Food is a universal pleasure, and enjoying meals in the company of people with adventurous palates makes it even better. Add a Hell’s Kitchen winner to the mix and what you have a recipe for an evening of foodie fun.
Culinary Road Trip at Downtown Grand is the brainchild of chef Scott Commings, the Season 12 winner of Gordon Ramsay’s reality TV show and executive chef of the property’s Freedom Beat restaurant. Now in its second year, Culinary Road Trip treats guests to a pop-up dinner that focuses on a specific U.S. destination. Last year’s stops, of which there were 9, included Wisconsin, Texas and Philadelphia, among others.
Photos by Jesse J Sutherland
This year’s road trip debuted February 13 with a stop in New Orleans, appropriately enough on Mardi Gras. Revelers gathered in a private dining room at Freedom Beat decked in beads and sipping Hurricanes, excited to partake in Chef Commings’ creations. The three-course dinner started with crispy oysters on the half shell and boudin balls, followed by a duo of soft-shell crab and andouille sausage po’boy served with okra fries. Then came large pans of chicken and rabbit jambalaya, flavored with a not-insignificant amount of heat, causing diners to yelp a little before coming back for more. The meal ended with a cool Mile High Pie, NOLA’s famed Pontchartain Hotel’s signature dessert of vanilla, chocolate, ice cream and peppermint ice cream topped with meringue.
Each Culinary Road Trip stop hosts between 30-60 people, with most attendees hopping on for more than one stop. (Last year, many attended all 9 events.) New this year is the all-you-can-drink option, with each course paired with a carefully thought-out chaser.
For Commings, Culinary Road Trip is a way to have fun with regional cuisine and create a community at the same time. “It gives us an opportunity to bring people together and hear stories. But what’s really great is [at] these dinners, we keep everything communal. You can see everybody in the room so that people get to meet other people,” he says.
And indeed, the conviviality was apparent at the Mardi Gras dinner, where people broke up into groups to answer trivia questions about New Orleans.
By the end of the meal, everyone seemed like old friends. They were calling out “See you at the next one!” while getting their “passports” stamped at the end of the evening.
The next culinary destination is Boston on March 14. Whatever Commings has up his sleeve, we bet it’ll be wicked good (and we’re betting on Boston Cream Pie for dessert).
Culinary Road Trip, $45 per person/$55 for the all-you-can-drink option, downtowngrand.com/culinary-road-trip-tastes-of-the-american-road/