Aimee Brown

We talk a lot about festivals and festival culture as being a way of life for New Orleanians. But, events like the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience take New Orleans festivals to a broader and international level. The week-long festival is returning for its 30th year after modified versions of the event post-COVID-19. At the helm is executive director Aimee Brown. Brown has been a part of the festival for six years and promises a fun-filled week that not only brings food and wine lovers together, but creates a space for everyone to give back to the community. 

Q: What is your role and how long you’ve been a part of NOWFE? I am the executive director of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. This summer will be my sixth festival with them, and I’m very excited about that. I have been [involved with] events since college, and so this was kind of a nice progression from when I first really got introduced into the event planning world with my previous work with Tales of the Cocktail. I worked with them and helped with the spirited awards. My contacts from Tales of the Cocktail showed me this opening with the position at the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. The events industry in New Orleans is a very small world. I was very honored and blessed to be introduced to this job. 

- Advertisement -

Q: What is the main purpose of the festival and what will it accomplish with its week of activities and events? The festival this year is June 7 through the 12th, and what it  accomplishes is [giving] back to culinary education programs in our city. The last couple of years, it’s been to Café Reconcile, and the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute. So really, that’s our focus, having a presence in the culinary education community within New Orleans, where there’s so many incredible rising stars. We want to be able to help people achieve their goals through going to school and through being a part of programs like Café Reconcile. People that have gone through those programs have come out with some incredible careers in New Orleans and beyond. We’re just so honored to be able to help with scholarships, so students and chefs can go to school, and so people can go through Café Reconcile’s program. It’s truly, truly wonderful. And then aside from having beneficiaries from the festival, I think our presence in New Orleans and during our week-long of events, is to give exposure to all of our participants, which I think is kind of giving back in a way of itself; really highlighting our incredible New Orleans cuisine, getting people to see them at NOWFE events, and then make 15 reservations from that interaction with that one attendee that night. I want to be able to get people to contribute to New Orleans tourism, attending, going to the restaurants that are participating at NOWFE, visiting the [California] winery that is at NOWFE, participating in our grand tastings, staying at the hotels that are our hotel partners. We want to give back to New Orleans simply from having this event all the way around.

Q: There are both national and international wineries and vendors that participate. Why do you think the festival has been such a popular event, lasting for 30 years? Our attendees love it because it is a food capital of America. I think that our attendees appreciate having access to so many incredible chefs and restaurants all in one room, and all throughout the week-long festival. I think wineries love participating for the past 30 years because it gets them to network with these chefs and they end up on their restaurant wine list. They’re able to network with each other and have a really good time. Of course, it’s amazing to network and have people join their club and visit the winery, but I also think that it’s just a good time; something that people genuinely enjoy doing, because they know their participation is giving back to our community as well. It truly is a good time, for a good cause. 

Q: What can festival-goers expect from this year? The biggest thing that I’m excited about is that we are back to normal-ish. I don’t know if we’ll ever be normal again, but our “new normal” that everyone says. I’m so excited to be able to say that we’re  going back to our roots with who we are and having all of the events that we normally have. We know we’re going to have normal grand tastings, people are able to go up to the tables and talk with the winemakers and winery owners and discuss the wines and be able to go up to the chef’s and their table. And so that’s my most exciting thing; simply being able to do what we’ve always done for 28 of our 30 years, just expecting what everyone knows and loves about NOWFE. [We have] two days of grand tastings at the Sugar Mill, our high-end premium wine event called “Vinola,” which we’re having this year at the Four Seasons Hotel. So that’s very exciting news. We [actually] have two events at the Four Seasons coming up: our Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement and Hospitality Award Gala, where we are honoring chef Frank Brightsen, on June 7, which kicks off NOWFE for the week. And then we are having the premium wine event, Vinola, there as well on Thursday, June 9. So, I think that’s something big, to celebrate our new partnership with the Four Seasons, putting on beautiful events there that everyone’s very excited about. NOWFE is back to being a walk around event, you know, pre-COVID times and [we are finally] able to celebrate making a big comeback.


Lagniappe

What’s your favorite go-to cocktail? I’m a wine person now, but I will say I love a dirty martini. And I actually always get that at The Columns.

What’s your favorite wine to drink? I actually have to give a shout out to Flambeau. They are from New Orleans, but when Art took over the business – Arthur Murray – he moved to Sonoma to actually be a part of the grape growing process and run the business. They do live full time in Sonoma, but I love their original New Orleans roots. And then their cab is my favorite cab I’ve ever had. Period. 

What is your favorite local food or local dish? I think if I’m going out somewhere really special, I’m definitely going to GW fins. I love those tempura fin wings.

Besides the New Orleans wine and food experience, what’s your favorite festival? I think I would have to say French Quarter Fest. I think that they have so many incredible food vendors. And even though they’re a music festival, I think it embodies New Orleans culinary really well. Just a really good day of eating that’s free and open to the public.