Spicy, sweet, fresh and like nothing you’ve ever tasted before.
This summer, Louisiana showed the world its bounty of unique flavors at the Milan Expo, bringing the state’s one-of-a-kind dishes to the streets of Italy.
“Louisiana cuisine is authentic,” said Kyle Edmiston, the Assistant Secretary of Tourism of the Louisiana Office of Tourism. “Our roots run really deep because of our heritage with the French, Spanish, Sicilian, African, Caribbean, Irish, German and American Indian [communities] all being part of the gumbo that created Louisiana and the Louisiana people, and each one of those different cultures brought something different to the table. That’s why our cuisine and our culinary scene is different than anywhere else in the United States.”
Delicious Ingredients Abound in Louisiana
The state’s location in the Southeast United States along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico yields plenty of fresh seafood; in fact, the state is responsible for 95 percent of the world’s crawfish. The fresh flavors combined with the vast array of global influences make for a culinary scene unlike any other in the world. This unique atmosphere is an asset that Edmiston and his colleagues want to share with visitors from across the globe.
“Something that separates us is that we have a diversity that [other destinations] can’t make claim to,” he said. “We have got a whole trail system designed to move people around state within the culinary scene.”
Louisiana Takes the Global Stage
The Milan Expo presented the opportunity to expose travelers to the multitude of flavors they’d encounter on a trip to the Creole State. To do that, Louisiana took over the USA Pavilion’s Food Truck Nation — a street-food focused program serving all-American eats. For three weeks, the trucks dished out Louisiana-inspired dishes like shrimp po’boys and spicy hamburgers infused with Tony Chachere’s seasoning. There was even a Mardi Gras-themed cupcake, topped with sweet praline frosting.
Bringing the Louisiana culinary scene to Food Truck Nation in Milan was no easy feat and required careful planning and coordination.
“These items were chosen — in consultation with us — by the USA Pavilion,” Edmiston said. “It had to be something that could be replicated, be good and be sourced in Italy. We would have loved to have had a jambalaya or a gumbo or an étouffée, but they couldn’t source everything that the chefs would have needed to have made them taste like they do here.”
Acclaimed New Orleans-based chef John Besh was able to bring with him some of his favorite Louisiana seasonings when he flew to Milan to cook at the James Beard American Restaurant, housed above the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in central Milan.
“My favorite thing was to go [to the James Beard American Restaurant] on one of the nights that John cooked,” Edmiston recalled. “He did a fabulous job of taking some of the fresh produce from the Italian farmers market and then mixing it with the spices he had brought and creating a really interesting blend.”
But according to Edmiston, those who tasted the Louisiana-style cuisine at the Milan Expo only received a small sample of the state’s culinary scene. “In Louisiana, culinary isn’t just about the food: It’s more about the people, the music, the experience and the food,” he said.
So how do you get the full Louisiana dining experience?
“I would encourage [visitors] to go somewhere where they could experience more than just food,” said Edmiston, “such as our restaurants where we have Cajun Zydeco music playing, crawfish being boiled, boudin balls for appetizers and you get to experience the full culture, the environment as well as the cuisine.”
Shrimp po’boys were one of the Louisiana-themed dishes offered at Food Truck Nation at the Milan Expo.