NEW ORLEANS—For some, the music is the highlight of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
For others, it's the food.
The festival offered fans more than 70 choices and opportunities galore to revel in the tastes of southeastern Louisiana. From shrimp and grits, crawfish bisque and alligator pie to white chocolate bread pudding and beignets - there's something for everyone.
In addition, for those wanting to get even closer to discover how Louisiana chefs make magic in their kitchens, the festival played host to cooking demonstrations by some of the city's most renowned, including Susan Spicer of Bayona, Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen's and Charlie's Seafood, and Donald Link of Herbsaint and Cochon.
"We think of Jazz Fest as a food festival with music on the side," said Michael Garran, one of the organizers for the demonstrations held in the grandstand at the Fair Grounds Race Course.
Festival fans tasted traditional Louisiana fare like boudin, which refers to a number of different types of sausage, or feast on a variety of international offerings such as tangine of lamb (lamb stew with basmati rice), cha gio (Vietnamese egg roll), jama-jama (sauteed spinach) or donburi (chicken teriyaki with rice).
On Saturday, festival-goers learned how to make Louisiana strawberry jam, boudin noir with roasted peaches, savory crab beignets and vegetarian stuffed peppers. On Sunday, the closing day, food freaks can get tips on making turnip dumplings with braised pork belly, barbecue oysters, praline bacon and duck waffles, seafood gumbo and crawfish etouffee.
At a demonstration last week, Brigtsen held the attention of a room full of festival-goers who watched him make from scratch a dish called fisherman's chowder. In between his instructions, the chef encouraged people to eat locally grown products, including seafood.
"Yeah, these are imported shrimp and Chinese crawfish I'm using," he said, drawing laughter from the audience. "I know you know better than that! Eat local. Whether shopping or dining, know what you're buying. The best shrimp come from the Gulf of Mexico. They're the best tasting and the best quality. Hands down."
Mary Ann Silk, of Minneapolis, said she stopped to watch Brigtsen's demonstration because "he was melting a half pound of butter."
"Nothing with that much butter can be bad," she said. "I had to see what it was."
After the chowder was completed, those who stayed got to taste the end result.
"Thanks for spending time with me," said Brigtsen, who also teaches at the John Folse Culinary School at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. "Cooking is the best way for me to share my love, passion, heritage and culture with you."
Karen Heil, of New Orleans, said she and her husband always make time to visit the food stages.
"These chefs have such a love for the city and for them to take their time to come and teach people about the love of food and the culture surrounding it, it's not to be missed," she said.
Kathy Mulcahy, of Potomoc, Md., said she decided to sample the shrimp macque choux offered in one of the dozens of food booths. The traditional creamy dish is a blend of shrimp, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes and onions.
"It's absolutely delicious and spiced just right," she said.
Sylvia Denson, of New Orleans, said she's been coming to the festival since 1975. "We absolutely decide what we're going to eat before we get here," she said.