I had the pleasure of attending the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) over the weekend in New Orleans (NOLA). I’m Creole and have never been to Louisiana, so I’m not sure if it was the most interesting and beautiful city I’ve ever seen, or if I was just enthralled because I was seeing everything through the lens of my heritage. I was blown away by my experience in NOLA.
The food and culture are a huge part of the city; it was the perfect setting for the IFBC. The food lineup was packed with local chefs and restaurants who shared delicious treats alongside well-known brands like Campbell’s and Wisconsin Cheese, who surprised me with their creative combinations. Being vegetarian, I worried the seafood- and meat-based dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee wouldn’t have much to offer me, but the Creole flavors are so rich and delicious I couldn’t get enough of every vegetarian dish I tried. I even got to try some vegetarian gumbo at the Gumbo Shop and if you’re looking for some of the best gumbo in town I would definitely recommend it. Of course, before we left, we had beignets at Café Du Monde. I was expecting something really fancy from the name but they are like puffy, square, elephant ears (like you get at the fair) piled with powdered sugar…delicious of course! My favorite restaurant of the trip was a place near the market called Maximo’s Grill that serves traditional Italian with a New Orleans twist. The food and service were fantastic and their signature chamomile grappa (wine distilled from the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes) was the perfect nightcap (much better than chamomile tea, if you ask me).
Overall, I was not expecting the “party” that the city is, there was so much energy all around! Musicians and magicians on every corner, dancers and live music in every bar, and what seemed like hundreds of them within a few city blocks! There were people young and old cruising the streets drink-in-hand at every hour, with sophisticated restaurants next to dance clubs to satisfy any preference. I had the pleasure of hanging out with the hilarious Chef John of Food Wishes for the weekend and he took us to see an amazing brass band at Blue Nile on Frenchmen St. (the street to visit for live music). Sunday afternoon after the conference, I took the street car up to the Garden District to view the beautiful and eerie centuries-old mansions and above-ground cemeteries. The streets are lined with massive trees that form a canopy, and each is strung with hundreds of Mardi Gras beads. It was an enchanting ride.
Everyone I met from NOLA was so friendly and open. What touched me more than their love of all things fun and decadent was the effect Katrina had on the city as each person I spoke with had a story of how the storm affected them. I was there on the six-year anniversary of the storm and the East coast was abuzz with hurricane Irene so the memories of Katrina were re-flooding the streets of NOLA. You could tell the hurricane not only changed the city, but every person in it to their very core. The amount of respect for the culture and all the city of New Orleans has to offer can be heard and seen in every person who lives there. One of my favorite speakers at the conference was Poppy Tooker (awesome name right!) who spoke on sustainability. Her take on the term is one that could only come from someone who, together with a whole city, lost everything yet gained even more. Sustainability to her means more than eco-friendly practices, but the hope one harbors, that good things will not be lost forever (the very backbone of sustainability). She spoke about how the food, culture, history and attractions the city had to offer before Katrina have helped to sustain and re-build the city afterward. To anyone who said “why rebuild it?” step one foot in the city, and you will know why. NOLA sustains the essence of life within a few city blocks and hosts the history of our “melting pot” nation.
So, hats off to Foodista and Zephyr Adventures for throwing a fantastic conference and hats off to NOLA for being an enchanting city and fantastic host!
Also, a special thanks to Wendy Read of Sunchowder’s Emporia who gave me a jar of THE MOST delicious jam I’ve ever had! Raspberry Habanero has adorned my toast every morning since I left and I can’t wait to order some of the other flavors like balsamic fig and zucchini ginger!
Director of Communications, Allrecipes.com
Photos from Stephanie at IFBC in NOLA
Logo and bottom slideshow courtesy of IFBC.