Now in its 20th year, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience has grown into a week-long event featuring seminars, wine dinners at some of the area's best restaurants, cake competitions, seafood cook-offs, and an outdoor wine-and-dine stroll down Royal Street in the French Quarter. The highlights of the week, though, are the Grand Tastings, where visitors can sample bites from dozens of premiere Louisiana restaurants and sips from some of the country's finest vineyards, all under one giant roof.
Many similar events around the country attract locals by bringing in big-name celebrity chefs. The New Orleans organizers take the opposite approach: with the exception of Johnny Iuzzini, Top Chef star and the host of Friday's cake competition, the festival's offerings shone the spotlight squarely on Louisiana-based chefs and restaurants, and recruited out-of-towners to experience a taste of all the area has to offer. Judging by the crowds (and the frequent echoes of "Where are you from?"), they succeeded. In fact, the festival would not be a bad way to experience New Orleans in a nutshell: it offered everything from shrimp etouffee and Sazerac cocktails to art galleries, live music, and even a Mardi Gras-style walking parade, all in a few short days.
In addition to celebrating its community's unique food and culture, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience also gives back. Since its inception in 1992, the event has raised over $1 million for local charities, including the Second Harvest Food Bank, Edible Schoolyard, and various culinary training programs. It's a living testament to the fact that you can eat well and do good at the same time.