Not a secret anymore ...
Beckoned by an elegant, textured invitation written entirely in French, a group of about 30 strangers gathered at Maison Madeleine, the Breaux Bridge home of a couple many of them did not know.
“Le Diner Secret D’Ete” turned out to be an evening none will soon forget.
The launch of the Secret Supper Series at Maison Madeleine was the realization of a collaborative vision of Walter Adams, an entrepreneur and business consultant, and Madeleine Cenac, who in 1997 purchased a forlorn, dilapidated 1840s plantation home in Perry of a style she refers to as “in the Creole taste.”
She spent the next eight months dismantling the home from its cane-field foundation, then re-erecting the fragile structure board by board 50 miles away near a rookery on the banks of Lake Martin in Breaux Bridge.
She spent the next five years living on the land in a trailer as she restored the property to historical accuracy, right down to re-creating its walls of handmade bousillage — an early construction method in which damp clay mixed with Spanish moss is packed between rough hand-hewn cypress posts and dried to form a hard surface. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Few such examples remain,” Cenac said.
Her undertaking was driven by her vision of a physical place that would embody the essence of 19th-century French Acadian culture to engage all the senses.
Two years ago, Adams joined Cenac at the home, which she now operates as a bed and breakfast, and they began to contemplate the creation of “a nexus of Acadian culture, hospitality, and culinary excellence,” Adams said.
To fulfill this vision, they constructed a boudoume within the gardens at the rear of Maison Madeleine.
“The word is an English translation for a West African word pronounced ‘Ba-joom’,” Adams said. “The meaning comes from the sound of the word, which is similar to the sound a person might make when they fall down on the ground dead drunk — BA-Joom!”
Like juke joints and speakeasies, boudoumes were popular throughout the rural South during Prohibition. People would gather to play music, dance, experience intimate moments and drink until they fell down. Cenac and Adam constructed the boudoume of reclaimed materials.
The right side of the structure is occupied by a professional kitchen where, for Le Dinner Secret D’Ete, they invited Lafayette chef Manny Augello to be the first in a series of rising-star kitchen masters to cook a four-course dinner with wine and cocktail pairings.
“We want the Boudoume at Maison Madeleine to be the James Beard House kitchen of the South,” Adams said, “for cooking dinner here to be a must-do for up-and-coming chefs who’re doing creative things. We want them to feel honored when the invitation to cook here comes.”
Beginning this month, Maison Madeleine will host a different visiting chef, typically for early evening Sunday dinners. Ideally, guests will dine communally on the rear porch or within the wild gardens, moving indoors during cold weather or when chefs choose to employ the dining area’s wood-burning fireplace, which features an antique crane for lifting heavy pots, a brick oven and a potoger.
In addition to the Secret Suppers, a series of hands-on Cajun and Creole cooking classes will be offered at Maison Madeleine.
Secret Supper chef
The first Secret Supper, Le Diner Secret d’ Ete, featured a farm-to-table menu by chef Manny Augello, who likened the experience to the one he had cooking last year at the James Beard Foundation house.
“ I felt like I was back in Manhattan cooking a Southern plantation-inspired meal for a sold-out crowd — only the kitchen was better to work in,” he said. “There was room to prep, cook and store, but there was also a getaway feel that allowed me to relax and focus on the dinner.”
Formerly the executive chef at Jolie’s Bistro in Lafayette, Augello is focusing on Bread & Circus Provisions, the artisan culinary product venture he operates out of the Lafayette Farmers & Artisan’s Market at the Horse Farm on Saturday mornings.
“Our inspiration for Bread & Circus was simple,” he said. “We take everything that we love about food — stuff like charcuterie, pickles, bad-ass condiments and retro confections — that has been screwed up by corporate and we make it right. We make seriously playful .”
Bread & Circus Provisions will open in a brick-and-mortar location in downtown Lafayette next year. Its small-batch product line was recently picked up by Good Eggs, an online co-op marketplace for products from select culinary artisans and growers.
Secret Suppers will be open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis for up to 40 people. Prices will vary based on the guest chef.
Maison Madeleine is at 1015 John D. Hebert Drive in Breaux Bridge, off of Rookery Road. For more information, call (337) 332-4553 or go to maisonmadeleine.com.