Blue Banquet

The Culbertson women were known for the unique use of colors used in their clothing, such as this replicated blue piece on display at the Culbertson Mansion, which is an appropriate color for the May 20 Blue Banquet event. 

Blue Monday takes on a whole new meaning as the Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site hosts a Blue Banquet on Monday, May 20, from 6 to 9 pm.

Ten local chefs will put their modern spin on classic Victorian dishes in an homage to a Blue Banquet hosted at the mansion in 1889 in honor of the fifth anniversary of the Amaranth Club, a women’s literary society.

Diners are invited to wear blue and enjoy blue décor, along with live entertainment and batch cocktails.

Why blue?

“Blue was representative of the amaranth flower,” said Jessica Stavros, southeast regional director for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Site, with direct oversight of the Culbertson Mansion.

From newspaper and personal accounts, Stavros and her staff know that the 1889 party was very blue indeed.

A newspaper account called the event “delightfully appropriate in all its appointments; dining room and table decorations, menu-cards and china all being of this traditional literary tint.”

The Blue Banquet will be held outdoors, “so we are festooning the mansion itself in blue,” Stavros said. Limited to 100 guests, the event will see ten tables for ten lining a closed-off Main Street in front of the mansion.

The chefs, representing both sides of the Ohio River, are: Allen Hubbard of Martini Italian Bistro, Dallas McGarity of Fat Lamb Modern Kitchen & Bar and Portage House, Joe Phillips of Pints & Union, Meghan Levins of Monnik Beer Co., Michael Crouch of Bistro 1860, Michael Hargrove of Beha Catering, Rachel Hall of Orange Clover Kitchen & More, Scott Dickenson on 1816 Modern Kitchen & Drink, a chef to be named by MESA – A Collaborative Kitchen, and Michael Bowe of Red Yeti.

One chef will cook for each table,

“The guests don’t know who their chef is. It’s all a surprise,” said Kaitlyn Tisdale, program developer for the Culbertson Mansion. “Each table is numbered. When the chefs get there, they will literally draw a number out of a hat.”

Each chef will draw inspiration from a historical menu typical of a Culbertson event. “We have menus from several events they threw,” said Stavros. “Usually, when they hosted events they would print the menu in the newspaper.”

“Typical menus would include a variety of proteins, from oysters to tongue, and desserts like ice creams or Charlotte Russe,” said Tisdale. “The chefs are free to use their imaginations, because that makes it more fun for them.”

“That’s part of the beauty of it,” agreed Stavros. “It’s a modern twist on a traditional menu. We’re really excited to see what they come up with.”

“None of this could have happened without Joe Phillips at Pints & Union,” Stavros said. The owner of the “?progressively old-world public house” just down the street from the mansion called his chef friends to participate.

“When Jessica came to me, I really loved the idea,” he said. “As a business we are very, very creative. This is right in our wheelhouse. Something that has direct meaning for New Albany is right up our alley.”

Although Phillips is using the Victorian menu as a guide, “we’re going to go much more traditional French, which makes us happy. It’s nothing like what we usually serve at Pints & Union. French food is where all our heroes come from.”

He plans to prepare grilled oysters with compound butter, leek and potato soup, and a pan-fried haddock with poached white asparagus with a Capriole goat cheese parsnip puree. But he refused to divulge his plans for dessert.

Phillips said he wanted to represent southern Indiana and Louisville in the event. “I’m not a believer in the separate Kentucky/Indiana mentality,” he said. “I’m pushing pretty hard to get Louisville over here and show that there’s a lot of cool history and stuff over here. I think Louisville can find a second home here, and Indiana can find a lot of opportunity in Louisville.”

The Culbertson Mansion celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and the banquet is just one of the events marking the occasion.

“A couple of things scheduled this year are larger than we’ve ever done,” said Stavros. “The Blue Banquet is one. We’re saving our big guns for Dec. 28 with The Surrealist Ball.”

The ball will be based on an event by that name held in France in 1972, “for Salvador Dali, who happened to be friends with Culbertson’s great-granddaughter,” Stavros said. “We’ll be putting out more information later.”

New specialty tours and children’s programming will be joining the site’s regular programming; and the popular haunted house will return in October.

“We’ll still scare the pants off of you,” promised Stavros.

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