Leaving Your Flan Behind

Little did Ingrid Thomas know how her father’s flan would become a cornerstone of her life in New Orleans and the world she would one day have to leave.


The Canal Street Bistro in New Orleans serves a flan dish that has been in the family for more than 20 years. Top: An orange flan. Above: Ingrid Thomas with the blender used to make the flan. Below: Plantain-and-rum-flavored flan. Photographs by Andre’ LaFleur/IslandandSpice.com

The Canal Street Bistro in New Orleans serves a flan dish that has been in the family for more than 20 years. Top: An orange flan. Above: Ingrid Thomas with the blender used to make the flan. Below: Plantain-and-rum-flavored flan. Photographs by Andre’ LaFleur/IslandandSpice.com

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Ingrid Thomas learned how to make her father’s flan recipe while working in the family restaurant in New Orleans. Decades later, she can still recall the steady flow of customers who would come in for some Mexican food and end the night with cups of coffee and a plate of flan.

Though times have changed, the flan has not.

The dessert remains silky, soft and expels a subtle sweetness. Instead of condensed milk, the recipe calls for evaporated milk, cutting down on the sugary bite. The flavor, however, is one of imagination. Any day of the week, they fold in coconut, guava, orange, Mexican chocolate or her favorite, figs with rum. The variations are limitless.

“It’s about layering flavors, even with something as simple as a flan,” Ms. Thomas said, noting that the creaminess and complexity of flavors was intended, especially since her father didn’t care too much for sweets. “It’s never just a standard vanilla custard.”

Long after the restaurant changed locations, long after Hurricane Katrina and long after the neighborhood transformed into the new New Orleans – a place that to her feels like a remnant of a better time – her father continued serving the flan dish to customers. For a time, when she operated the Canal Street Bistro in the Mid City neighborhood, she was dutifully making the dessert.

Then life happened.

The charter school where two of her children were enrolled had closed. The alternatives for schooling were not ideal, she said. The best option was to move. This meant leaving behind New Orleans, the family business and nights shared over flan.

“This flan represents for me the time spent around a table with family and friends,” said Ms. Thomas, who is 41 years old.

Unfortunately, the family flan isn’t easy to replicate. While the baseline ingredients are milk, eggs and sugar, this recipe requires one necessary piece of machinery.

“The secret is the blender,” she said, jokingly referring to it as a magic blender. The real ingenuity of the blender is in its markings, which work as a measuring guide. She explained that no matter what flavor flan they make, the milk must touch a certain notch, the eggs reaching another as do the ingredients that provide the flan’s flavor. It never fails, she said.

“Home for me has less to do with the locale and more to do with just coming around a table,” she said, knowing that her father will keep the traditions going at the restaurant he continues to run.   

“The memories that that evokes for me come from dishes like flan. You can't leave it behind nor should you.”