Gourmet Galley: Former Louisianians introduce neighbors to flavors of Carnival

Fat Tuesday in Tennessee?

Who knew you could find a little bit of Mardi Gras in Johnson City, Tenn.?

Thanks to Beth Sherman Thomas, formerly of Baton Rouge, and her family — husband Robert, twin daughters Morgan and Megan, and son David — you can.

The family moved to east Tennessee a dozen years ago. Before too long, the family members found themselves missing Louisiana’s Mardi Gras festivities.

So they decided it was time to start their own Fat Tuesday celebration.

When the couple’s turn to host their supper club six years ago came in February, Beth and Robert Thomas planned a Mardi Gras party with a parade.

Although the neighbors were invited to come outside and watch and catch some beads, not many joined in the fun or really understood what was going on.

Now, five years later, everyone waits for the flyers to go up at the subdivision entrance announcing the parade route and time.

When the Thomas parade rolls by, there are now shouts of “Throw me something, mister!”

The parade has grown to about 200 participants. Leading it are fire trucks and Robert Thomas in a decorated four-wheeler blaring Mardi Gras music.

The Tennesseans now know what south Louisianans have known all along — it’s great fun to parade and throw beads and trinkets or, better yet, to catch them.

They’ve also learned about Louisiana’s delicious Carnival food. That’s because the parade ends at the Thomas home, where everyone gets to feast on roasted pig, cooked Louisiana-style on a rotisserie in a “Cajun oven,” a three-sided, homemade cooker with a mechanically turning spit; jambalaya made with Louisiana sausage and Oak Grove Smokehouse jambalaya mix; sensation salad; appetizers; various desserts; and tables of king cake.

Beth Thomas taught eight of her friends how to make and decorate king cakes, so now she furnishes the ingredients and they make them for her. Another friend brings trays of small paper cups filled with carrot, broccoli and celery sticks with a little ranch dressing on the bottom of the cup. These disappear quickly. A former Louisiana resident shows up with a burner and a big pot of gumbo to share.

When someone offers to bring food, those whose last names begin with A through M are assigned appetizers, while letters N-Z are to bring desserts.

Beth’s parents, I.J and Lady Pat Sherman, of Baton Rouge, drive up to help decorate and serve “the masses.”

I’ve made the jambalaya from Beth’s recipe, and it is delicious. She uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs and the broth from cooking the chicken as the liquid in the jambalaya. Her Louisiana crawfish appetizers are always popular.

The Thomas family has had fun introducing south Louisiana’s food and culture to their east Tennessee neighborhood.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.