Through her company Bon Moment (www.bonmomentnola.com), Michelle Mashon leads culinary tours in neighborhoods outside the French Quarter. On her next tour on Nov. 8, participants will visit restaurants in the Carrollton and Riverbend neighborhoods, sample dishes at each and meet the chefs. Mashon spoke with Gambit about the tours.
How did you start your culinary tour company?
Mashon: A few years ago I was working at Dishcrawl, which was similar. I'm a foodie, and I'm a natural organizer and loved showing around 30 strangers. I quit because I basically realized that I could do it on my own, which I've been doing for almost two years now. My goal is to do five or six (tours) a year.
Working with restaurants has been really great. I do two kinds of tours: I'll do small groups — for people that might be coming from out of town, maybe six to eight friends, or a couple of couples who are visiting New Orleans and want to get out of the French Quarter. I also do larger group tours, and those are mostly for locals and open to the public. With those, it will be people getting together who don't really know each other, but after the first cocktail, they're all friends. It's a way for New Orleanians to get into neighborhoods that maybe they haven't visited in a while. We have older New Orleanians who have been around but maybe haven't been out in a while, and then we have a lot of couples that are new to the city and couples that might want to do something special with friends. It's people in their 20s through 60s.
What neighborhoods do you go to?
M: None of my tours are in the French Quarter unless (customers) specifically ask for that. Part of my ethos is that there is enough going on in the French Quarter and I feel like we have a wealth of amazing restaurants across the city. I want to show off some of the cultural institutions that people miss when they only see the Quarter. We did one on Oretha Castle Haley (Boulevard), and there's one coming up in Carrollton. I've done one on St. Claude (Avenue).
It's more than show up, stuff your face and go home. You meet the chef; you meet the restaurant staff. It's more immersive and about honoring their work and learning through these experiences about the city. It can be a complicated thing — finding places that are all in walking distance of each other. I figure if I wouldn't want to walk somewhere, someone else wouldn't either. It can be difficult finding places that can handle a crowd, so I only do tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I do it on the slow nights so that we don't interrupt the restaurants' regular service, and (restaurants') regular diners don't feel like they're being crushed.
How are the tours structured?
M: The one on Nov. 8 is going to be in Carrollton, so we'll visit Dante's Kitchen, Carrollton Market, La Casita Taqueria, Boucherie and Bourree. Then there is always a secret surprise stop. I like to keep a little surprise in my pocket. So for the tickets, there is an all-food and all-food-and-drink option. They get a few tastings at each stop and half or a full cocktail per place. Basically, at the end of the tour they're set. I've never had anybody go hungry, and they've walked a bit so they've digested a bit. You're never walking more than a quarter mile at any given time.