Travel Leisure

Fried Chicken Festival Highlights New Orleans’ Diverse Culinary Culture

New Orleans has a unique culinary culture that captivates all who visit. It takes only once to experience the distinct flavors throughout the city to compel first-time visitors and even skeptics to make it a yearly retreat – even if it’s just for the food alone.

When the city’s culinary profile transcends beyond the Gulf Coast and into other towns near and far, the flavors from restaurants that try to replicate such delicacy also pique the interest of those who haven’t experienced New Orleans in person. These restaurants often motivate those who’ve never been to witness the culture and Creole cuisine up close.

The Big Easy is home to the world’s best gumbo, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. The New Orleans Muffaletta, Po-Boys, beignets, and bananas foster are also dishes New Orleans has perfected. These dishes inarguably embody what people consider New Orleans’ culture and distinct cuisine. They are the result of a beautiful blend of influences, including African, Caribbean, Native American, and European cultures.

New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival
Photo credit: Parker Diakite

“New Orleans is a city that’s already considered a fusion,” says Cleveland Spears III, president and CEO of the Spears Group. “When you consider the city’s history, it’s always been this melting pot of many different cultures. Taking all these cultures and putting the flavors together has helped create this rich and vibrant culinary scene here.”

New Orleans is a city that celebrates its unique cuisine through an event or festival. Tourism leaders say there are over 130 festivals and events annually in the Crescent City. Most festivals share a passion for food – regardless if it’s the festival’s theme.

The top food festivals in New Orleans include the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, Crawfish Festival, Oak Street Po-Boy Preservation Festival, Louisiana Seafood Festival, and a newer one: Fried Chicken Festival.

Fried Chicken Festival Showcases Culinary Diversity

The impetus behind the National Fried Chicken Festival in New Orleans was a need to bring people together amid what the founders call a turbulent time in the city. The planning process began in 2015 before the inaugural event was held in 2016.

It has since transformed from a local festival to a two-day event. Attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the world, attendees come to enjoy chicken in a city that knows how to blend spices and flavors the best.

“We took the concept of ‘everyone loves fried chicken’ and programmed it for everyone regardless of background or generation,” Spears, who also serves as the executive producer for the festival, tells Travel Noire.

2023 marked a goal post year for organizers as they welcomed more than 120,000 people – the most significant festival yet. People travel from all over the world, as far as Romania, to experience the festival.

New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival
Photo credit: Parker Diakite

More than 50 restaurants nationwide participated in the Fried Chicken Festival, including businesses from Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.

The menu featured Korean Fried Chicken Baos, Chicken Birria Tacos, Jerk Fried Chicken Nachos, Chicken Jambalaya, and Jollof Chicken. Fried chicken cocktails, stuffed wings, and chicken ice cream were also on display for tastings.

New Orleans Fried Chicken Festival
Korean Fried Chicken Bao is the winner of the “Best Fried Chicken Dish” Award. Photo credit: Parker Diakite

“What we’ve done has exceeded our expectations,” Spears adds. “This shows you that food is a global unifier, bringing people together from across the country and worldwide.”

Spears says New Orleans’ reputation as a “foodie destination” has helped with the festival’s success, but he’s not ruling out the possibility of replicating the food festival in other cities.

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