Courtesy / Hugh Daschbach
San Antonio and New Orleans share much in common, often living parallels rich with history and cultural traditions. San Antonio’s identity is inseparable from its Spanish and Mexican roots, while New Orleans is defined by a history with French, Afro-Caribbean, and Creole influence.
This year, San Antonio and New Orleans also join each other in celebrating their 300th anniversaries. And, of course, there’s always the food.
On Tuesday night, residents and visitors from these two cities celebrated the first of two Tricentennial Culinary Exchange dinners at New Orleans’ SoBou Restaurant. Texas’ all-star roster included Jason Dady, Jake Dady, Margeaux Alcorta, and Liza Hill of the Dady Group; Jeff Balfour, JC Rodriguez, and Allison Balfour of Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery; and Cariño Cortez and Miguel Jorge of the La Familia Cortez Restaurants.
The chefs prepared for a crowd of 75 diners, including hometown Mayor Latoya Cantrell and visiting Mayor Ron Nirenberg, dishes showcasing each chef’s personal interpretations of San Antonio’s and New Orleans’ culinary traditions.
After beginning the evening with hors d’oeuvres prepared by a host group of New Orleans chefs, the team from Texas took the reins in the kitchen to present a six-course feast. Highlights included a sope topped with chili con carne inspired by the Texas Chili Queens by Cortez; a beef short rib with smoked oyster aioli from the Dady Group, and – the crowd favorite of the evening – Jeff Balfour’s roasted Texas quail with grits and mole.
San Antonians can look forward to three renowned culinary teams from New Orleans returning the favor as Jason Dady’s Tre Trattoria hosts the second of the two Tricentennial dinners Monday. In a reversal of roles, San Antonio’s chefs will prepare the evening’s appetizers while chefs Juan Carlos Gonzalez of SoBou, Will Avelar of Meril, and Michael Gulotta of Maypop and MoPho take center stage to serve their own inspired entrees for what is already advertised as a sellout crowd.
The idea for the culinary exchange came about as Dady and Shanon Miller of the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation brainstormed ways to bring together both Tricentennial celebrations.
“San Antonio and New Orleans are both such unique and interesting cities. The fact that we share our Tricentennial year is all the more reason to celebrate our histories and our future together,” Miller said. “What better way to do that in two great culinary cities than to showcase the work of our excellent chefs? As for the first leg, I’m so proud of our city and our chefs. SoBou and the New Orleans teams were amazing hosts, and we can’t wait to return the favor.”
Tourism in both cities isn’t just fun and games though, it’s also big business.
What could replace the economic impact of the guests who visit Bourbon Street and the French Quarter or the Alamo and River Walk? Or imagine San Antonio without Fiesta, or New Orleans without Mardi Gras. Both citywide celebrations are as deeply linked to rowdy revelers in the streets as they are to polished business leaders, socialites, and debutantes who don tuxedos and gowns for lavish coronations and balls.
In 2016, New Orleans hosted more than 10 million visitors, generating an estimated $7.4 billion for the local economy. San Antonio hosted 37 million visitors in 2017, resulting in an impact of $15.3 billion. Visit San Antonio, the city’s tourism marketing arm, works to promote San Antonio as a top culinary and cultural getaway and helped support Tuesday’s event by arranging local TV appearances in New Orleans for all three participating chefs.
Visit SA’s counterpart, theNew Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, plays a similar role in fueling the city’s tourism. Its President and CEO Mark Romig, who also serves as director of the New Orleans Tricentennial Commission, acted as emcee for Tuesday’s event at SoBou. With the business of food and culture fundamental to both destinations, the culinary exchange felt like a great way to cement their lucrative tourism-based connection while commemorating centuries-long histories and cultural traditions.
Diners from San Antonio, named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO in 2017, were well represented Tuesday, with an estimated 15-20 guests traveling to New Orleans to support their local chefs. Event organizers hope to see a similar contingent make the trip on Monday from Louisiana. If Tuesday’s celebration of these intertwined culinary legacies was any indication, the crowd is in for a treat.
Tickets for Monday night’s dinner at Tre Trattoria start at $175 and are available here. The San Antonio event will begin with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m.