James Beard Foundation’s Taste America Gathers All-Star Chefs and Local Foodies in New Orleans

New Orleans is just one stop on a 10-city tour of food, fun, and fundraising

Nick Lama, of Avo, wowed with his heavenly bites of duck foie gras agnolotti with Marsala and Parmesan espuma. 

Even with a hurricane quickly approaching New Orleans, the James Beard Foundation wasn’t going to let a little bad weather hinder part of the second stop on its annual Taste America tour. The cross-country tour, which is in its fifth year, kicked off in Phoenix on September 22, with stops scheduled in 10 cities across the country. The New Orleans event, which took place on Friday, October 6, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, featured multiple acclaimed chefs who presented their creations to a crowd of traveling foodies and locals looking to take their minds off the approaching storm.

The evening commenced with a tasting reception featuring hors d’oeuvres prepared by some of the city’s most celebrated chefs. James Beard Award winner Zachary Engel (Shaya) served up a delightful parsnip soubric with preserved lemon, celery, and harissa. Nick Lama (Avo) wowed with his heavenly bites of duck foie gras agnolotti with Marsala and Parmesan espuma. Michael Stoltzfus and Kristen Essig, the dynamic chef duo behind Coquette, presented a tasty nibble of city ham with popcorn, muscadine purée, and turnip bottarga. Michael Sichel (Galatoire’s) put together mini sandwiches filled with house-smoked Blue Circle salmon with Cajun caviar gribiche and crème fraîche. Finally, Martha Wiggins (Sylvain), who was a James Beard semifinalist this year, prepared snapper ceviche with chiles, coconut milk, and crispy pigs’ ears in endive. Buffalo Trace, Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, and Robert Mondavi Winery provided libations throughout the evening.

As guests moved from the tasting reception to the ballroom for the main event, Eric Paulsen of WWL-TV, who served as the emcee for the evening, welcomed guests to the event and thanked them for attending despite the inclement weather. The first course of the evening was cold-smoked yellowfin tuna with tonnato, house-made Worcestershire, watercress, and shrimp cracklings presented by popular New Orleans chef John Folse and James Beard Award winner Rick Tramonto (Restaurant R’evolution). The newly crowned James Beard Best Chef: South winner and the evening’s local star chef, Rebecca Wilcomb (Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant), followed with a dish that featured roasted cobia bourride with hazelnut pistou and lemon, topped with shrimp. All-Star Rocco DiSpirito — a James Beard Award winner and author — took the lead on the third course, serving veal saltimbocca with polenta, radicchio, and balsamic vinegar. The final course of the evening showcased a special 175th anniversary rendition of one of New Orleans’ most storied desserts: baked Alaska from Michael Regua and Antione’s Restaurant.

All-Star Rocco DiSpirito and the evening’s local star chef, Rebecca Wilcomb, of Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant

Cheryl Gerber Photography

All-Star Rocco DiSpirito and the evening’s local star chef, Rebecca Wilcomb, of Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant

During the dessert course, the ballroom turned into an auction house, as culinary packages were auctioned off to raise money for the James Beard Foundation’s scholarship fund. The scholarship fund, which was established in 1991, “assists aspiring and established culinary professionals who plan to further their education at a licensed or accredited culinary school, or hospitality institution, college, or university.”

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Over the next several weeks, the Taste America tour will make stops in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, and Kansas City. For more information on the tour, or to purchase tickets for an event in your city, visit the Taste America website. For behind-the-scenes action, be sure to follow #JBFTasteAmerica and @BeardFoundation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.