Prevue asked Tanya Leader, VP of Sales, St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission, for her thoughts on culture and creativity.
Q: How does the destination incorporate its culture into group events?
A: St. Tammany Parish was once a getaway spot for wealthy 19th-century New Orleanians who came to escape the heat and mosquitoes of the city and experience the legendary healing waters of the Abita Springs. Today, it has grown to become a destination with broad appeal, one which continues to be influenced by its culture and heritage. The Choctaw and other Native American tribes lived in St. Tammany before white settlement began in the early 19th century, and Creole African-Americans played a big role in building the area. Before the Causeway was built in 1956, visitors from New Orleans crossed Lake Pontchartrain by steamboat or came around the lake by train. St. Tammany’s roots are deeply seated in its history, and the event venues, cuisine, attractions, and hospitality are still influenced by the bounty of the bayou. Meetings and gatherings can be planned or impromptu, but there is always a reason to gather and “pass a good time” while dining on St. Tammany’s Louisiana specialties, from upscale Creole to downhome favorites like spicy boiled crawfish and fat, soulful oyster po-boys.
Q: What are some unique cultural venues that host group events?
A: The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime museum on the banks of the scenic Tchefuncte River in Madisonville is rich in maritime history, and seeks to preserve the culture shaped by the largest lake in Louisiana. Its 3,500 square feet of meeting space serves as a memorable venue for private events, receptions, and dinners. Guests can peruse detailed exhibits, boat models, and even participate in boat-building classes for groups. Annadele’s Plantation in Covington dates back nearly two centuries, when the land was purchased in 1819 to build a jail and courthouse. After the West Indies style plantation was built in 1834 by Colonel Sulley of New Orleans, it was purchased in the late 1800’s by the Mayor of New Orleans as a summer home. Now refurbished, Annadele’s Plantation is the site of group events where attendees dine on exquisite French and Creole inspired cuisine. Separate dining areas, named after previous owners of the plantation, can accommodate intimate groups of 12 to larger groups of 60. Or, the plantation and gardens can be reserved for larger events.
Q: What festivals/cultural events can planners incorporate into their programs?
A: The Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival, held every year in October is hosted by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum. There’s a “Quick N Dirty” boat building contest and race and hundreds of wooden boats gather along the banks of the Tchefuncte. There’s also the Three Rivers Arts Festival, a juried art show that attracts thousands of visitors a year and showcases some of the region’s best artists and artisans. Sample char-broiled oysters or soft-shell crab at the Mandeville Seafood Festival in Fountainbleau State Park and visit the crumbling brick ruins of a sugar mill built in 1829 by Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville. Or visit Jazz’n the Vines at Pontchartrain Vineyards to hear soulful jazz musicians, sample award-winning wine, or a learn how to make it on a behind the scenes winemaking tour.
Q: What are some restaurants/cuisine reflective of the destination’s culture?
A: Noted chef John Besh, a familiar face on The Food Network and PBS’s “Chef John Besh’s New Orleans,” operates the lovely La Provence in Lacombe. The destination restaurant combines French technique with Louisiana ingredients – some grown in the petite farm out back – and showcases fresh and seasonal. Crispy Gulf Fish “Pontchartrain” is one example, and features jumbo lump crabmeat, shrimp and mushrooms with local vegetables with a Louisiana satsuma hollandaise. Or, find happiness in perfectly fried shrimp or a mountain of spicy boiled crawfish. Wash it down with a group tasting at the Abita Brewery, where local specialty brews like Strawberry Harvest or Andygator are brewed from the artesian Abita Springs.