photographing the work at the pan was a challenge, as you can see by the number of bodies and toques between us and the pan.

And no, we did not wait to eat any of the omelet (or scrambled eggs).

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