The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience kicks off its 20th annual festival on May 24. For five days, New Orleans will host a celebration of wine, food and good times generally. (Good times are not guaranteed unless you’re with me.) Check out the Web site linked above for a listing of all the activities at NOWFE; highlights include wine dinners at multiple local restaurants on Wednesday, May 25, and the Royal Street Stroll on Thursday, May 26. The latter is particularly nice if it’s not too hot out. NOWFE is a nonprofit organization from which numerous groups benefit. One of those is Girls First, which coincidentally is hosting an event tonight.

Girls First gives girls in the New Orleans area who don’t have many options the opportunity to participate in sports and exercise programs. They sponsor a week-long sports camp at Tulane University as well as monthly activities during the year. Tonight’s event, Girls Night Out, takes place from 5 to 7 at Café Adelaide. Celebrity bartenders Brittany Brees and Cheryl Landrieu will be serving a number of specialty cocktails, and guests can pay anywhere from $10 to $1,000 to participate.

Ye Olde College Inn, which lacks only “Tyme” and “Shoppe” to qualify for the Olde Englishe Lotterye award, has hired Brad McGehee as executive chef. If you haven’t been to Ye Olde College Inn lately, you might be surprised by the quality of the food presented. Chef McGehee’s hiring is yet another step in the direction that the casual eatery has been taking toward serving more than bar snacks and comfort food. McGehee most recently worked with chef Matt Murphy, formerly of M Bistro at the Ritz Carlton, and like Murphy is a devotee of farm to table cooking. Although I kid about the name of the place, I had a good meal the last time I dined. I would expect that with McGehee in charge of the kitchen, my next meal will be even better.

Chef Steven Stryjewski of Cochon has been named Best Chef of the South region by the James Beard Foundation. That’s a pretty big deal in the restaurant world, and Stryjewski was the only local chef to come back with an award from the event Monday night. He’s a pretty swell dude, and Cochon is an outstanding restaurant, so I’m happy for him.

Another pretty swell dude, chef René Bajeux, is returning to New Orleans to take the helm at the Rib Room in the Royal Orleans. Indeed, on May 25 he’ll be cooking a six-course menu with wines paired by Trinchero as a part of the NOWFE wine dinners. I have never made a secret of the fact that I think Bajeux is one of the best chefs to ever work in New Orleans, so I’m glad he’s back. I do hope that the folks at the Royal Orleans give him the freedom to cook his food in addition to the classic Rib Room menu. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t – or why he would take the position if that were the case – so I’m pretty optimistic about the whole affair.