secret food tours

Contributed photo - Secret Food Tours is a London-based company expanding in New Orleans and other cities.

A London-based company that operates walking tours to backstreet joints, markets and small eateries in a circuit of European cities is expanding to the U.S. and it’s starting in New Orleans.

Secret Food Tours has started a new branch here, pitching an intimate view to the city’s food culture and neighborhood texture, and notably taking its clients out of the tour-heavy French Quarter. The company is simultaneously expanding in San Francisco and in Rio de Janeiro.

“We try to show people the authentic places, but the places they might walk right by and not try to go in,” said Nico Jacquart, CEO and co-founder of Secret Food Tours.

Local chef Octavio Ycaza is the company’s city manager for New Orleans and will lead tours. Ycaza has been a chef at a range of local restaurants, and he said he's eager to show a different side of the city's celebrated food scene. 

"People have an idea of how we eat in New Orleans, but it's not always what you're going to find in the high end restaurants," he said.

In its marketing materials, the tour promises to "avoid all foods made primarily for the tourist market."

The three-hour walking tour is built around food and designed to show a New Orleans neighborhood, specifically the Irish Channel and adjacent areas.

The tour itinerary takes in stops that are open to the public, thus not exactly “secret.” But Ycaza explained that it was designed to share a perspective of local food culture not as obvious as jambalaya and pralines. For instance, the tour includes tastes at a corner po-boy shop, crawfish prepared in a sushi roll, Latin American flavors and staple local ingredients worked into gelato.

New Orleans has many homegrown tour companies, though this one represents an expansion of a brand that has expanded quickly by showcasing European food finds for a clientele of largely American and Canadian visitors.

Jacquart and business partner Oliver Mernick-Levene formed Secret Food Tours in 2013 in London. It now has operations in 10 cities, including the new markets in the U.S. and Brazil. The others are Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.

Jacquart, who was in New Orleans this week prior to the local tour's official launch, said his company picked the city for its U.S. expansion because of its robust food culture, its tourist draw and the suitability of its pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods for walking tours.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.