2022 Food Forum: Celebrating the Seasons


THNOC’s 2021–22 Food Forum—organized with lauded food historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris—will be presented in four quarterly events over the next year to celebrate the “culinary seasons” of South Louisiana. The events begin Saturday, November 6, with a presentation on New Orleans street food, followed by explorations on king cake and bánh chung (winter), festival fare (spring), and frozen refreshments (summer). We hope to celebrate each season with a reception, pending COVID safety considerations.

Spring 2022: Celebrating the Seasons: Festivals | Saturday, May 21

Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres Street
11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. 
This event will be an in-person experience.
Registration is required. Admission is on a pay-what-you’re-able scale: $30 suggested, $5 minimum

It’s festival season! Join us as we sit down with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s food director, Michelle Nugent, to discuss the iconic dishes and vendors who keep us feasting at the fest. Joining Nugent will be Pierre Hilzim and Monica Davidson of Big River Foods and Kajun Kettle Inc.—better known as the people behind Crawfish Monica®—and Vance Vaucresson, owner of Vaucresson Sausage Company, Jazz Fest’s last original food vendor. Acclaimed food historian Jessica B. Harris will lead the discussion and offer insights into the importance of regional food festivals. Come hungry! We’ll be tasting samples of delicious festival food.


About the Speakers

Michelle J. Nugent was raised in New Orleans. While still in high school, Nugent began working in music production and continued in the industry until she met chef Susan Spicer in 1985. After discovering their mutual enthusiasm for food and drink, Spicer offered Nugent an apprenticeship, and her career has been dedicated to the craftsmanship and lore of food and cooking since that time.

In 1999 Nugent joined the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell, where she is now food director. Nugent and her staff curate a nationally renowned food fair featuring authentic and nouvelle Louisiana cuisine with over 60 vendors and more than 200 food items. She is also responsible for two stages with cooking demonstrations and for feeding the large festival production staff.

Nugent has been featured on the PBS Great Chefs of New Orleans series, received the Guardian of the Tradition award from the Southern Foodways Alliance, and named one of City Business magazine’s Women of the Year. She is very involved with the national anti-hunger/anti-poverty group Share our Strength.

Vance Vaucresson's Vaucresson Sausage Company is the last remaining original food vendor at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The company, a third-generation business, makes authentic Creole products served not only at Jazz Fest but in restaurants, grocery stores, and festivals throughout the New Orleans region. Vance Vaucresson, owner and president, operates the company in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, where the family has been in the meat business since 1899.

Vaucresson was eight years old when his father, Sonny Vaucresson, began to teach him about the family business. In 1969 Sonny had begun selling their sausages at Jazz Fest and in 1983 officially established the Vaucresson Sausage Company. When Sonny died in 1998, Vance took over the family business.

The flooding following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed the sausage plant, submerging the business in six feet of water. The equipment was destroyed, the meat spoiled, and the company’s insurance did not cover flood damage. In the spring of 2006 a competitor opened his plant to the Vaucressons to ensure they were able to make sausage po’boys for that spring’s Jazz Fest. The sausage plant, vacant since 2005, will reopen this spring as Vaucresson’s Creole Café with a market and counter service offering the family’s trademark sausage and traditional Creole dishes.

Chef Pierre Hilzim, president of Kajun Kettle Foods, is a New Orleans native who learned to cook at the age of 10 from his father, the executive director of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. After spending several years running high-end restaurants in San Francisco and designing kitchens for award-winning chefs from Italy, Chef Pierre returned home in 1981 to found Kajun Kettle Foods.

Chef Pierre’s vision was to save local restaurants precious prep time by providing them with high-quality, ready-to-serve fresh pastas and sauces. The dishes were wildly popular, and Kajun Kettle’s product line grew to include an array of savory sauces, soups, entrées, and side dishes.

Monica Davidson is the namesake of the beloved New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival dish Crawfish Monica®. Davidson joined Kajun Kettle shortly after its creation. She has a degree in linguistics from UC Berkeley and has lived in five countries; in addition to English, Monica speaks French, Spanish, and German. Her early career was as an executive with Macy’s, California. Monica now manages Kajun Kettle’s Personnel, Marketing, and Public Relations departments.

Crawfish Monica® is one of the biggest—if not the biggest—taste sensation at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where locals and visitors snap up tens of thousands of servings at each festival. The dish consists of tender crawfish in delicious and spicy cream sauce over pasta. The New Yorker, the L.A. Times, USA Today, the Times-Picayune, and the London Times, among many other publications, have given the dish rave reviews.

Dr. Jessica B. Harris is an educator and culinary historian as well as the author of 12 cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African diaspora. Her most recent book is High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America. Based on the book, the Netflix original docuseries High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America is now in its second season. She has written extensively about the culture of Africa in the Americas, lectured widely, and made numerous television appearances.

Harris holds a PhD from NYU and is an English professor at Queens College, CUNY. Harris is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and Les Dames d’Escoffier. Her articles have appeared in Eating Well, Food and Wine, Essence, and the New Yorker, among other publications, and she has been profiled in the New York Times. Harris has spoken about the food of African Americans on the Today Show and Good Morning America, at the Museum of Natural History, and she has been a frequent guest at Philadelphia’s The Book and the Cook. In 2004 Harris was awarded the Jack Daniel’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. To learn more about Harris, go to www.africooks.com.

Register now

At this time The Historic New Orleans Collection is not requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests, and masks are optional. These practices may change with minimal notice depending on local conditions. Please see our COVID-19 policy for more details.

View schedules from past Food Forums (previously named Culinary Symposium).