What A Night

Tom Fitzmorris January 30, 2020 11:11 Dining Diary

The New Orleans Wine And Food Experience begins this time of the year, with an all-evening spectacular at a grand ballroom at the Ritz Carlton Hotel filled with wine, food, smiles, music, and grandiosity.

All this conviviality and much more surrounded Chef John Folse, a man who is never far from the top of the Louisiana culinary world. This year, he received the Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award, whose name speaks for itself. It's considered to be the most important accolade that a restaurant or a chef can earn. It appears at the beginning of the New Orleans Wine and Food event every year. This year’s event was entitled “The Seven United Nations Of Chef John Folse

That's a lot of appreciation. But if there is something more impressive, in New Orleans. I never heard of it. What made the biggest impression was perhaps the lineup of chefs that ran along the walls in the second-story Grand Ballroom. I had forgotten what a grand vision that lineup is. Try to imagine something like fifty chefs in full uniform, all of them topped by flawless white, classic chef's toques moving around with others. At the end of the long presentation, all the graduates from the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University paraded up to the dais. It was a sight to behold, and one that was no doubt very gratifying to the honoree.

Meanwhile, the eating attendees worked through all this food and wine. Frankly, the dinner was less impressive than it could have been. Very heavy on soups, all of which were very good, and some really unusual. But with the number of chefs and eaters, it's still hard to imagine working through it all. We pressed on. The food was arranged with the program, with celebrations of John’s life and career that spanned decades and continents. This year’s event was entitled “The Seven United Nations Of Chef John Folse” with a menu that follows:

Native America:

Chef John Folse & Company Corn and Crab Cappuccino. This was such an unusual presentation, starting with popcorn.

Antoine’s Crawfish Bisque prepared by Chef Rich Lee. This was excellent, and done the old-fashioned way with stuffed heads. Served by our favorite waiter Charles Carter, who makes everything special.


Johnny Sanchez chefs Aaron Sánchez and Chef Miles Landrem. Paella Valenciana

Chef Michael Gulotta of Mopho and Maypop served Crispy Pork Jowl over apple and satsuma salad. 

France and Acadia:

Chef Rebecca Kaskala of R’evolution served Blanquette de Veau

Chef Jeremy Langlois of Houmas House served Beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes

Chef John Folse & Company had Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Africa & Creole:

Chef Eric Veney from Muriel’s had Senegalese Chicken and Peanut Stew

Chef Edgar Chase IV from Dooky Chase served Gumbo Z’Herbes

Chef Tory McPhail and Chef Meg Bickford from Commander’s Palace had Turtle Soup


Chef Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski from Cochon served Wild Boar Porchetta (pictured.)

Chef Daren Porretto of SoBou had Mardi Gras Root Vegetable Salad


Chef Ross Dover of Restaurant August offered Crispy Flounder with Meyer Lemon Butter and Pecans

Chef John Folse & Company served Portobello Mushroom Bisque


Chef Andrea Apuzzo from Andrea’s had White Veal Spezzatino with Cremolata Milanese

Chef Peter Page from John Folse White Oak & Gardens served Roasted Vegetable Risotto

Desserts came from the Ritz Carlton’s own Chef Jason Flato, featuring a white alligator.

And the drink flowed from several full bars:

Le Grand Courtâge Rosé and Blanc

Louis Jadot Pinot Noir

J Lohr “Fog’s Reach” Pinot Noir and “Arroyo Vista” Chardonnay

Flowers Chardonnay

Benton Lane Pinot Gris

Lula Distillery had Lula Libre and Lula Gin & Tonic

St. Roch Vodka by Seven Three Distilling offered Lavender/Thyme Lemonade

Stella Artois and Mountain Valley Water

Full Bar by RNDC

I loved the turtle soup, The crawfish bisque, the duck pastrami. Mary Ann had the porchetta which was sliced thinner than usual, and better. She liked it and the mushroom bisque as well as the Blanquette de Veau. We both loved the Beef Bourguignon, and the Crabmeat Maison cups. If lines were any indication, the crispy jowl, and crispy flounder were the evening's stars. besides John Folse, of course.

The evening started with a cocktail hour with appetizers, some passed, like Galatoire’s Crab Maison in pastry cups, and duck pastrami on toast. It was nice to visit Phillip Lopez and Susan Spicer in the expediting room, as they watched over the assembly of their respective dishes. For an hour or more, the people mixed with one another, sampling food from three tables: one with a beautiful array of grilled vegetables from Chef Peter Page at Folse’s White Oak Estate and Gardens, another of charcuterie from Chef Nathan Richard, including a large platter of hogshead cheese which maybe everyone is as crazy about this as my wife. It went first. And a third table had Chef Chris Lusk’s excellently boiled shrimp with an equally good remoulade sauce. Booze was flowing, especially bubbly. My favorite part of a big event like this is really social. I checked in with a lot of friends, chefs, and others I haven't seen in years. Media types. The couple I was most eager to see was Gunter Preuss (a major chef himself) and his always elegantly-dressed wife Evelyn. No small number of guests approached to tell me that I should one of the chefs myself. But I don't think that NOWFE gives out an award to restaurant critics. Nor do I think that writers belong here.

The program went on for at least two more hours, with John Folse himself discussed the chefs, the situation, and the dinner. Also here was Eric Paulsen, who conducts many events like this, and very well. Ti Martin was brilliant, as usual. But this was one of the most complicated of verbal offerings I've ever attended, difficult to explain. There was a Native American blessing involving burned herbs. This was engrossing to watch. A lot of work went into it. Finally, We can start thinking about who will be in this gala for next year. It will be tough to top this string of lore, remembrances, and friendships. The world of chefs is like a fraternity.