Last week’s New Orleans Wine and Food experience lived up to its billing as one of the top food and wine shows in the country, ranking with such world-renowned events as Aspen and South Beach, Fla.

The five-day NOWFE was an opportunity for south Louisiana to do what it does best: entertain a crowd and serve great food against the backdrop of the Crescent City.

Thursday night’s Royal Street Stroll was a particular delight, with dozens of area restaurants and wineries from around the country serving tasty samples inside gorgeous antique stores and galleries.

But one of the highlights of the event, from a Baton Rouge perspective, was the awarding of two Fleur de lis Culinary Awards Medals ? a gold and a silver ? to Ruffino’s Executive Chef Peter Sclafani.

That’s big. The local chef and co-owner of Ruffino’s competed against dozens of the best chefs in New Orleans ? and, by extension, in the United States ? and walked away with the silver medal for his Seared Diver Scallops With Truffled Corn Pudding, Shiitakes and Roasted Chicken Jus, and with the gold for his 48 Hour Pork Belly With Candied Bacon Jam and Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding. Both taste as impressive as they sound!

For Baton Rouge it’s significant that this already acclaimed local chef is turning heads in wider culinary circles. It proves that this city has the kind of culinary talent that can hold its own in the big leagues.

Even more than that, though, it’s noteworthy that Scalfani and his colleague at Juban’s Restaurant, Terry McDonner, both participated again in the NOWFE, which was headed this year by yet another Baton Rouge chef and restaurateur, Kevin Kimball.

Their participation and involvement with the organization shows an important interaction between the cities’ culinary communities, and a bond that has grown stronger in the past five-plus, post-Katrina years.

Kimball told me recently that he joined the NOWFE board of directors because he understands that as New Orleans goes so goes the state, and he wanted to do what he could to help promote New Orleans and its culinary community. He also wanted New Orleans to recognize all Baton Rouge has to offer.

Unlike so many in both cities, Kimball “gets” regionalism and frowns on the provincial, almost feudal rivalry that still occasionally colors the relationship between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

He recognizes that helping the New Orleans culinary community grow and succeed can only benefit Baton Rouge, which, as Sclafani has proven, has some culinary talent in its own right.

Kimball also told me one of his goals for this year’s event was to have one of “his” Baton Rouge chefs win a gold medal.

Well, Kimball, congratulations. And to, Sclafani, too!



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