This year's edition of Tales of the Cocktail was named "Where Spirits Live". Indeed, in New Orleans, during five days every summer for the last 8 years, the spirits live in the French Quarter. The famous Sazerac rocks the city and the (very) Old Absinth House on Bourbon Street is the favourite hangout of many cocktailians. Parties hosted by the biggest brand names take you down the rabbit hole to see Alice in Wonderland, or gather a crowd to play petanque on Royal Street in the middle of the night. Tales of the Cocktail is all about spirits, yet to me one of the key ingredients to the party is not the booze, the crowd, the music. There is one component to Tales that not only enables you to survive the week, but also takes you to a new world of pleasure and discoveries, and that is food.
How can you survive five days of alcohol over indulgence and not promise yourself you'll never have a drop of (insert favourite spirit here) ever again? Well, the answer is quite simple: eat! Louisiana is reputed for its gumbos, cray fish and po-boys. Creole cuisine is a must try if you want to get a sense of New Orleans. From a Canadian perspective, there is a lot of deep fried food in the South. Take a (deepfried) seafood platter and mix it with alcohol and your liver will hate you for a long time. However at Tales, you get to try all kinds of foods.
Take the Spirited Dinners for instance. You get to enjoy a distinctive menu with a range of cuisine from appetizers to desserts, served along with cocktails of all variations and flavours. For each Spirited Dinner, a team of authors, mixologists, and bar-chefs have worked alongside New Orleans' most prestigious restaurants to bring a unique and exciting menu. While you are enjoying your culinary experience, the menu designers are present and teach you mixing and pairing.
In the tasting rooms, you can enjoy foods from around the world. Absolut Brooklyn brought a New York hotdog cart in its tasting room. Cointreau had French salamis, pates, olives and breads that reminded me of my native France. The Veev pool party had pizza on the top floor of the Monteleone and incredible cocktails in the heat of New Orleans. Polish vodka, Wodka Polska, had polish stew and vodka popsicles amongst ice sculptures and one of the best fruit bar I've ever seen. You were supposed to choose some fruits for your vodka cocktail, but I just nibbled on some fresh raspberries and blueberries.
Fresh is an increasing popular trend in the mixology industry. And I had the opportunity to meet Famer Lee Jones, a celebrity in the culinary world. His family company, the Chef's Garden, provides exceptional specialty and heirloom vegetables, herbs, micro greens and edible flowers, to top chefs, restaurants and bars throughout the world. Lee invited me to a culinary experience of a lifetime at Stella's (if you are interested in the menu, see below...) It was definitely one of the best dinners I have ever had, and the company was wonderful.
Tales is not only about fine dining. Twice during the event, the Chef and the Fatman radio show introduces new comers, celebrities, and exceptional people to the crowds. Tune in Sundays 3-5 pm on AM 1160 to listen to them. Fatman Kevin Jenkins, took us later to Domenica, a designer restaurant, with fabulous foods and unpretentious prices. Then James, Maitre d' at Arnaud's who had joined us for the evening took us back to French 75 to do a Cafe Brulot that delighted the audience and the palate.
Tales of the Cocktail is truly a unique experience. What makes the event is not only the beauty of the French Quarter, the lavish parties, the free flowing alcohol and the fabulous food. What makes the event is the dedication of the staff, sponsors, presenters and the many volunteers who become life long friends. Tales is Where Spirits Live indeed. All kind of kindred spirits...
My dinner at Stella! New Orleans With Farmer Lee Jones
A Composition of Heirloom Carrots ~ Confit of Baby Carrots, Carrot Sorbets, Carrot Spheres, Carrot Cake Crumbles, Traditional Carrot Salad, Petite Carrot Greens and Sweet Carrot Cloud
Andy's Orchard Mariani Stone Fruit with Iberico Bellota Ham, Organic Raw Honey, Aged Balsamic Vinegar, Virgin Olive Oil and Lavender Air
Hudson Valley Foie Gras BLT with Foie Gras Confit, Truffle Mayonnaise, Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips and Sweet Persian Cucumber Pickles
Carolina Shrimp Risotto with Andouille, Maitake and Shiitake Mushrooms, Fava Beans, Melted Brie and Local Scallions
Roasted Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi with Venison Sausage, Tomato Confit, Caramelized Wild Mississippi Chanterelle Mushrooms, Fava Beans and Italian Summer Truffles
Cornmeal Crusted Frog Legs with Pickled Mirliton Salad, Horseradish New Potato Salad, Shaved Fennel and Oranges and Tomato Jam with Four Honey Tabasco Butters
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Pan-Seared Georges Bank Dry Pack Scallops and Shrimp with Truffle Andouille New Potato Hash and Caviar Butter
Porcini Crusted Dutch Valley Veal Tenderloin Medallions with Fingerling Potato Confit, Roasted Root Vegetables and Escargot, Calvados and Herb Reduction
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Bananas Foster French Toast with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Spicy Candied Walnuts and Crisp Plantains
Chocolate Cake with Hot Buttered Pink Lemonade