For chef Dominique Macquet, it’s a case of the sugar not falling far from the cane.
After growing up on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where sugar cane has long been king, Macquet this weekend launches his first Sugar Cane Festival at his brand-new Dominique’s on Magazine – celebrating the links between sugar grown in his faraway homeland and sugar grown all around his adopted city of New Orleans. A dazzling selection of new dishes and cocktails serves to underline these links.
“I grew up on an island full of water and full of sugar cane,” offers the chef. “Sugar cane was our first source of income, and Mauritius sugar is some of the most expensive and most flavorful in the world. Most of the people in my family worked in sugar cane factories, so I’ve always felt connected to sugar.”
The connection became absolute recently when Macquet met sugar cane grower Godfrey Knight from Thibodeaux on Bayou Lafourche. The two men found they had plenty in common – especially since many of the managers at Indian Ocean sugar refineries hail from Louisiana, and vice versa. The joys of sugar cane are the same in both places, and so are its sorrows. There is a tight window on time in which sugar cane can be harvested and sold in its fresh, unrefined forms (about three months), making for labors that go on 24/7 during the season. At the conclusion of their conversation, Knight gave Macquet about 125 pounds of fresh Louisiana sugar cane, which became the centerpiece of the new event.
The Sugar Cane Festival at Dominique’s on Magazine, scheduled to run until the end of the year, spotlights the Louisiana product in four different forms: unaltered sugar cane juice that can be so refreshing over ice, juice that’s reduced by about a third over heat to make its flavor more intense, sugar cane syrup that’s boiled for a full eight hours, and pure molasses. New dishes for the festival menu include savory items like carrot and molasses flan, crispy leg of duck with poached pear apple cider and cane syrup vinaigrette, and grilled pumpkin with sugar cane syrup, plus such decadent desserts as sweet potato and cane syrup pie.
Macquet’s festival recipes make use of sugar cane stalks from Knight to produce skewers for grilling and for swizzle sticks in cocktails, not to mention as the delivery system for the chef’s famous cotton candy, plus fresh sugar cane juice, syrup and molasses from artisanal producer Tracy Baudoin, also of Thibodeaux.
At his original Dominique’s in the French Quarter, Macquet was the first New Orleans chef to incorporate sugar cane into his cooking. He cut skewers from the stalks, for instance, and used them to skewer his much-praised sweetbreads. Before long, other chefs in New Orleans restaurants were asking where he got his sugar cane.
Also as part of the festival, Macquet has joined forces with talented mixologist Kimberly Patton-Bragg to create three sugar cane-centric cocktails, all with roots in the classics. Patton-Bragg, one of only eight bartenders to be featured on the “Top Chef”-style TV show “On the Rocks” beginning this Saturday on NBC, is making a special caipirinha with opal basil, tangerines and lime, a mojito using orange mint, and an Old Fashioned featuring muddled orange peel.
“I’ll be working a lot with fresh sugar cane juice, which requires about five stalks to produce a single cup,” says the Dominique’s mixologist. “This is the first time I’ve been able to play with this raw material. I’m really excited to have a new toy.”