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By Holly A. Phillips

Peggy Sweeney-McDonald was sipping on an iced-latte, recalling her first food memories: visiting her grandmother in New Orleans, taking trips to the lakefront fountain, indulging in watermelon by the slice, or eating nectar sno-balls.

“I remember being five years old in Baker, and my mom driving me to dance class. On the way, we’d stop at Krispy Kreme and I would get a chocolate-covered donut,” McDonald said.

At such a young age, it was impossible to predict the journey ahead. Today, McDonald is a published author — an actress-turned-event-planner-turned-author, that is — telling the stories she was meant to tell.

The stories, or “food monologues” as she calls them, are written by Louisiana chefs, foodies, politicians, columnists, and students, and are all compiled into McDonald’s Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde.

The title phrase, coined by McDonald, is a quick explanation of her love for the famous coffee house, their fried dough (known to McDonald as “pillows of decadence”), and most importantly that no matter where she lives or what’s happening in her life, she always ends up back at Cafe Du Monde.

While Cafe Du Monde served as a consistent perk for McDonald, it’s not where her journey began. Instead, it started with a coconut pie from Strawn’s Eat Shop in Shreveport.

It was Thanksgiving 2009, and McDonald was at her parents’ home in Baton Rouge, her native home away from Los Angeles. After being laid off from her job as an event planner, she’d created her own company, but had no events to plan due to the down economy.

“My friend Lisa saw on Facebook that I was in town and wanted to come down from Shreveport to visit me,” McDonald said.

Lisa was in Shreveport working on a film, and was feeling down about spending the holiday away from her own family. She cooked herself dinner and drank some red wine alone in her corporate apartment before devouring an entire Strawn’s coconut pie that was supposed to be for her boss’ turkey dinner the following day. During her visit with McDonald, she shared the story, which is now in print in McDonald’s book.

“The way she told the story was so funny,” McDonald said. “It was like one of those monologues, only about food, and everyone in Louisiana has a food story. Everyone everywhere has a food story.”

That night, McDonald stayed up thinking more about these life stories focused on food. She knew she had to create her own event at a restaurant, where more of these stories could be shared.

“I had a wish list of all the people I thought could share their stories,” she said. “Then, I had to ask Cafe Du Monde if I could use their name.”

Cafe Du Monde quickly gave McDonald the green light and Teeta Moss, owner of the Myrtles Plantation, offered to host a storyteller’s show, the first of many to come.

The typical Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde event begins with a dinner party followed by a cast of chefs, restaurant owners, musicians, actors, and other foodies wanting to contribute, sharing their food-related stories.

“I had to call all of the people on my wish list, tell them my idea, and ask them to be on the show,” she said. “None of these people knew how it was going to go.”

But as the show went on, McDonald said, the group agreed they were on to something. Before 2012, Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde was performed 32 times in Louisiana and Mississippi, which included 230 people sharing their food monologues.

The idea for a coffee table book came to McDonald the first night of the show, after seeing a collection of similar books at the Myrtles backstage. She took note of the publisher, Pelican Publishing, on the back of one of the books, and invited them to the first performance in New Orleans in 2010.

“They didn’t come to the show,” she said. “But I sent them a quote later that someone told me after the show about how it was the best oral history of Louisiana they’d heard.”

Five minutes later, the editor called McDonald and asked how many people they could bring to the show.

“I told them I’d reserve a table for 10 and they brought their whole team,” McDonald said.

The day after the show, McDonald got another call from Pelican Publishing. They thought it was a great idea for a book and wanted an outline.

“All of a sudden I felt inspired and hopeful again,” she said. “Maybe this is what I was supposed to do. These stories are funny, touching, and some will make you cry.”

It took about a year to get the contract, but once it was signed, McDonald had 90 days to pull together the material, including stories, recipes, and pictures from 67 people.

“There were many times when I asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’ My fears paralyzed me,” she said. “I’ve learned so much; one big lesson is when you’re inspired to step out of your comfort zone, your fears are going to come up, but you just have to move forward.”

McDonald made her deadline, and now her book is published, debuting in September at No. 1 on Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases. Famed Louisiana chefs Emeril Lagasse and John Besh have also endorsed it.

“People have stepped up and allowed me to use their stories. The love I’ve found in Louisiana you don’t find anywhere else,” McDonald said. “Louisiana people shine in this book and I’m proud to be a southern belle.”

Before coming to the South to attend dozens of book events, McDonald’s friends in Los Angeles wanted to send her off with a kickoff party. They met at the corner of Fairfax and 3rd street, Los Angeles’ Original Farmer’s Market, for a meal at The Gumbo Pot.

“Everyone has their own ‘Cafe Du Monde.’ That place when you go home, you know you just have to eat there,” she said. “Restaurants in Los Angeles aren’t like they are in Baton Rouge, but I’m with good friends.”

McDonald plans to spend the next four months promoting her book, and said the performances will pickup afterward. She also plans to write her own book about her journey, and perhaps additional coffee table books about food stories in other cities, such as Los Angeles.

“I’ve gotten signs along the way that I’m on the right path, and this is just the beginning,” she said. “It’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

McDonald is confident in the book and what it says about her home state. Holding up the book to reveal its cover photo of an order of Cafe Du Monde beignets, she said, “They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this one you can.”

Originally, McDonald wasn’t going to write in the book at all, but her journey is forever changing, and she decided to tell the title monologue:

“No matter what happens in my life, no matter where I live, I always end up at Cafe Du Monde. You know what to expect, you know what we are ordering — those little pillows of decadence, we know how it will taste — delish. We know we can afford it — cheapest food in New Orleans. We know it’s open, and we know we are having a great time with good friends or family, life is wonderful for a brief hour, we are totally in the moment … yes, we are living life one beignet at a time.”

Find out more information about the book, events, and performances at www.MeanwhileBackAtCafeDuMonde.com or follow McDonald on Twitter @BackatCafeDuMonde.

Join Peggy Sweeney-McDonald, along with Jim Urdiales, chef and owner of Mestizo, and other food storytellers, at Mestizo on Oct. 9, for a book signing party from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Jim Urdiales, chef and owner of Mestizo, shared his food monologue in “Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde…,” along with his family recipe for guacamole.

Ingredients: 10 Haas avocados, ripe; 2 whole onions; 2 vine ripened tomatoes, chopped; ½ cup of Italian Dressing; salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.

Directions: blend all ingredients in a food processor or mash.


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Chef Ryan Rondeno’s Cuisine Adds a Bit of Louisiana “Lagniappe” at Nancystree.org Garden Party

Watch “Meanwhile,Back At Cafe Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com

Chef Ryan Rondeno’s Adds A Bit of  

Louisiana “Lagniappe”

 to NancysTree.org Garden Party

A few months ago, Ryan Rondeno, a private chef in Los Angeles reached out to me.  Another “foodie” friend, Chef Melinda Curtis, who I had met at 2011 Tasty Awards, referred Ryan to me.  He’s a New Orleans native who lives in Los Angeles and is a private chef to the stars!  Ryan has cooked for Will and Jada Smith, Tyrese Gibson and Sugar Ray Leonard.  Ryan and I became FB friend and I told him I would keep him in mind for the next Los Angeles show of “Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde…”. Ryan has worked at the best New Orleans restaurants, including Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s and has been in Los Angeles for three years. A few months later, I needed to get a caterer for the VIP Suite for the fundraiser I was producing and I immediately reached out to him.

Chef Ryan Rondeno
NancysTree.org was created earlier this year to raise funds to help Nancy and Jay Westbrook cover their medical and living expenses as Nancy struggles with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.  Nancy was diagnosed on her birthday in December.  Jay is a hospice care nurse who was laid off last year.  Their friends were devastated and decided to take action and produce a Garden Party to raise funds and to celebrate Nancy’s life.   I didn’t know Jay and Nancy, but jumped in to be of service.  Last September, I had produced the Premiere Oncology Foundation’s Truth Be Told event and the night before the event, my beloved Mother-in-Law passed away of lung cancer.  Everyone has been touched by cancer.  I saw how much Nancy and Jay meant to my friends and how passionate they were to make a difference so I was thrilled to be on board for this event.  In the last month, I have been able to get to know Jay and Nancy and am inspired by their journey and how they are walking through this with grace and dignity.

Jay and Nancy Westbrook
The Garden Party event was be held at Miauhaus Studios, a cool photography studio in Hollywood on Sunday, April 29, 2012 from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  The event included a silent auction, food/refreshments and a comedy show and celebrity appearances by Russell Brand, Ant Comic, Tammy Pescatelli,Janice Dickinson, Sarge, Aileen Quinn and more. Activate Drinks, Illy Issimo Coffee and Sokenbicha Tea sponsored this amazing event.  Ryan was excited to be on board as a sponsor for the event to create appetizers in the VIP Suite.  He then sent me a delicious menu of passed appetizers.  Russell Brand is vegan so Ryan tweaked the menu a bit. The vegan selections included golden beet salad with lemon-walnut emulsion and Babaganoush served with crispy pita chips.  The rest of the guests enjoyed smoked Mozzarella and sundried tomato salad, with Serrano ham, and melon compote on a crostini — simply delicious!

The highlight was my Louisiana favorite, crawfish and corn macque choux (pronounced “Mock Shoe”) with fennel-onion jam!  Macque Choux is stewed corn and tomatoes and divine.  Add crawfish and it is double divine!  (See Chef Ryan’s Recipe below)

Crawfish Maque Choux

I can’t begin to tell you how much of a hit these appetizers were.  My friend, Adriana Bate, who I met in New Orleans years ago and now lives in Los Angeles, came to volunteer with the registration.  When she arrived, I told her we had a New Orleans chef making crawfish corn macque choux in the kitchen, she said, “That is my all-time favorite dish at Commander’s Palace and go get some for me NOW!”  We all kept running to the kitchen throughout the afternoon to get another passed appetizer sized portion off the tray as Ryan patiently kept replenishing the tray for the waiter to pass in the VIP Suite.

Peggy & Chef Ryan Rondeno on the Red Carpet

Can I just say, there is nothing like a Louisiana chef to spice up a party menu!  It was such a treat to have Ryan on board and his personality, great smile and energy were “Lagniappe” as we say in Louisiana.  For those of you who aren’t familiar – Lagniappe (pronounced “Lan-yap”) means “a little bit extra” and saying it is almost as fun as experiencing it.  It always makes me smile!

Russell Brand & Tammy Pescatelli

Jimmy McDonald, Peggy, Actress – Aileen Quinn, 
& Travis McDowell – Activate Drink Sponsor

Ant Comic, Peggy & comedian,  Tammy Pescatelli

For donations or more information about NancysTree.org, please check out the website.

For more information about Peggy Sweeney-McDonald & Superstar Events-LA go to www.superstareventsla.com
or call 310-709-2851

Chef Ryan Rondeno is available for events or private catering. He can be reached at  678-763-6627

www.facebook.com/chefryanrondeno and www.twitter.com/chefryanrondeno 

Chef Ryan’s Crawfish Corn Macque Choux with Fennel Marmalade


4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, small diced
1 large green bell pepper, small diced
1 red bell pepper, small diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups fresh corn kernels
2 Tbsp creole seasoning
16 oz Louisiana crawfish tails
1 ½ cups of heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions and the bell peppers. Cook until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add the corn and two Tbsp of creole seasoning.  Cook and stir until soft, about 5 minutes.  On medium-high, add the heavy cream. Cook and stir until the heavy cream thickens about 4-5 minutes. Add the crawfish.  Cook just to heat the crawfish through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fennel-Onion Marmalade

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, small diced
1 large fennel, small diced
1 cup sugar
1 cup of white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: Use fennel frawns for garnishing the crawfish corn macque choux.

In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, cook until soft for two minutes. Add fennel and cook another two minutes. Add sugar and vinegar.  Cook for 20 minutes or until marmalade thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Can substitute crawfish with shrimp or chicken.

Note: Ryan buys his crawfish in Los Angeles at the New Orleans Fish Market on Vernon.

Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more

It All Started With a Coconut Pie….

It All Started With a Coconut Pie

It all started with a Coconut Pie. I was back “Home” in Baton Rouge visiting my family for Thanksgiving and probably in one of the darkest times of my life. My business as a meeting and event producer in Los Angeles had shriveled up with the economy and was a far cry from the corporate meeting planner salary I had been used to. When I was laid off two years earlier, I had high hopes of opening my own company, Superstar Events-LA, and taking the industry by storm. At the same time, corporate America stopped producing high end meetings and events and it didn’t’ look like it was coming back anytime soon!
I wasn’t grateful for much this particular Thanksgiving. I was in the “depths of despair” as I like to say since I am a southern belle-drama queen! I had arrived the week before Thanksgiving and cried every day to my Mom as I tried to figure out my next step professionally and personally. My husband, Jimmy McDonald, and I weren’t getting along and, of course, it never dawned on me that I was probably blaming him for my misery. He told me that my happiness shouldn’t come from my job and that I should try being a human being instead of a human doing. Great! I need you to be philosophical when I’m fricken ready to put my head in the oven! Thanks, Jimmy! Let’s just say, it was the lowest time in my life and I remember praying for God to please show me the way as my plan was definitely not working.
The day after Thanksgiving, my friend, Lisa, came down from Shreveport to visit me in Baton Rouge and when I asked her how her Thanksgiving was, she rolled her eyes and told me her “Coconut Pie and a Bottle of Red Wine” story. She was so depressed that she was going to spend Thanksgiving alone without her family and friends because she was in Shreveport working on a film. So the night before Thanksgiving, she left work and went to Strawn’s Eat Shop to buy a coconut pie, went back to her corporate apartment, cooked herself dinner and drank a whole bottle of red wine. Then in her drunken depression, she ate the entire pie that she was supposed to bring to her Thanksgiving dinner at her boss’ house the next day. She’s a smart ass New Jersey girl and when she told me her story, I laughed until I almost cried. Throughout the weekend, I asked her to tell my Mom, family and friends her pie story. It continued to get funnier and they all laughed hysterically. I said to Lisa, “This is like one of those monologue shows, but with food stories and everyone has a food story!” I stayed up most of the night in my hotel room in the French Quarter thinking of the idea of people coming together to share their stories about the Universal language, FOOD, and how our lives revolve around it. I was so excited, I barely slept.


The next day Lisa and I headed over to Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter for their famous beignets (fried donuts with powdered sugar on top) and Cafe Au Lait! While enjoying the deliciousness of the morning, I told her about my idea to produce a show of food stories. Since it is about food you have to eat and drink, it’s really an “event” held at a restaurant. It would be a celebration of how food is so important in our lives!

I now had my own event and I started to get excited, inspired and jazzed and felt I was coming alive again! What would I call it? And then I remembered that when Jimmy and I lived in New Orleans 12 years before, I had coined the phrase “Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde….” on one of our many visits there. I would pick up my coffee cup and toast my friends while saying it. We would even clink our coffee cups on the … (dot, dot, dot) while laughing. I also remember saying, “That is a great name for a book, a play, a film or the story of my life!” Who knew!

Back in Baton Rouge later that evening, I told my parents and sisters my idea. They loved it and gave me ideas for local TV Anchors, Chefs, Restaurant Owners, Business Owners and foodies. I now had a “Wish List” of potential headliners to invite to share their personal food stories.
My next step would be to call Cafe Du Monde to get permission to use their name. I was terrified to pick up the phone — what if they said, “NO”? I procrastinated for several days and then just did it. I spoke to Burt Benrud, Vice President of Cafe Du Monde, and told him the “working title” and said to him, “Meanwhile, Back at Starbucks… just doesn’t have the same ring!” He laughed and said to send him an outline of the show. OMG — I had to write an outline — it was becoming more real. The fear was overwhelming. Can I really do this? I typed up the Vision of the Show and emailed the next day. Within 15 minutes I received an email granting me permission to use their name.
The first show of “Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde…” was produced six months later on May 16, 2010, at The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and the rest is history.

The Myrtles Plantation

I like to say the beignet gets sweeter and bigger all the time. 32 shows in just over a year in Louisiana, California and Mississippi with over 230 people from all walks of life sharing their food stories and this Fall we will have a coffee table book being launched from Pelican Publishing with the stories pictures and recipes!

People love the shows, but even more, they love the story of how it all began! My hopes for the “Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde…” blog will be to share my sweet journey. I believe I was divinely inspired and chose to listen to the idea that the creative Spirit was whispering in my ear. It hasn’t been easy. Lots of ups and downs, and I’ve had to find the courage to overcome all my fears and, believe me, there have been many of them! Also, there have been many lessons which I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I have found my talents, my strengths, my weaknesses, my heart, my soul, my light, my Sunshine! I am so blessed. Miraculously, because I am now happy with myself, my relationship with Jimmy, completely turned around and we are happier than ever! I couldn’t have done this without him, my family and my friends! So the journey that began with my Muse – Lisa, and her funny Coconut Pie Story continues, as I learn to take life one beignet at a time….

My next blog will be about how I put the premiere groundbreaking shows together so join me again soon!
Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more

Request for Monologues for MEANWHILE, BACK AT CAFE DU MONDE…

“Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde…” a unique and festive monologue event about the 2nd Universal Language — FOOD — and how our lives revolve around the satisfaction of it. The show is created around a collection of FOOD monologues – stories about food, relationships around food, experiences in our lives that revolve around food, including love affairs, break-ups, careers, the highs and lows of our lives. The common thread is FOOD —an important part of our lives, our culture, and our personal stories! The event is a little bit of theatre, a lot about cuisine and a true cultural celebration.

The event begins with a festive cocktail party with a fabulous buffet of great food followed by local personalities as “headliners” sharing their personal life stories around food. Headliners have included The Food Network personalities, chefs, restaurant and business owners, actors, writers, musicians, singers, TV anchors and more.

The show premiered May 16, 2010, at The Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana and has gone on to sold out performances at restaurants in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Los Angeles and Santa Monica. A coffee table book of the monologues with pictures and recipes is in the works with Pelican Publishing and a TV pilot has been recently shot.

Monologues should be approximately 5-7 minutes. These monologues would not necessarily need to be memorized; however, you should be very familiar with your story. The show will include 8 monologues and would run approximately one hour and 15 minutes. These events will begin with a dinner before the show. All headliners get to bring a guest with them. There are no rehearsals. We arrive one hour before the doors open to go over the logistics and to take pictures. We look forward to hearing from you! For more information, please check out our website at http://www.meanwhilebackatcafedumonde.com. Please let us know asap if you are interested in participating in upcoming dates. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact the producers, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald at (310) 709-2851 or Jay Basist (225) 733-4016

Watch “Meanwhile,Back At Cafe Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com
Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more

Beth Schnitzer – San Francisco local joins cast!

Beth Schnitzer
Hailing from the East Coast, Beth has had a successful 20+ year career in the hospitality, sports, and entertainment sectors. Beth is Co-Founder and Partner of Spritz Marketing, an interactive marketing company that specializes in brand strategy and digital marketing solutions. Beth also oversees Partnership Marketing for PIER 39, Northern California’s most visited Tourist Attraction. Beth is actively involved in the San Francisco Community through various Non-Profit Boards and fundraising events and is also a Foodie and Wine lover. And her brothers have restaurants in Cape Cod, MA and South Beach FL. Beth received her business degree from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and resides in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more

Nikki Thomas – A native of New Orleans (and fan of Cafe Du Monde)

Nikki Thomas – A native of New Orleans (and fan of Cafe Du Monde) and resident of San Francisco. Radio Host for KBLX in San Francisco and broadcast live at the popular jazz brunch on Sunday’s at Restaurant Anzu a the Hotel Nikko. http://www.thenikkithomasnetwork.com

Watch “Meanwhile,Back At Cafe Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com
Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more

“Meanwhile, Back At… ” Hit Westside Times Today Front Page!

The upcoming Santa Monica “Meanwhile, Back At Cafe Du Monde…” event on Sunday, Feb. 20th at Sonoma Wine Garden made the front page today of the Westside Times! Tickets going fast for this red carpet event! Lots of great headliners sharing their amazing stories, fabulous food and wine – see y’all there! Call for reservations 214-424-4560. Tickets $60 and include dinner, show, glass of wine, tax and gratuity!

Watch “Meanwhile,Back At Cafe Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com
Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more

The Tasty Awards 2011 Red Carpet

Peggy and Chef Vinni Villicano (co-host of the upcoming tv pilot) walked the red carpet of The Tasty Awards – celebrating food, life style and fashion in TV, Internet and Publications on Thursday night at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood! It was an amazing night meeting all the stars of the food shows and more! Pic provided by Dissarry Magazine.

Watch “Meanwhile,Back At Cafe Du Monde…” one of the most popular food channels on Livestream.com
Meanwhile, Back at Cafe’ Du Monde…
The festive and unique monlogue event about the
2nd Universal Language – FOOD and how our lives
revolve around the satisfaction of it!
Read more