The BEST Places to Celebrate with ME This WeekendA dream of five years comes true for me this evening. For the past five years I have served as the Director of Culinary Programming for the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFab) in Central City. In this capacity I have taught hundreds of people about the history and underpinnings of our culinary culture and how to execute our iconic dishes  from the spectacular kitchen I have the pleasure of calling my workspace at the museum.  I have done so while gazing out the back door upon the expansive lot behind the kitchen and dreaming of evolving it into an urban garden. I am as obsessive a gardener as I am a cook and the dream has led to frustration as our team at SoFab, a non-profit, has started the work on the garden several times over the years only to be pulled away by financial restraints.

In the past few weeks a very, very hard push and very long hours from everyone on our staff as well as Andrew Fox of Professional Construction and generous donations from the Central City Home Depot has made my long-held dream a reality: SoFab is now the home of a beautiful, verdant urban garden filled with citrus trees, herbs, vegetables, flowers, tropical foliage, rustic brick and wrought iron accents. Our Historic Barbecue Pavilion, overseen by Dan Robert, our Director of Meat Science Programming, is the home of a massive Lang smoker, an equally large Big Green Egg, and a beautiful brick Carolina-style above-ground double pit capable cooking two whole hogs. The pit was built by volunteer labor contributed by Dr. Howard Conyers, Noah Weinberg, and Chef David Harrower. The pavilion stands at the ready as a space where we will celebrate the outdoor aspects of our culinary culture though seafood boils, whole hog barbecue, grilling, smoking, fish fries, turkey fries  and any other culinary activities best kept outside. The Maisel Family Dining Pavilion is certain to be the site of numerous celebratory meals and the Wickles Pickles Children’s Teaching Garden overseen over seen by Jennie Merrill, our Director of Education, will ensure that future generations will understand and celebrate the culinary traditions that we hold dear.

Last week my role evolved to be that of Director of Culinary & Garden Programming at the museum.

Please join me this evening in celebrating this vibrant new space with a free, open party from 6-9 p.m. in the Gumbo Garden. We will have plenty of tiki cocktails from Laura Bellucci of Belle Epoque, whole hog barbecue, loads of my dark gumbo that is loaded down with the world’s best andouille from Wayne Jacob’s Smokehouse, and an array of delicacies from our catering partners, The Taste Buds and Calcasieu.  Please come to the kitchen door at 1830 Martin Luther King Blvd. for admission. Seek me out and let’s raise a glass!

Our celebration will continue on Saturday with a FREE day at SoFab, 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, sponsored  by Domino Sugar, from 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Learn about at sample smoked meats with Dan Robert at 1 p.m. in the kitchen with Dan Robert and stick around for the Domino Lecture Series, which is also free, at 6 p.m. The lecture  will be delivered by Chef Elizabeth Faulkner, a Celebrated Chef, Advocate and James Beard Award Nominee. She will discuss ending restaurant waste.

The lecture will be followed by a reception and attendees will have the chance to see the new SoFAB exhibit “40 Chances” by Howard Buffett. The lecture is complimentary and open to the public, but RSVP is appreciated. Sign up at

At some point I will surely be popping into Winn Dixie grocery at 5300 Tchoupitoulas St. because it is right around the corner from my home and I spend my fair share of time there. Louisiana Winn Dixie stores and Port Orleans Brewing Company (4124 Tchoupitoulas St., ) recently launched “Lend a Helping Can” to Fight Cancer. This special partnership supports cancer patients receiving treatment at the Ochsner Cancer Institute with a Winn-Dixie Community Donation Program and a Port Orleans Beer Contribution Campaign. Through the end of this month Winn-Dixie customers can make donations at all Louisiana stores to support individuals battling cancer. In addition to customer contributions, Port Orleans is also donating and Port Orleans donating $1 per case of beer to support Ochsner cancer patients. In honor of the campaign, the local brewery is placing pink tops on the cans of Port Orleans Beer all month long. All funds raised during the campaign will be used to benefit patients at the Ochsner Cancer Institute.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Use it to celebrate the people and the community you love.