Never in my wildest imaginings would I believe that I could not only score tickets to the 2012 New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, I got to be a judge. Oh yes...this simple glutton from the suburbs, this flyspeck on the global culinary radar, was actually fortunate enough to sample more than 17 dishes from some of the finest restaurants all over this wonderful city in a dizzying tour-bus adventure that lasted a day and a half.
Although I was ecstatic about gorging myself on dishes like a Mayan Quinoa Salad from Chef Guillermo Peters at Canal Street Bistro...
...or these Crab & Avocado Shooters topped with tiny crab beignets shaped like donuts from Chef Randy Buck at the Hotel Monteleone...
...or even this decadent, Southern Style Louisiana Voodoo Shrimp with a sweet and spicy sauce, portabello mushroom, fried green tomato and cheese grits from Chef Duke LoCicero at Cafe Giovanni...
...the best part of the trip was that I was able to meet so many interesting people, all of whom possess a great passion for food, just like me!
On the first day, I got to hang out with fellow judge Dale Curry; former food editor of the Times Picayune, writer for New Orleans Magazine and author of New Orleans Home Cooking. Admittedly, I was a bit intimidated at first, but this incredible woman is very familiar with New Orleans cuisine including fads that have come and gone, the rise and fall of chefs and a discerning palate...thank goodness she is super-cool to boot!
I was also finally able to put faces with the names Robert Peyton, columnist for New Orleans Magazine (and bad-ass civil defense attorney) and Doug Brantley editor of Where New Orleans. The stunning shots by Photographer Romney Caruso both taught me about styling, equipment and light while effortlessly putting my food porn to shame. We were also lucky enough to have Executive Director of NOWFE Jamie Peckenpaugh and her texting, Tweeting, Instagram-wielding, on-the-ball, side-kick Chelsea from Georgia who came along with us to chronicle the tastings and to join in on the the fun.
As if this were not enough to make me giddy, I was able to experience things that would otherwise be denied to me because there is no way in hell I would be able to afford it! The most glaring example of this would be our short stint sitting at the chef's table in Commander's Palace. Two mountains of large, ripe, Louisiana strawberries set the scene as we watched Executive Chef Tory McPhail demonstrate his "super-strawberry" dessert.
Vacuum-packed strawberries are steeped in strawberry jam and sugar overnight, then dressed with more strawberry jam, strawberry whipped cream, strawberry Pixie Stick dust and strawberry Pop Rocks. Served alongside this childhood-candy-fantasy-come-true, Chef whipped up a delicious strawberry hurricane made with Old New Orleans Rum.
All of this was possible thanks to my friend Kendall Gensler who is editor and publisher of Culinary Concierge Magazine as well as an excellent food stylist...among many other accomplishments. Kendall, if you are reading this, know that I will definitely be available for this again next year...and thank you!