This past Saturday night, May 27, the NOWFE Grand Tasting took place at Mardi Gras World. As this was the 25th annual NOWFE event, they celebrated with the motto “25 Years of Cheers!” Though NOWFE officially stands for the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, it could also be quite aptly and affectionately referred to as the Night of Wine and Frequent Eating.
There was food, food, wine, and more food. It was multiple floors with nothing but food and wine—entire rooms full of delicious things to eat and drink. There was, very likely, everything to eat that you could possibly imagine, all in one packed venue, along with every conceivable wine to pair with it.
NOWFE is an unforgettably heavenly and gluttonous experience. The amount of enticing edible and drinkable delicacies is in fact overwhelming, and aiming to indulge in all that there is on offer is nearly impossible. NOWFE is like going to your favorite restaurant and attempting to eat one of everything on the menu. It’s like getting a scoop of all 31 of the ice cream flavors. Or trying one of those crazy food challenges you see around town where you have to eat, say, 10 burger patties or 15 dozen raw oysters in 45 minutes, despite the fact that you can hardly fit in another bite.
The challenge Saturday night was to taste all the hundreds of amazing treats from great restaurants all around New Orleans such as Trenasse, Restaurant R’evolution, Atchafalaya, Johnny Sanchez, and Cavan, while still leaving room to try something else. Or to go back for more of the ones you liked the best. You have three hours to do it, which seems like ample time. And yet the sheer volume of fine cuisine and tasty libations is absolutely daunting, especially considering that you don’t want to leave any morsel untasted.
While guests came out dressed up in costumes or fancy attire, next year I recommend wearing stretchy pants with an elastic waistband.
Ignore that stuffed feeling and forge on. On a par with Thanksgiving Day in terms of overindulgence, the Grand Tasting is a time to keep eating past hungry, past satisfied, past full … even past the point where NOWFE seems to suddenly stand for “Nevermore One Wants Food Ever,” and keep sampling the smorgasbord of delightful tastes spread out before you. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Some of the wine producers pouring wine in guests’ keepsake NOWFE wine glasses included Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Banfi Vintners, Revolution Wine Company, Canard Vineyard, Riboli Family Wines, and Hundred Acre Wine Group, along with many others. Among the culinary highpoints, there was Louisiana Seafood Paradise Ravioli by Centerplate, Chicken Lettuce Wraps from Barcadia, a Redfish Courtbouillon from Red Fish Grill, and Fried Alligator Boulettes from the American Sector Restaurant + Bar.
Crawfish were also in ample supply. This included the Crawfish Etouffee Dumplings from August, Crawfish Grilled Cheese from The Rib Room, Crawfish Mac & Cheese from Superior Seafood, Crispy Crawfish Rice from Besh Steak, Crawfish Etouffee Nachos from Diva Dawg, and a Three Bean Salad with Grilled Crawfish and Honey Lime Vinaigrette from Bourbon House.
But there was more than just great food and drink at the Grand Tasting. There was also live entertainment to help the food and drink go down easier, including a cook-off on the Louisiana Seafood Stage, and a brass band. There was a live auction, where you could bid on anything from a trip to Vegas to see Lady Gaga live or to New York City to see Hamilton on Broadway, to a day at the Kentucky Derby (all with a starting bid of $5500). The live auction also featured artwork, sports paraphernalia including an Eli Manning Jersey, and all sorts of other goodies to bid on, in case you wanted to go home with something besides a good buzz and a full stomach. (All the money raised goes to the Culinary Arts Program at Nunez Community College.) There were even hammocks, provided by Gin Design Group, so you could eat and swing.
Towards the end of the night, if you still hadn’t eaten and drunk enough, the party continued afterwards at the Marriott Convention Center. Here was held the annual Big Gateaux Show—a fun after-party with burlesque and dessert—pasties and pastries—and cocktails. Sugar-high guests had a chance to vote for their favorite pastry chef of the night from such contestants as Jacquelyn Lopez and Hyemin Torroll, both of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, or Cesar Barachina of Pearl River Resort Casino in Mississippi.
All in all, it was a most palatable evening. This was probably the best conglomeration of food I’ve ever seen gathered into a single location. A food-apalooza. And the wine didn’t hurt the cause any, either. With all that I ate and drank, I should just be starting to finally get hungry again by next year at this time—just in time to do it all over again.