A Mardi Gras Table Setting
Actor and author Bryan Batt sets the scene for a lush Bacchus Sunday supper in his New Orleans dining room. Here, Bryan shares how he created his setting.
Happy Mardi Gras!
You know him from television’s Mad Men, but actor Bryan Batt is also a design enthusiast and, together with his partner Tom Cianfichi, owns Hazelnut, a fine gifts and home furnishings store on New Orleans’ legendary Magazine Street. A New Orleans native, Mardi Gras holds a special place for Bryan. “There is something magical about the masked balls and parades—the pageantry, the design, the beauty, the humor, the music, the food, and especially the fun!” he says.
Bryan does his best to never miss the season, but you won’t find him hanging over a balcony. “The celebration is not really what you see on TV in the French Quarter, but along the miles of the parade route,” he says. “Underneath the majestic oaks of St. Charles Avenue, families and friends of all ages gather to experience the wonderful parades.”
An Elegant Table for Mardi Gras
One of Bryan’s favorite parades is the Bacchus parade, which occurs on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday (commonly called Fat Tuesday). In honor of the celebration, he and Tom host a sophisticated Carnival Supper with a nod to the Bacchanal. Lush with magnolia leaves and hydrangeas, the colors and symbols of Mardi Gras are layered throughout: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. “I wanted to create an ambience that paid tribute to the tradition, but in subtler hues,” he says.
Set the Tone with An Invitation
Bryan immediately establishes the look and mood of his evening with an invitation designed by Margaret and Sallie Jones of Scriptura. “They are a wealth of great ideas that blend the traditional with a modern flair,” says Bryan. The invitation’s design includes a chalice and grapes to reference the man of the evening: Bacchus, the Greek God of wine.
Welcome Guests with a Boeuf Gras
In a nod to the literal and historical significance of Carnival, the farewell to flesh, a papier-mâché bull’s head hangs on the outside gate. A white “Boeuf Gras,” or Fat Bull, rides a float in the Rex parade and has become a beloved symbol of the festivities. Bryan adorns his bull with a magnolia wreath dressed up with a royal purple bow and a gold brooch that belonged to his mother.
All available from Hazelnut; hazelnutneworleans.com
Mix Up the Place Setting
“I’m enamored with mixing,” says Bryan. For his evening setting, he pairs lustrous pottery plates with his grandmother’s sterling flatware. Beaded place mats and embroidered napkins add a bit of celebratory glitz. Here, he mixes three colored stems to capture the signature palette.
For fun place cards that are sure to get the conversation started, Tom frames pictures of his guests in past Mardi Gras costumes. “Whether it is an old photo from childhood or a recent snap, guests always enjoy such a personal and unique place card,” Bryan says.
Make a Statement with the Centerpiece
A lush arrangement of hydrangea blooms, magnolia foliage, goldenrod flowers, and grapes surrounds Bryan’s terra-cotta bust of Bacchus, beautifully delivering the traditional Mardi Gras colors. Extending the arrangement along the length of table adds to its elegance.
Make the King Cake a Star
The King Cake is an important part of many Mardi Gras gatherings, and Bryan believes you should give it the attention it deserves. “I like the idea of a dessert and punch table,” says Bryan. He elevates his cake on a shiny dessert stand and serves it with clever reverse decoupage plates depicting historic Mardi Gras scenes that appeared in Harper’s Weekly in the late 1800s. There are many variations of King cakes, but Bryan’s favorite is the traditional French Galette des Rois, which is puff pastry with frangipani filling from Maurice French Pastries.
Console: Karla Katz Antiques, New Orleans; 504/897-0061
King Cake: Maurice French Pastries; mauricefrenchpastries.com
Decoupaged plates: Mardi Gras series by Laurel Wilder for Hazelnut; hazelnutneworleans.com; laurelwilder.com
Toast with Something Special
“Punches are so old world and rarely enjoyed these days,” says Bryan. “We enjoy trying out old traditions and seeing if they can be revived and reinvented.” Their special Carnival Supper concoction is made of Champagne, St. Germain, and orange bitters. The frozen grapes give a nod to the Bacchus theme and keep the punch cold throughout the night.
Punch bowl available through Hazelnut; hazelnutneworleans.com
Check out Bryan’s Book!
Bryan’s recent book about New Orleans style, Big, Easy Style: Creating Rooms You Love to Live In (Clarkson Potter/$35) is now available through amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. You’ll love his collection of photographs of beautiful New Orleans rooms layered with his design tips and anecdotes of his own design experiences.