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Catch of the Day


Louisiana Seafood Festival in the Quarter Benefits Local Fishermen

Our state’s fishermen and shrimpers have suffered greatly. They’ve had to recover from hurricanes, deal with the devastation of the BP oil disaster and fight public misconception in other parts of the nation about safety. One thing that has never wavered is the local consumer’s support for Louisiana seafood.

“I grew up on Bayou Lafourche,” said Henri Boulet, a member of the Louisiana Seafood Festival Foundation board, “in a large family which made our living shrimping along the Louisiana coast in the summer and fishing crawfish on our family farm in the winter. The fishing families in my community are incredibly resilient folks.”
Boulet and other members of the foundation want to give those fishing families a little extra support. This month’s Louisiana Seafood Festival, which runs concurrently with the Creole Tomato Festival and the Cajun/Zydeco Festival, promotes Louisiana seafood and raises money for fishers. This year the foundation also published the “Our Home, Louisiana” cookbook, which has collected seafood recipes from more than 70 local chefs. Wendy Waren, vice chairman of the foundation, spoke to New Orleans Living about the group’s work.

When was the Louisiana Seafood Festival Foundation created?
The board was formed about a year ago in advance of last year’s festival, although the Louisiana Seafood Festival started in 2006. Ewell Smith with the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board wanted the festival to be run by a board made up of people from the industry.

How has the festival grown over the last five years?
Last year we had about 30,000 people come through the gates, which was amazing. Obviously with seafood being in the international headlines and the situation in the Gulf, people felt like they needed to come out and support a Louisiana seafood festival more than they would have before. We got a lot of out of town people that wanted to come to New Orleans and support the local economy.

What are people going to see at the festival this year?
We have food booths around the Mint. Last year we had about a dozen restaurants, and we’re on target to do a few more this year. We’re going to have craft booths. And this year, for the first time, we’re going to have an air conditioned tent that will house about 150 people where we’re going to host cooking demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday. We’ve asked chefs that submitted recipes to the “Our Home, Louisiana” cookbook to participate.

How did the “Our Home, Louisiana” cookbook come about?
That’s a passion project of Maria Muro (foundation chair and publisher of New Orleans Living magazine) that has really taken off. Chefs from restaurants around the city contributed recipes. There is also an interview with each chef, which I think is really cool. We asked them questions such as what their favorite Louisiana seafood dish is, what the Gulf means to them and where they went to culinary school. You get to see how many transplants we have here, which I think is exciting because it shows that New Orleans is a destination to learn and grow as a culinarian.

Where can people find the cookbook?
It’s being sold exclusively at Rouse’s for $9.95. They bought the first 5,000 copies straight out of the gate. They’re not charging us anything, which is amazing. So 100 percent of the proceeds goes to our festival and the Friends of the Fishermen fund.

How will the foundation use the money?
We’ve been discussing using the money to seed a business center in a fishing community. It would be a place to go where people can learn to use a computer, learn QuickBooks and other basic things to help them be better business people. It’s really something that they need. You can’t operate the same way you did five or 10 years ago. The world is evolving and our business owners need to evolve as well.

How is our fishing industry faring a year after the BP oil disaster?
The challenge is promoting these products outside of Louisiana. And when you do promote them, how do you make sure that people have the seafood in that market? The other day, somebody in Denver reached out to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board on their Facebook page. They wanted to buy our seafood, but they couldn’t find it in Denver. The board is working on a way to track the seafood from the dock to the end users, either in a grocery store or a restaurant.

What does the foundation want people to know about Louisiana seafood?
People already know that it’s delicious. From the surveys that the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board has done, we know that safety is still definitely a concern. They’re doing a lot of work with chefs in other areas to make sure they are educated.

What are the future plans of the Louisiana Seafood Festival Foundation?
We‘re going to continue to promote Louisiana seafood anyway we can.

The Louisiana Seafood Festival takes place June 11-12 at the Old U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave.For information, visit louisianaseafoodfestival.org.
-Todd A. Price