Madams, music, and food at Storyville-inspired dinner

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans' red-light district known as Storyville shut down in 1917. But, it left the city with a reputation as a party town, a new type of music called jazz, and a rich culinary style.

One hundred years later, the Historic New Orleans Collection and the restaurant Tableau are bringing the decadent dishes of Storyville back. Tomorrow, Tableau will host a dinner fit for a patron of the Storyville of old.

Tableau Executive Chef John Martin put his cookbook down and picked up a history book to prepare the menu.

"We started out talking about the history of Storyville and researching and found out that there are a lot of correlations between the culinary history of New Orleans coming into its own in the modern era and the rise and fall of Storyville," says Chef Martin. "In doing that research, I really wanted to try and, within that time period, be true to what people in New Orleans were dining on at the time."

Chef Martin worked with the Historic New Orleans Collection to find old recipes and menus. And, what he found was that 100 years ago, chefs were cooking with a lot of ingredients.

"The wealth of items is what surprised me," says the chef. "Most of the menus were, you know, 14-inch, full-sided, eight different category menus. There was everything. Let's just say there's a section on seafood--and it's oysters nine different ways."

Pamela D. Arceneaux is the co-curator of the "Storyville: Madams and Music" exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection. She describes Storyville as a place where everything was decadent--not just the food.

"Storyville was a social experiment in the control of vice," says Arceneaux. "Alderman Sidney Story proposed an ordinance designed to limit the activities of prostitutes to one specific geographically-stated area."

Storyville official opened on January 1, 1898. It closed almost 20 years later on November 12, 1917, a year which corresponded with another milestone in the history of New Orleans: the first recorded jazz album.

"The area itself has such a fascinating and rich history that we wanted to touch on not only the red-light district aspect of it, but really what became the birth of jazz," says Chef Martin. "We got musicians going into the Storyville part of town, what was initially a sequestered culture. [This] brought everything all together and that's when food started to explode because we started sharing our cultures."

Chef Martin sees a connection between music and cooking in Storyville.

"I think that's the great part about being able to translate those old ideas, those old recipes, and those old dynamics into what's going on today," he says. "That lends itself to the whole idea of jazz: improvisation. We talk about that in the kitchen all the time. What we are doing when we are creating menus is improvisation."

Tomorrow's dinner is sold out. But, anyone can still see the "Storyville: Madams and Music" exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Williams Research Center, at 410 Chartres Street. The exhibit is open until December 9, 2017.