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In New Orleans we live for two things: food and festivals. In fact, some of the most anticipated festivals of the year are focused all around a specific food – including oysters, Creole tomatoes and poor boys.
But there is one food that has never been celebrated in the Crescent City – that is until Aug. 17, when more than 3,000 people attended the city’s first-ever New Orleans Sushi Fest and Competition.
Held at the River City Ballroom next to Mardi Gras World, the event was presented by New Orleans Magazine, in partnership with East Jefferson General Hospital. The festival was prefaced with a VIP Japanese Tea Ceremony, sponsored by Sapporo, held from 1 to 2 p.m. Tickets to the reception were $50 in advance and sold out far before the event.
At 2 p.m., the Sushi Festival officially began in the adjacent ballroom. While Taiko drummers pounded away below giant paper lanterns, women dressed as geisha high atop stilts wandered through the ballroom as crowds poured in. Admission was $10 in advance, $20 at the door, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Japan Society of New Orleans and the Japan Club of New Orleans.
With 17 local restaurants represented, the New Orleans Sushi Fest truly offered something for everyone – from traditional sushi favorites, to creative twists, such as 12 Seasons Catering’s Asian pork nachos, fried wantons topped with pork, a jalapeño cilantro slaw and sriracha crema.
The music also ranged from traditional Japanese to very non-traditional stylings of local celebrated cover band Bag of Donuts.
Billed as a family-friendly event, the festival featured a kid’s craft area where little ones made paper lanterns with glow sticks and had their name written out in Japanese. Even new walkers enjoyed toddling around on a giant padded mat while the sumo wrestlers were on break.
About halfway through the festival, awards were presented in 17 categories, with the biggest wins going to Grand Champion Daiwa Sushi Restaurant and People’s Choice winner Rock-n-Sake Bar & Sushi.
New Orleanian Scott Schouest agrees with the judges, praising Daiwa’s simplicity. He says when he heard about the Sushi Fest he had to bring his friend Keith Clifton, visiting from Michigan.
“Keith was supposed to go home yesterday but we found out about this event and we knew we had to go, so Keith moved his flight until tomorrow,” Schouest says. “What can I say, that’s the power of New Orleans and sushi.”
Todd Matherne, CEO of Renaissance Publishing, publishers of New Orleans Magazine, was more than happy with the turnout.
“For a first time event, we were thrilled to be welcomed by so many people,” he says. “We look forward to expanding next year and creating an even more exciting festival.”
Inaugural New Orleans Sushi Fest and Competition Winners
Grand Champion: Daiwa Sushi Restaurant, People’s Choice: Rock-n-Sake Bar & Sushi, Vice-Consul of Japan’s Favorite: Samehada Roll at Rock-n-Sake Bar & Sushi, Best Presentation: Lakeview Pearl, Most Colorful: Samurai Roll at Daiwa Sushi Restaurant, Best Texture Combination: Ruby Roll at Lakeview Pearl, Most Elegant Roll: Lady In Red at Vitascope Hall, Best Use of Wasabi: Emerald Roll & Mice at Lakeview Pearl, Most Innovative: Japanese Cucumber Cold Seafood Udon Bowl at Daiwa Sushi Restaurant, Healthiest Dish: Tsunami Tsnapper at Tsunami Sushi, Best Japanese Infusion: Beet-cured Salmon Carpaccio at Aloha Sushi, Best Use of Local Produce: Strawberry Satsuma Roll at Chiba, Best NOLA-Centric Crossover: Oysters Ya-Ka-Mein at Miss Linda’s Soulfood Catering, Brightest Flavors: NOLA Storm Roll at Vitascope Hall, Best Handroll: TNT Handroll at Daiwa Sushi Restaurant, Best Unexpected Ingredient: Unicorn Roll at Rock-n-Sake Bar & Sushi, Best Adaptive Use: Cowboy Roll at Daiwa Sushi Restaurant