The backroads of Louisiana are beautiful and foreboding. Going along country lanes shadowed by overhanging limbs draped with Spanish Moss is both enchanting and eerie. The deeper you go, the more mystic and menacing it becomes. At one turn it’s the harps of heavenly beauty and the next it’s the banjos of Deliverance. Do it in the nighttime and you are riding with my wife, Becky, and me to the Secret Supper at Maison Madeleine in the swamps outside Lafayette, Louisiana.
The bed and breakfast Maison Madeleine is near the shoreline of Lake Martin about 10 miles east of Lafayette, Louisiana. It is the site of a forever moment; those times pasted in your memory’s scrapbook that years later you can still remember every detail of your special experience like a sunset on the Mediterranean, the majesty of the Grand Canyon or your first love or last goodbye. Madeleine is a “forevermore”.
Before I tell you about the Secret Supper, I need to do some prepping on the chronicle of events that put Maison Madeleine in the backwoods of Southern Louisiana. Although it is located near swampland, it was built on the bedrock foundation of Mrs. Madeleine Cenac. Her story is molded from an early 1800s lineage of Acadian ancestors who cooked, played music, drank and loved life, the exact same things enjoyed at the Secret Supper we attended.
More than 20 years ago, Madeleine found an abandoned French Creole-style home in a cane field near Perry, Louisiana. Like a lad finding the perfect tree in the woods to build a treehouse, she saw the house and just knew the 1840s tattered home was perfect. She just didn’t exactly know for what.
In 1997 she moved the home to its present location on Lake Martin and began the restoration project that changed her life and that of thousands of visitors. Early on, a Lafayette musician and carpenter, Mark de Basile, began to help her with the restoration. They fell in love with the home’s revival, and each other, and married.
The original home expansions and new adjoining structures have been lovingly built using aged lumber and materials. Today the earliest home, with its sweeping front porch, includes rooms and facilities for a B&B, a lavishly landscaped garden, a gathering outdoor area and separate kitchen to prepare large and lavish meals.
The home and surroundings became a rendezvous for lake dwellers and far-flung friends to enjoy Cajun comfort food, fish and festivities. Its legend grew and in 2011 Anthony Bourdain filmed a segment on location for his No Reservations television series. Family and friends thought it might be possible to share what was their secret suppers with paying guests. And thus, the creation of the dinner for 48 which we enjoyed.
We stayed in Lafayette and were encouraged by Mark to engage an Uber ride because Maison Madeleine is difficult to find after the sun goes down. “All the Uber drivers in Lafayette know how to get here and get you home,” he said. His recommendation was spot on.
When you enter the Maison Madeleine grounds you are warmly welcomed by friends of the owners who escort you to a sweeping porch ideal for rocking chairs and chatting. You immediately begin to mix with other guests as this dinner’s professional mixologist serves you his special brew… a blend of lemon-chamomile, infused bourbon, St. Germaine liqueur, Campari and a lemon twist. And that was only the beginning.
You are led through a series of rooms comfortably set with antiques and years of collectibles. For the first hour you mingle with other guests in the courtyard, the great room or the parlor, porch or patio. It was a chilly November evening when we arrived and fire pits lit up the outdoor areas and down-home fireplaces blazed throughout the home.
We didn’t have to wait long to discover we were in for wonderful cuisine. As we mingled prior to dinner lovely college age servers circulated with platters of shrimp cakes with Tabasco sweet n’ spicy sauce and pork belly with smoked apple jam.
During the pre-dinner social hour our hostess came over to chat with Becky and me. Within a few minutes it seemed I had known Madeleine all my life. Gracious. Engaging. Enchanting.
We sat down to a four-course dinner, plus dessert. Each course had an appealing wine pairing. I gave a silent toast to Mark thanking him for suggesting an Uber driver. Driving dark, unfamiliar backroads after several glasses of wine was not only reckless but most likely illegal.
The first serving was an oyster trio, one raw, one fried with lemon aioli and caviar and the other roasted in garlic butter with a cornbread crumble. Three oysters, each one distinctively different and delicious.
That was followed with a gulf shrimp stew with popcorn rice and cornbread. After tasting the first spoonful, one young lady at our table simply said “Heavenly.” And it was. The chefs, Bill Briand from Alabama (a James Beard Best Chef of the South semifinalist), and Jeremy Conner from Lafayette (once a guest on the Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food), were craftsmen of cuisine. Every dish, every morsel, was memorable.
Our third course was a crispy chicken thigh with ham hock, collard greens and Alabama white BBQ sauce. It was followed by a head-to-tail fin, sugar cane, fire-roasted pompano fish which covered our whole dinner plate. It fell off its bones in tender flakes even though my first poke was gentle since the pompano’s eye gazed straight at me.
Family fare servings of shrimp with eggplant dressing, lemon rice grits and charred carrots were passed around the table. There was little room on our fish-filled plate for the accompaniments and little room left for dessert, a smoked apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. What the billing called a supper was more like a feast.
Throughout the entire evening guests were treated to music by Grammy-nominated recording artists, Roddie Romero and Michael Juan Nunez. They played guitars and sang the songs you associate with musicians in the Bayous, stories about hardships and happiness, love and legacies… the type of music that brings a tear and smile all at the same time.
Thanks to Becky, she gave me a Secret Supper gift certificate for two as a thoughtful Christmas present. The cost of the all-inclusive dinner compares to the finest restaurants in the Metroplex. However, it offers so much more. You get 4 hours of food and drink always at hand or served at your table prepared by award winning chefs in a 150+ year old, beautiful home and serenaded by professional musicians and the sounds of the swamp.
Maison Madeleine is more than a home to a B&B or Secret Supper. It embodies a respect for its heritage and a bond with the nature in which it sits. It’s a tribute to the chefs, musicians, and helpers who share their artisanship. But the greatest gift was that Madeleine and Mark gave us a remarkable forevermore moment.
For more information about Secret Suppers at Maison Madeleine, click here.