Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
If you type in Leisure Intelligence into Google we are No. 1. If you type in Tourism Intelligence into Google we are No. 2. Leisure and Tourism are becoming the hottest areas for market and competitive intelligence as tourism is the only revenue left for many regions of America, and the world. It was no surprise that we were down in New Orleans supporting the 15th Annual New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, and the people of New Orleans who depend on tourists coming back for their very existence.
The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience broke all records as wine and food enthusiasts from all over the world made the journey through the devastated city to the reborn French Quarter to support New Orleans in their rebuilding.The vast majority attending believes, as I do that the people of New Orleans were abandoned by the Bush Administration, and it is only with the help of all those who love the spirit, cuisine and good times of "Big Easy" that the recovery will succeed.
Gina Gallo led the major sponsors and with representatives from 150 wineries around the world brought an impressive range of fine wines. A new addition this year, sponsored by Gallo and American Express was a free afternoon of training for new and inexperienced wait service staff to better understand the pairing of wine and food. Top wine experts briefed the new entrants on the favorite wines of diners, and how to present them and describe their qualities.
Among the winemakers bringing their longtime skills to the seminar were such industry innovators as David Mirassou, whose family has been making wine in California for over 150 years. David explained the proper way to open wine and present it to the discerning clientele of New Orleans restaurants.
The major problem with rebuilding the world famous restaurants in New Orleans is the availability of support staff, such as waiters and food preparation staff. The vast majority have left New Orleans, and with a desperate shortage of accommodation it is difficult to recruit replacement staff to replace them. The demanding nature of many diners in expensive restaurants can intimidate new entrants, and this intensive afternoon is a welcome experience.
The other issue I pointed out was that the vast majority of new staff willing to work in the struggling New Orleans restaurants were school leavers, and unable to by law to handle alcohol, and certainly not allowed to sample the wines at a wine tasting.
Alan Simpson and Linda Schnabl were there meeting the top chef's and learning of their work after Hurricane Katrina to regroup and rebuild one of the world's leading culinary centers. We met with Emeril Lagasse at his NOLA restaurant, and learned he too is facing lean times with patrons.
The 15th Annual Wine and Food Experience brought together over 50 restaurants and 600 wines from around the world in a sold-out week long "experience". What is so amazing is that the entire hospitality industry in New Orleans has pulled together to make NOWFE an unforgettable experience.
Most resorts suffer for many months, even years after a disaster until the quality of food returns to it's original standard, but here in New Orleans it is better than ever.
The Wednesday "Vintners Dinners" even though spread over 35 restaurants were sold out. We were fortunate to be hosted by to chef Anthony Spizale of the Rib Room at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.
Anthony told us the story of Katrina, the aftermath and how the kitchen staff were decimated from 35 to the current 11 and that includes some sent down from other Omni Hotels specially for the event. Anthony compared the Hands-on style after Katrina to the Executive-style, "You roll up your sleeves and start working." Despite the lack of supporting hands he pulled off an outstanding six course banquet.
Determined to show their support, as many did for Mardi Gras, the deserted streets were filled for the Royal Street Stroll where wineries combined with the Art Galleries to provide a mile long moving feast. Welcome Back New Orleans!
The Grand Tasting's were the sessions most came to experience with over 600 wines available for tasting's, as well as the top restaurants providing their chefs, and their signature dishes to accompany the wines.
Here I met up with the flamboyant runner-up of the Food Network's most watched Next Food Network Star competition. Reggie Sutherland is a genuine nice person, who is always willing to both share his passion for baking, and listen to suggestions. After the NOWFE show Linda and myself joined Reggie at the launch of AZUL the new Cuban Asian Restaurant developed by Chef Diaz, on Tchoupitoulas Street.
Some could argue that the week long festival was inappropriate considering the suffering around New Orleans. I did look at the utter devastation, absolute silence with houses, shops and businesses destroyed and still unrepaired nine months after the hurricane. I looked in amazement at tens of thousands of new FEMA Trailers lined up in fields in Mississippi, rotting. I interviewed people who had lost everything, living in abandoned cars, again NINE MONTHS after Katrina. All had one voice, "Get the tourists and businesses coming back, with their jobs, and let the world see how Bush and Washington abandoned us. We were Black and Poor, something Bush and Cheney can't understand."
Time and time again the people we met, from Chef's to struggling residents of the 9th Ward summed it up in the phrase, "Let the Good Times Roll, Again."