“The amount of hospitality in New Orleans is just phenomenal,” observed JBF Award winner April Bloomfield. “It really blew me away.”
This weekend the James Beard Foundation brought its annual Taste America culinary tour to the vibrant city of New Orleans. For the third year in a row, the Foundation is traveling to 10 cities across the country to host one-of-kind fundraising dinners highlighting local cuisine and headlined by a visiting All-Star chef and a Local Star chef, as well as cooking demos, artisanal tastings, and book signings.
The main event, which took place at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, began with a walk-around tasting reception featuring a formidable group of James Beard Award–winning Crescent City chefs, including Tory McPhail (Commander’s Palace), Ryan Prewitt (Pêche Seafood Grill), Alon Shaya (Shaya), Stephen Stryjewski (Cochon), and Sue Zemanick (Gautreau’s). The dishes, which served as a microcosm of the rich local culinary scene, included pork knuckles with fermented fruit, sauerkraut, and rye from Stephen Stryjewski; butternut squash–mascarpone agnolotti with jumbo lump crab and toasted pepitas by Sue Zemanick; and addictive buttermilk biscuits with tabasco-spiked duck liver pâté and fig charoset served up by Alon Shaya.
Following the tasting reception, guests made their way into the dining room for a lavish four-course dinner headlined by Taste America All-Star April Bloomfield and Local Star Donald Link. First up was host chef Eric Damidot’s autumnal and earthy smoked lamb shank torchon with young carrot mousseline, petite carrot “poulette,” carrot chips, and lamb jus.
Next up, Local Star Donald Link, who oversees a lauded roster of New Orleans restaurants including Herbsaint, gave diners a shining example of local flavor with his simultaneously luxe and refreshing jumbo lump crab with watermelon gazpacho and olive oil–fried bread; while April Bloomfield dropped the proverbial mic with a show-stopping plate of droga-spiced short rib with shelling beans and olive salad. The recipe inspiration came from chef Cesare Casella, according to Bloomfield, who explained: “Droga means ‘drug’ in Italian. It’s really just a mix of incredibly addictive spices, like cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and chiles.” And addictive it was—despite the fact that it was the final savory course of an over-the-top indulgent meal, virtually every plate was licked clean.
An intermezzo course followed with a star anise and pomegranate–infused Lifeway frozen coconut kefir, and finally, pastry chef Jeremy Fogg’s (Emeril’s Restaurant) decadent dessert duo: individual banana cream pie with caramel sauce and chocolate shavings; and dark chocolate cake with smoked chicory coffee mousse and pecan–coconut macaroons.
On Saturday morning the festivities continued at Sur La Table in nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where All-Star and JBF Award winner April Bloomfield charmed onlookers with an entertaining and educational cooking demo. The renowned British-born chef (who now helms the kitchens of the Spotted Pig, the John Dory Oyster Bar, and The Breslin in New York City) told the audience: “I’m known for all things porcine, but I really love my vegetables. They are so beautiful and versatile.” During her cooking demo, she proved her claim by whipping up a stunning and delicious dish of roasted carrots with carrot top pesto and burrata. “Always taste your vegetables first,” cautioned Bloomfield. “If they aren’t perfect, use whatever’s in season. This salad would also work really well with lovely roasted beets and beet greens, or sweet fennel with fennel fronds.” Known for her nose-to-tail approach to pork, Bloomfield applies the same principles to vegetables. “I love to use the whole thing, without producing excess waste,” she explained. After the demo, Bloomfield lingered to chat with guests and sign copies of her most recent cookbook, A Girl and Her Greens.
Photographer, artist, and cookbook author Kit Wohl (who has penned many cookbooks, including The James Beard Foundation's Best of the Best: A 25th Anniversary Celebration of America's Outstanding Chefs and New Orleans Classic Creole) dropped in for a second cooking demonstration, preparing JBF Award winner Michel Richard’s white chocolate grapes with chocolate pearls. “Chocolate doesn’t like to be messed with, so you have to work slowly and carefully,” she told the audience. “Pastry is a product of absolutes—only some people have the right kind of personality that’s just persnickety enough to do it!” Customers also enjoyed in-store giveaways and free tastings of artisanal products.
The James Beard Foundation's Taste America tour continues in Chicago and San Francisco on October 23 and 24, with a final stop in Los Angeles on November 6 and 7. Learn more about Taste America at jbftasteamerica.org and follow the tour at #JBFTasteAmerica on Twitter and Instagram.
The James Beard Foundation's mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor America's diverse culinary heritage and future through programs that educate and inspire. Learn more at jamesbeard.org.