New Orleans Entrepreneur Week Spices Up Day Three with Food Innovation Summit

By Craig Magraff Jr., NOEW Correspondent.

Day three of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week was marked by the sounds, smells, and advice of some of the biggest names on the New Orleans food scene.

Chef Donald Link at the 2015 Food Innovation Summit.

Chef Donald Link at the 2015 Food Innovation Summit.

The Modern Chef, Donald Link of Link Restaurant Group (Herbsaint, Peche, Butcher) gave the audience a glimpse into the world of one of New Orleans’ top mega chefs. And that was just one of the highlights of the summit.

It kicked off with the opening guest speaker David Darragh, president and CEO of Reily Foods Company. And as he put it, “Food and entrepreneurship in New Orleans is really a no brainer,” Darragh said.

Darragh, who also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the Idea Village, explained that the inaugural summit and the organization share similar stories.

“The Food Innovation Summit started last year as a Food Challenge, and appropriately, just like Idea Village, we came up with the idea in a bar. So we’ve really upgraded, as you can see,” Darragh said.

Darragh spoke of the slew of top entrepreneurial talent packed into the room. From Robbie Vitrano, co-founder of Naked Pizza, Carol Markowitiz, executive director of NOCHI (New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute) opening in Fall 2016, Joel Dondis, founder and CEO of Sucre, and Bryson Aust,CFO of Dinner Lab.

Vitrano, also co-founder of Trumpet, and the Idea Village, presented on the expanding role of food entrepreneurs in the local ecosystem.

“We know food, probably better than anyone else in the world,” he said.

He emphasized supporting local growers and leading a healthy buying lifestyle. As a savvy food entrepreneur and restauranteur himself, Vitrano champions healthy eating and cooking at home.

“When you cook at home you’re more aware of the food you create, you’re more aware of the nutritional aspects of it. It slows things down and connects people. There’s sort of a physical and psychological health aspect to it that food businesses can help create even at home,” he said.

Mark Romig, President and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing corporation, led a panel discussion featuring Joel Dondis, Tess Monaghan, of Good Eggs, and Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. Each of the food innovators offered their insight to success in the local food renaissance of the last ten years.

“What I think is interesting about innovation is that you don’t always realize it’s happening while you’re doing it,” Tuennerman said.

“What I think is really cool is we developed a product based on the needs of our specific community,” Monaghan said. “The thing I’m most proud of is we’re a company based around the need of small scale producers.”

Joel Dondis started Sucre Dondis’ 6th grade science class. “My class project was a soufflé,” he said. “I think one of our biggest innovations is in the involvement of scrap making. If we’re making cake with prime ingredients and there’s scraps, what’s something delicious can me make of those scraps?”

Also featured at the summit was a second panel discussion on Food, Health, and Entrepreneurship moderated by John B. Elstrott, Jr. of Whole Foods Market, Inc. featuring Erik Frank of Your Nutrition Delivered, Tim Harlan of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, and Amy Klien of Revolution foods.

Mike Girodano of Circle Up and Aust of Dinner Lab led a discussion on the growing interests of the venture capital community and how to get food projects funded.

The summit ended, of course, with food and drink samples from several local spots including SoBou, Your Nutrition Delivered, Sucre and others.