I like the Hotel le Marais. It’s small, conveniently located (a block from Bourbon Street), and they give you a free cocktail at the bar when you check in. They also have a very nice Continental breakfast. Usually that means bad coffee and worse pastries, but here they actually have bacon and eggs and fruit and yogurt and all kinds of good stuff. Still, when I woke up this morning, what I was thinking about was beignets and chicory café au lait. So I headed back down to Jackson Square and Café Du Monde.
Damn. I think the beignets were even better this time. And I wanted to see how they made them. So I walked around to the back—the side facing the Mississippi River—where they have a big window on the kitchen. There were about a half dozen other people standing in front of the window, their noses pressed up against the glass, watching the beignets being made.
Take a look at the photo above and I’ll tell you what happens: First, the dough machine spits out about a square foot of rolled out dough which is quickly moved by a conveyor belt beneath a round dowel that spins, and as it does, it cuts the dough into something like 48 (I’m guessing) little rectangles. Then the gentleman in the picture scoops up the doughy pillows, two or three at a time, and without looking up or even backwards, blindly tosses the dough into a vat of hot oil behind him. This is the most amazing thing to see. Dough being chucked backwards into boiling oil. It’s like watching Derek Jeter dive to his right and make a perfect blind toss to the second baseman on the front end of a double play ball.
When he gets all the little pillows into the dough, he hustles over to the vat of hot oil and uses a basket to flip the beignets. Then he scoops them out of the oil and into baskets before going back over to the dough machine and scooping up more dough.
It has to be a numbing job (I wonder how long they keep these guys?). But it’s something to watch.