Generations of Sclafanis

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris May 29, 2020 11:45 in On The Radio

Yesterday on our Ask The Chef segment of the show we talked to Peter Sclafani, and it turned out to be more of a reminiscence than anything else. Peter’s family goes back several generations in New Orleans hospitality, and many people fondly remember them. Peter is the 3rd Peter, and the first two have certainly made their mark here. Peter has spent more than 20 years in Baton Rouge, where he was co-owner of Ruffino’s, and is now a consultant working mostly with another institution, Phil’s Oyster House there. But the first two Peters are remembered for the Gentilly Sclafani’s, and mostly for the Causeway restaurant that Peter said had 700 seats. I remember it as a wedding venue for the brides in my sister’s generation. Wearing their stunningly simple Sixties Jackie Kennedy-esque dresses. (I watched all this as an enchanted kid.)

Tom’s fondest ASclafani memories are of Peter’s father, who was the brain behind The Flambeau Room. The Flambeau Room has gotten a lot of attention on the radio and in print as being the portal Tom entered into his gourmet world. For that Tom will be forever indebted to the name Sclafani.

He also has a sweet memory of the Peter we talked to yesterday, who at one time had Sclafani’s in the 

Chateau LeMoyne Hotel in the French Quarter, the scene of a particularly robust Eat Club in the early days of the institution. Peter brought out of the kitchen everything he ever loved apparently, to the rapture of all the diners, Tom included. Tom never fails to reference this particular Eat Club whenever the mention of the halcyon days of the Food Show dinners come up.

We talked about the powerful connection between heart and stomach as Peter recalled emotional memories of his family with food: things like Creole tomatoes and fishing. Tom had heard a lot of these stories but I was totally smitten by them. We never really got around to talking much about recipes or cooking tips, even though Peter has done classes in Baton Rouge. He is a rare breed nowadays, a self-taught chef. Like I often say, for millennia, apprenticing was the way generations learned a craft. It is refreshing to hear someone self-taught, following their God-given talents. He did give us a few tips, one I keep hearing that I will try. So simple: Don’t cook with cold food. Let your meats get room temp before starting to work with them. We’ll have to have him back to learn some more. His family history was just too New Orleans-familiar to pass up talking about it.