A friend recently suggested I publish a book of tell-all essays written by the travel companions I have dragged along with me on F&W restaurant-scouting missions. In her view, the book would be the literary equivalent of food porn: voyeuristic, hedonistic, jealousy-inducing. But I suspect it might have exactly the opposite effect. Every friend who has ever been sweet, loyal and hungry enough to accompany me on a work-related trip has, at some point, either yelled “Can we please stop eating?” or else tried, politely, to disguise the pained expression of an overstuffed duck destined to become foie gras. The best way I’ve found to stop people from saying, “Oh my God, I want your job!” is to bring them along on an F&W adventure.
That said, I have a phenomenal amount of fun exploring places I might otherwise never get to visit. One of my favorite work assignments is traveling all over the U.S. to help find the next batch of F&W Best New Chefs. Besides the absurd amount of eating that inevitably goes along with these trips, I’m able to poke around in my off hours and discover fascinating neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, bars and people.
This year, I’ve ended up with a jackpot destination: New Orleans, one of my all-time favorite places on earth, and a city I’ve visited nearly a dozen times (but never before on a Best New Chef hunt). Most years, F&W has at least one Best New Chef candidate from New Orleans on our list of finalists—a lineup we create after months of talking to our network of nominators around the country, poring over menus from the most promising candidates, narrowing down the roster to a few dozen contenders, and eventually picking our 10 winners.