Jazz Fest is behind us, and the long summer lies ahead. But in this week leading up to Memorial Day, revelry will once again shift into to high gear for the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience.
Now in its 23rd year, NOWFE returns this week (May 20-24) with the promise of even more Bacchanalian fun, with new opportunities to explore the nuances of food, wine and spirits and learn from the libations.
It’s a wide-ranging festival held at venues across the city (tickets are required for each). And as usual, it’s anchored by signature events that always draw thirsty crowds with plenty of the wine and food behind NOWFE’s name.
The first is the Royal Street Stroll presented by Rouses. The festive and wine-loving Krewe of Cork takes to the street to kick off the Thursday night stroll (beginning at 5:30 p.m.), which transforms Royal Street into a wandering wine tasting, with stations for samples inside shops and galleries and plenty of booths lining the street in between for still more refreshments, including food from restaurants as diverse as Kingfish and the Irish House.
Next up are the Grand Tastings (Friday at 6 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m.), which fill a hall of the convention center with 1,000 domestic and international wines alongside sample-size dishes from a wide array of New Orleans restaurants. New additions this year include Shaya, the Israeli restaurant from recent James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya, and the new Brennan’s Restaurant.
In line with tradition, the “King of Louisiana Seafood” will be crowned at Saturday’s Grand Tasting during the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off. Ten Louisiana chefs, including New Orleans representatives Michael Brewer of The Sammich and Mike Nelson of GW Fins, will compete for the annual honor, which was won last year by Aaron Burgau of Patois.
While the majority of NOWFE events spotlight New Orleans culinary riches, one new event this year adds a bit of Charleston flair. The Billy Reid Dinner Series—co-sponsored by The Local Palate—brings in some top chefs from Charleston to cook alongside New Orleans talent for two nights of food, fashion and entertainment at the Magazine Street outpost of clothier Billy Reid. The Wednesday night dinner (now sold out) features Ryan Prewitt of Peche Seafood Grill with Charleston peers Mike Lata of Fig and Kevin Johnson of The Grocery. On Friday night, MoPho chef Michael Gulotta takes the helm with Charleston chefs Andy Henderson of Edmund’s Oast and Josh Walker of Xiao Bao Biscuit.
An expanded roster of seminars is designed to appeal particularly to wine lovers who want to expand their wine knowledge, glass in hand. The list this year includes in-depth learning opportunities ranging from South American wines to how the size and shape of a wine glass impacts the sensory experience of wine drinking.
For the less studious but perhaps more adventurous, NOWFE has also added a number of events this year which allow diners to go above and beyond simple epicurean revelry.
One of these — a fishing trip with Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery and Balise -- even allows guests to hit the water.
“NOWFE wanted to expand their programming to include some more exclusive events, and they approached me to brainstorm on what we could do. We came up with a fishing trip,” said Devillier. “We’re going to go out at sunrise and fish until about 1 (p.m.) in-shore — trying to catch speckled trout, redfish and flounder — then we should get back to the city mid-afternoon. The guests will go back to their hotel to freshen up, then I’ll bring the catch to Balise and do a few different preparations. We’ll all gather back up in the evening and drink wine and eat the day’s catch. It should be fun.”
This new layer to NOFWE adds a more “hands on” interactive component, through which people can not only enjoy fine food and drink, but take a peek behind the scenes at how it is created.
“If you’re not someone who fishes regularly, this is actually the perfect event for you,” said Devillier.
Other freshly added “experience” events for 2015 include an interactive bean-to-cup coffee roasting demonstration with French Truck Coffee’s Geoffrey Meeker, and a specially-guided lunchtime shopping excursion to Rouses with chef Nathan Richard of Kingfish and SoBou bar chef Abigail Gullo, who then will assist in creating a lunch from the purchased ingredients.