The Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality Expo, the tradeshow that started Saturday, is always a fascinating snapshot of what’s new, what restaurant people are talking about and how suppliers sell food and drink to the people who end up selling it to you.
The three-day conference, run by the Louisiana Restaurant Association at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, is open to the industry only, drawing restaurant operators, chefs and managers from across the state. Vendors on hand have supplies for the truck stop fried chicken counter, scallops and foie gras for high-end restaurants and cures for the aching feet that cross all lines of what can be a physically-demanding field. In between, there’s always lots of food, lots of drink and lots of eye-catching displays.
One was a vignette of breads assembled by a large downtown New Orleans bakery that, until recently, had kept a low profile.
For several years now, the Hyatt Regency hotel’s culinary division has produced a wide array of breads for its in-house restaurants and events. But more recently it has branded this operation Pain Frais and started pitching its services as a wholesaler, delivering orders to other restaurants, hotels, caterers and such.
“Our executive chef Eric Damidot is from France and he’s just passionate about bread, so that led to all of this,” said Jeff Mattia, the hotel’s executive sous chef, who was manning the booth stocked with pan-sized crackers, po-boy loaves, bundles of baguettes and lengths of ciabatta, for a display worthy of a St. Joseph’s altar.
Meanwhile, Leidenheimer Baking Co., the New Orleans baking stalwart now approaching its 120th year, was also on hand and had a simpler way of luring attendees – samples of Commander’s Palace garlic bread, the compulsively popular snack at the landmark Creole restaurant that starts with its loaves.
Wine on Tap
Glazer’s, the beverage distributor, was slinging plenty of drinks from its booth and drew plenty of thirsty visitors, though what seemed to draw the most attention was its wine on tap. A customized mobile keg cooler dispensed a white and red wine from Stemmari, an Italian brand, flowing from the type of slim kegs now common for craft beer. They hold the equivalent of 27 bottles of wine.
“These are not just for your everyday house wines, this is for a restaurant, bar, casino or venue that wants to have a mid- to high-range by the glass option,” Juan Cazabon, Glazer’s sales director. “And it reduces the waste with no glass bottles.”
It also looked like a good way to serve wine quickly, at high volume, drawing off cup after cup without having to handle and open bottles.
A growing niche elsewhere, Cazabon explained that more tap wines are just now coming onto the local market because of a recent change in state rules, which previously limited the size of wine containers.
Other Louisiana distributors are working with wines on tap now, including Republic National Distribution Co., which has a Prosecco by the keg for sparkling wine on tap.
These systems function similar to beer taps, though some of the equipment is different, like tubing designed to protect the freshness and acidity of wine from keg to tap.
“Beer can go through the wine line but wine can’t go through the beer line, Cazabon said.
Once tapped the one in the keg is good for about 90 days thanks to a nitrogen gas tapping system. But if the pace of consumption at the show was any measure, it will probably go a lot faster than that.
Stumping for Seafood
Harlon’s LA Fish & Seafood, a big, Kenner-based distributor, had a booth set up like a seafood shack, with platters of wild-caught catfish making the rounds and a few live baby alligators on hand for photo ops (their jaws safely taped, of course).
But company owner Harlon Pearce himself he was using event to talk serious business, namely the work of the Gulf Seafood Institute, an organization he helped form that lobbies for seafood industry policy.
“We need to connect the dots between the producers in the Gulf and the consumers around the country,” Pearce said of the group’s work. “Decisions that are made across the country affect how people work here and what people end up seeing in their restaurants. The whole system is so fragmented now, but it’s all connected.”
Jim Gossen, of the seafood distributor Louisiana Foods and a member of the Gulf Seafood Institute’s board, said the big issue at hand is how the small-scale, usually family-run fishing operations that are the backbone of the industry can cope with changing global economics and policies.
“Our commercial fishermen are our access to our last wild food source, seafood from the oceans. Without them we would probably be eating imported, farmed seafood,” Gossen said. “One of our goals of GSI is helping fishermen bring their challenges to light and finding solutions.
“In my 43 years in this business, I am concerned that the next generation of fisherman won’t be able to make ends meet, changing our bayou culture and our eating habits. Most of us would not want to live without this vital part of our lives.”
The LRA’s tradeshow coincided with the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, a competition of chefs representing different states around the country. This year, the winner was an Alaskan chef by the irresistibly apt name of Beau Schooler, who earned the title “King of American Seafood” with a sockeye salmon dish. Schooler is chef/owner of the Rookery Cafe in Juneau.
Second place when to chef Adam Evans, executive chef of the Optimist in Atlanta. Louisiana snagged a third place finish with New Orleans’ own Michael Brewer, who prepared his Louisiana seafood nachos (the “chips” were actually fried fish skin). Brewer, who runs Uptown’s modern po-boy shop the Sammich, earned his place in the national competition by winning the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off in May.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.