José R. Ralat is a Texas-based food writer specializing in tacos. He’s written for Texas Monthly, Munchies, Dallas Observer, D Magazine, Thrillist, Eater Dallas, and other publications. He is the author of American Tacos: A History and Guide to the Taco Trail North of the Border, and he doesn’t believe in the existence of an inauthentic taco.
Liz Williams was lucky to be born into a family of Sicilian heritage in New Orleans. She grew up eating in two great food traditions. She is a founder and President & CEO of the National Food & Beverage Foundation, which includes that Southern Food & Beverage Museum. Much of her research and writing centers on the legal and policy issues related to food and foodways.
Alon Shaya, Executive Chef and Partner of Domenica, Pizza Domenica and Shaya, discovered his passion for cooking at an early age, spending most of his time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother in Philadelphia. Food & Wine named Domenica one of the top restaurants of 2012. In 2010, Esquire named Alon one of four Chefs to Watch. He was named one of the “50 people changing the South” by Southern Living Magazine in 2015.
Ian McNulty is a food writer for the New Orleans Advocate, covering the culture, personality and trends behind the city’s famous dining scene. His commentary series Where Y’Eat airs weekly on NPR affiliate WWNO, and he is a frequent contributor to WWL-TV in New Orleans.
“WDSU News This Morning” anchor Charles Divins comes to New Orleans from Orlando, Fla., where he served as co-host of “The Daily Buzz,” a nationally syndicated news and entertainment morning program. Charles brings a wide range of life experiences to New Orleans. A native of Dallas, Charles got his start in television as an actor of the NBC daytime series, “Passions.” Dallas is also where he got his passion for tacos.
Chef Frank Brigtsen, owner of Brigtsen’s Restaurant, began his career under Chef Paul Prudhomme at K-Paul’s. He has been named one of the Top Ten New Chefs in America by FOOD&WINE magazine (1988) and America’s Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation Awards (1998). He has also been named Chef of the Year by New Orleans magazine and Restaurateur of the Year by the Louisiana Restaurant Association – N.O. Chapter.
At last years World Taco Eating Contest in San Jose California, Major League Eating Executive Sam Barclay, described Michael Durbin as “A credit to the great State of Texas, and to the taco based lifestyle…”. The East Texas resident and member of the Texas Taco Council, is literally eating his way into the Guinness Book of World Records one taco at a time. The “Tacoteur,” as he is known to his fans and followers, has been eating nothing but tacos for over 340 consecutive days!
Ms. Linda “Yakamein Lady” Green is well known and highly regarded as a New Orleans icon in the community. In addition to her local notoriety, she is internationally known as the winner of Food Network’s Chopped: Pride of New Orleans and has been featured on internationally syndicated TV shows including Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Larry the Cable Guy and United Taste of America. She won the Vegan Gumbo Contest for Food Network in 2013.
JASON ROGERS WILLIAMS
Born in uptown New Orleans, Jason Rogers Williams graduated from Woodward Academy in College Park, GA and entered Tulane University and Tulane Law School. After working for two years at law firms post-graduation, he started his own practice. Williams later serves as a State Court Judge at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in 2003. Williams has served on the LA State Indigent Board’s Director Selection Committee and has worked as a Professor at Tulane Law School.
Padro is owner of award winning restaurants Highland Tap & Burger, Sloan’s Lake Tap and Burger and Bar Dough. In 2014, Highland Tap & Burger was named to the top 15 burgers in America list by Zagat and has won Denver’s competitive Burger Battle and Top Taco competitions. In 2012, Juan launched Old Major restaurant, a restaurant that emphasized local and sustainable farming practices and was named to Bon Appetite’s top 50 best new restaurant list.
Cara Benson grew up in New Orleans, La. After graduating from Loyola University, she moved to New York to attend the French Culinary Institute. After living in New York for a couple of years she moved home to be closer to family. She opened Tartine in 2010 followed by Toast in 2014 and Toast Fairgrounds in 2016. Cara and her husband Evan live in Algiers Point with their two sons, Teller and Louis.
A chef for more than 30 years, Susan graduated from the New York Restaurant School in 1983. Though she had planned on a career in archaeology, her love of cooking drew her to the restaurant business, which she describes as “being like a different play every night.” After owning and operating successful restaurants in Indianapolis and Chicago, Susan joined our mission in 2013, first as a volunteer and then with a role in securing healthy donations from retail partners.
Dominic Bischone, better known as Dom Jones, a lifelong resident of New Orleans, runs a local record label, A Necessary Evil Records. In addition to recording shows and booking a variety of artists, Dom is also involved in the NOLA Doom Fest and New Orleans Metal Festival. His hobbies include collecting records and horror movies, going to shows, and of course, eating TACOS! He’s traveled far and wide in search of the best (and worst) tacos.
Hank Staples is originally from Washington, D.C. and has been the owner of the popular Uptown music club, the Maple Leaf for over 25 years. On Sundays during football season, he can be found rousing the crowd at the Super Dome in white robe and pontiff hat dressed as one of the Bless You Boys. Hank is also one of the founders and producers of the popular Oak Street Po Boy Festival.
Helen Freund is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans and the restaurant critic and food and dining writer for Gambit Weekly. Freund worked as a chef and writer in New York before moving to New Orleans in 2012 to cover criminal justice at The Times-Picayune. She writes regularly about the city’s vibrant food scene and also covers crime and courts for The New Orleans Advocate.
Jamie Bernstein moved to New Orleans in 1996, finding a wellspring of primordial energy from which to create art and music. Jamie began performing in New Orleans as a spoken word poet and has since appeared on stage, and in television and film. He has produced two Jazz cd’s, and records with the Hill Country Hounds. Jamie hosts a talk radio program, The Offer Radio Hour, Mondays from 2-3pm on 102.3 WHIVfm New Orleans.
Emily moved to New Orleans in 2011 and is the Director of Partnerships with Tales of the Cocktail. There are few things Emily likes more than tacos, margaritas and festivals. Having recently visited Tequila, Mexico, she feels well prepared to select the top traditional margarita! Emily is originally from Houston, Texas and loves a mean margarita. It runs in the family- Emily’s Mom has a margarita named after her at their favorite Mexican joint in Houston.
Abigail Guillo moved to New Orleans in 2012, Abigail landed the job as head bar chef for Sobou. In 2015, Gullo was tapped by award-winning bartender Ricky Gomez to join the beverage team at Compere Lapin. Her margarita won People’s Choice at the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail, and her drinks have been featured in The New York times, Imbibe, Garden & Gun, In the Mix and Food & Wine Magazine. She was also named Bartender of the Year at the 2016 Tales of the Cocktail.
ALESSANDRA MADRID AND MAGGIE ROBERT
Alessandra and Maggie are co-founders of local food, beverage and lifestyle blog Babes & Beignets. Babes & Beignets is the go-to resource for the twenty-something babe living la vida NOLA. For lovers of happy hour, entertaining, brunch, local shopping, the hottest events, the occasional venture outside of the city & more!
Owner of Three Muses Maple, Kimberly Patton-Bragg was chosen by askmen.com as one of the top ten female bartenders in the country. Kimberly’s original cocktails have been featured in Imbibe, The New York Times, Nightclub & Bar, Saveur, and the Times-Picayune. She has been a panelist at Aspen Food & Wine and is featured in Sarah Baird’s “New Orleans Cocktails: Over 100 Drinks from the Sultry Streets and Balconies of the Big Easy.”
Leroy Mitchell was born and raised in Metairie, LA. On any given Sunday, Leroy can be found antagonizing opposing players at the Superdome dressed in black and gold with a giant whistle attached to his head. When he’s not dressed as the most recognizable Saint Supafan, he can be found holding court at Galatoire’s every Friday after a long work week at Heartland Payment Services. No one loves a great cocktail more than the Whistle Monsta.
Brandon is a physical therapist that enjoys running and taking his dog to the park. His face may be familiar as he is a dance captain in the popular Krewe, the 610 Stompers. He loves volunteering in the community and looks forward to tasting as many cocktails as he can at this year’s Top Taco.
Macquet has cooked aboard the legendary ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II, at the James Beard Foundation, the White House and the U.S. Embassy in Paris. After his extensive travels, Macquet opened Dominique’s in the French Quarter, garnering the Times-Picayune’s coveted Four Bean review and the DIRONA award. New Orleans Magazine named Macquet its Chef of the Year in 1997; Esquire Magazine named Dominique’s among the Top 20 Best New Restaurants.
Daniel Victory is creatorof Victory & New Orleans Drink Lab. He has been lauded as a pioneer of the New Orleans “craft cocktail” emergence and is considered one of the most engaging ambassadors of the Crescent City. His dedication to preserving the artistry and sophistication of classic cocktail creation, as well as the high standard of service set forth by many generations old bartenders, sets Daniel Victory apart. His newest venture, Victory, has set the standard for premier locales in New Orleans.
Aaron Wilkinson is the lead vocalist and a founding member of New Orleans’ own Honey Island Swamp Band. Begun in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the band has won multiple Offbeat and Big Easy awards, and built a reputation as one of the city’s finest roots rock artists, becoming a regular performer at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. A multi-instrumentalist, Aaron plays guitar, mandolin and harmonica for HISB.
A native of California, Bryan’s family owned a vineyard in the historic Livermore Valley. He has extensive experience in consulting, programming, and drinks education. He founded NOLADrinks, airing on 990AM, as a multiplatform project that “explores the world of drink and food in New Orleans and beyond.” NOLADrinks shares topics important to the hospitality and beverage industry with a focus on in-depth conversation, social issues, and a good dose of humor.
An Atlanta native, Scott Snodgrass cut his teeth in that city’s up and coming culinary scene from 1990-99. Scott moved to New Orleans in 2000 to join the family at Clancy’s, where he worked until opening a place of his own, One Restaurant, in the Riverbend neighborhood of uptown in early 2005. After selling that business in 2014, Scott is now enjoying a new adventure catering private dinners for friends & former One clientele.
Chine is a ten-year bartending vet, craps enthusiast, insomniac, undefeated beer chugging champ and the World’s Most Optimistic Denver Broncos Fan. Chine has spent the last decade bartending at some of the most popular spots in Denver. He’s also a firm believer that a perfectly crafted cocktail cannot compete with a heart felt smile and genuine hospitality.
Aaron Nachlas, a native of Washington DC, originally came to New Orleans in 1996 as an Aviator with the US Coast Guard. Falling in love with the city, its food, culture, and cocktails, he settled in NOLA with his family when he retired from active duty. As a dedicated consumer, he is a longstanding regular at events such as Tales Of The Cocktail, and has designed tours and assisted in articles highlighting the New Orleans cocktail culture for both locals and out of town guests alike.
Originally from New York City, Salvatore Agnello got his first tastes of the bartending world while living in Auckland, New Zealand. After moving to New Orleans in 2011, Sal cut his teeth in the craft cocktail world, working with Cure Co., working his way up from an apprentice to the Managing Director of their second location – Bellocq. In 2016, Sal took over as Beverage Director of the Ace Hotel, where he is currently guiding the property’s beverage programming.
NOAH BONAPARTE PAIS
Noah Bonaparte Pais is general manager and sommelier at the French Quarter Champagne bar Effervescence (1036 North Rampart). A former fixture in Herbsaint and wine rep with Republic National Distributing Company, he also covers music for Gambit and is an arts and entertainment reporter for WWL-TV’s “Eyewitness Morning News” with Eric Paulsen and Sally-Ann Roberts. His recommended taco and tequila pairing is all of them.
Andrew Marin writes about food and cocktails for Where Y’at Magazine. He is a former chef, a very slim percentage of Mexican, and a taco enthusiast. Follow him @ndrewmarin on Twitter and Instagram, and add andrewmarin on Snapchat for live updates from the Top Taco festival.