A Trip to Avery Island, Louisiana

by jenna on April 20, 2012

Whew!

I just got home from a fantastic trip deep down in the Louisiana Bayou to visit McIlhenny Company, the folks behind that delicious spicy sauce we all know and dearly love…and when I say delicious spicy sauce, I obviously mean Tabasco! You guys know how much I love hot sauce, so this trip was practically made for me (I was pretty much just like a kid on Christmas morning the entire time)! I mean….once, I participated in a “let’s get hot and sauced” hot sauce gift exchange party that involved fog machines, strobe lights and a sit down hot sauce tasting at midnight. What else can I say?

Needless to say, I was so thrilled with Tabasco originally reached out to me a few months ago, asking if I would be interested in not only visiting their family home and headquarters on Avery Island, Louisiana, but also in developing a recipe using their hot sauce. I already have my recipe swirling in my head right now, so look out for that sometime next week!

The trip was fantastic! Not only did I get to hang out with some of my good blog friends (Gaby and Lori!), but I learned so much about Tabasco and ate some of the most delicious food of my entire life. I realize I say that often, but this time it’s true! There’s just something about Cajun food that gets me every time.

We learned how Tabasco is made, all the way from the teeny tiny cute pepper plant….

Then to the barrel (they keep the Tabasco in those barrels for three whole years!)….

And, finally, into the little bottles you see everywhere today!

One of my favorite parts was getting to taste the extra spicy mash (basically just a mash of really, really, really spicy peppers before any of the vinegar is added). We all had to taste the mash and chase it with bourbon as part of our Tabasco Tastemaker “initiation”. I can’t say I minded.

That’s Tony in the background of the below photo—he’s the president of the company and is just so awesome. From the moment I shook his hand, he memorized my name (a little thing that really goes a long way!) and even hooked me up with extra spicy sausage at the crawfish boil the next day because he knew how much I loved it. We are practically besties for life now.

As for the pepper mash tasting, I went from being extremely curious…

…to crying in a napkin in about one second flat.

Help.

That was some SERIOUSLY spicy pepper mash. 40,000 scoville units, to be exact (if you know what in the heck a “scoville unit” is…if not, just trust me on this one).

Tabasco also was awesome enough to bring in chef Alon Shaya, of Domenica in New Orleans. Chef Shaya is up for a James Beard award for best chef in the south this year (see menu above!), and I swear that man cannot cook a bad meal. Everything he made I claimed to be “the best ever” (obviously) and his fried eggplant with whipped feta and Tabasco green pepper sauce was life changing.

I’m officially booking a trip to New Orleans just so I can eat at his restaurant.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Who’s with me?!

He was kind enough to lay out some snacks for us while he cooked! Just a little snack plate—no big deal!

Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, I could. It was utterly magical the way that happened!

I think I want to make a t-shirt that says “there’s always room for a donut!”. Donuts + chicory coffee seem to be a match made in heaven!

Don’t mind if I do…

To work off the intense amount of food we were given, we went on airboat rides and ate some more (a fruit cleanse may or may not be happening at this very moment…don’t judge). I hadn’t been on an airboat since I was about eleven on a class trip to the Everglades, and it was both Gaby and Sarah’s first time!

That handsome dude driving us is Heath! He rocked…until he spun us around in circles and got us up close and personal to a lovely little gator.

I had such a fabulous time visiting with McIlhenny Company and learning more about my favorite hot sauce. It was so wonderful and equally refreshing to see a company run by such a good, kindhearted family. The history buff in me loved listening to Shane Bernard, McIlhenny Company’s personal historian, educate us on all of the 19th and 20th century behind the scenes Tabasco action, while the adventurer in me loved going out on a secret late-night gator excursion with Took Osborn (senior VP of the company) and the girls.

I didn’t get to see my Louisiana black bear, but there’s always next time.

Though my travel expenses were covered for this trip, all opinions are entirely my own. A huge thank-you to McIlhenny Company for hosting us—it was truly a pleasure!

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{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

laura April 20, 2012 at 3:12 am

Fantastic trip for you Jenna, I know you have a thing for hot sauces. Can’t wait to see your recipe.

I especially adore the tabasco jumper you are now the owner of, it’s adorable.

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Kristen @ notsodomesticated April 20, 2012 at 3:58 am

Wow, what an incredible experience!! I can’t wait to see what recipe you come up with! :)

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Adrienne April 20, 2012 at 4:15 am

I grew up near Avery Island and lived in New Orleans for many years so this post warmed my heart! You HAVE to go to Domenica…it is amazing!

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Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers April 20, 2012 at 4:32 am

as someone who thinks “mild” salsa is spicy, my eyes started watering simply at the thought of 40,000 scoville units! you’re hardcore!

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The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh April 20, 2012 at 4:36 am

I about lost it laughing at the post taste pic. Too funny! Looks like you had a wonderful time! I’ll take a donut on the right please.

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Molly @ RDexposed April 20, 2012 at 4:41 am

As soon as I saw the barrels picture I imagined a Tabasco prohibition with those barrels being drained on site.
Otherwise this looks so interesting depsite my own low tolerence for heat!

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emily April 20, 2012 at 4:49 am

That picture of you in the button down is so pretty. Do you mind sharing where that necklace is from? I love layered pieces like that.

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jenna April 20, 2012 at 6:29 am

thank you! that necklace was a gift last year from my aunt and uncle…I believe it’s from a spa in new york, but I’m not really sure. Exhale, maybe?

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emily April 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

Oh, drat! My mom makes jewlery so I’ll have to send her a picture and see if she can recreate something similar. Thanks.

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Shelly April 20, 2012 at 4:55 am

Domenica is AMAZING!! (Also, they have pizza happy hour every day from 3-6 so you can get a giant, super gourmet pizza for like $7. It’s worth a trip to Nola just for that.) But go to Cochon as well if you ever go to Nola. It’s right up your alley, I promise!
What was your favorite tobasco sauce? My parents did the Avery Island tour a couple of years ago and gave me a set of sauces for Christmas. I love the flavor of the habanero tabasco but it’s too hot for to use regularly. The ones that got the most use were the green sauce (amazing on tacos) and the garlic pepper sauce (If you marinate shrimp in this and then cook them with butter and onions- it tastes exactly like buffalo sauce!).

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jenna April 20, 2012 at 6:28 am

good to know about Cochon! I will have to remember that one..my favorite hot sauce was a tie between their new sweet & spicy (tastes like an Asian sweet chili sauce) and the green jalapeno sauce!

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Shelly April 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Ooh! I haven’t seen the sweet and spicy one! I moved to Maine from Nola in June and good hot sauce is hard to come by. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it next time I’m down south!

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Mo April 20, 2012 at 4:57 am

Hot sauce on boiled eggs = the best breakfast (and snack, lunch, dinner….) ever. Glad you had such a fun trip! :) Is one of the bloggers wearing a University of Arizona hat? How exciting, that’s where I almost went!

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Angie April 20, 2012 at 5:00 am

How fun! I loved following all your pics on Instagram through the trip.

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Emily April 20, 2012 at 5:07 am

It all looks so good… The hot sauce section of our refrigerator is always the best stocked part, so I look forward to your recipe!

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Angela @ Happy Fit Mama April 20, 2012 at 5:16 am

I’ve never been to Louisana but I think I need to book a trip asap! The food looks outstanding! Fried eggplant with whipped feta and green Tabasco? Oh, man! Yes please!

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shelly (cookies and cups) April 20, 2012 at 5:17 am

WHat a fun trip! I do love me some hot sauce!

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Lindsey April 20, 2012 at 5:19 am

You were right by me! and Domenica in NOLA is AH-MAZING. seriously. It’s worth the trip just to eat there….oh, and John Besh’s August is phenomenal too. Get thyself on a plane stat and make sure to pack extra dollars, you don’t want to have to scrimp at these places. My husband and I have made impromptu trips to New Orleans (dropped the kids off with their grandparents for the night and drove the 2 hours) just to have dinner at Domenica.

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Lori April 20, 2012 at 5:32 am

What an incredible experience!

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Kellie @ Blackboard Kitchen April 20, 2012 at 5:42 am

“Just a little snack plate.” :) That looked amazing! All the food did, actually, so a trip out just to eat sounds completely appropriate.

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joelle (on a pink typewriter) April 20, 2012 at 5:53 am

That sounds so fun!! My bf and I have been meaning to get to the Tabasco headquarters every time we go down to NOLA, but haven’t made it yet.. soon, I hope!

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Elisabeth April 20, 2012 at 6:04 am

The trip looks like a great time! (but I have a confession…I’m a Frank’s Red Hot Sauce girl, myself…although, I would really like to try the Chipotle Tobasco Sauce ;) )

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Caitlin @ Cake with Love April 20, 2012 at 6:10 am

The doughnuts and the seafood look amazing! What great experience!

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Urban Wife April 20, 2012 at 6:27 am

How fun! Looks like you had a lovely time. I’ve never been to Lousiana but my hubby says I’m not really missing much. I beg to differ. :)

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Margarita April 20, 2012 at 6:29 am

Looks like you had a fantastic time! I love Tabasco and it’s good to know that the people who are behind it are really nice. Looking forward to your recipe!

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Sarah April 20, 2012 at 6:29 am

And you just called Tony your bestie. That is fabulous on so many levels…what a fun time we had! GUEST HOUSE!

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Deanna April 20, 2012 at 6:35 am

That is one fantastic trip!! I am a hot sauce girl myself. Long live Tabasco!!

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amy walters, aDESIGNdock April 20, 2012 at 6:40 am

This looks like sooooo much fun Jenna.

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Jenna | The Paleo Project April 20, 2012 at 6:57 am

sounds like an experience of a lifetime. I love how the blog world has the ability to propel people into such amazing opportunities! travel, friends, new cultures, foods, and of course, your book that I can’t wait to read. I love when you write travel posts. XO Jenna

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Cait's Plate April 20, 2012 at 7:08 am

What an incredible opportunity!! Your photos are amazing Jenna…honestly, some of them look like print photography!

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Amanda April 20, 2012 at 7:12 am

Love it! I grew up in New Orleans and have been to Avery Island a few times. It looks like you had an amazing time. And yes, you must visit New Orleans and write about all the wonderful food from my home town :-) Now I’m hungry!

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Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic April 20, 2012 at 7:25 am

What a great trip. I love Tabasco too. I love all kinds of spicy peppers and hot sauce, but Tabasco is my # 1 favorite. I’d love to visit Louisiana one day!

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Wendy April 20, 2012 at 7:35 am

I live in Baton Rouge, which is about an hour away from the factory. I’ve toured it before also and it’s pretty interesting. As I’ve gotten older, I find I like the tabasco sauce more and more. Glad you got to go!

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Val @ Tips on Healthy Living April 20, 2012 at 7:48 am

Tabasco is a classic! What a fun trip. Can’t wait to see what recipe you create.

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Lauren April 20, 2012 at 7:56 am

Sounds like a blast, Jenna!!

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Nicole {Sweet Peony} April 20, 2012 at 8:01 am

Looks like such a fun trip!! Great photos :)

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Em (Wine and Butter) April 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

I think this is probably the thing I am MOST jealous of you doing … ever!! I am so obsessed with hot sauce, I actually once wrote a blog post about carrying it round in my purse. I am such a weirdo sometimes :)

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Averie @ Averie Cooks April 20, 2012 at 8:16 am

Jenna it looks like a fabulous trip! Not to mention, spending time with Gaby and Lori and everyone probably made it just that much better. Fabulous pics and thanks for sharing them!

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Jenn April 20, 2012 at 8:59 am

Oh my – a broad shouldered Chef…swoon ;). Love the 1rst pic and your shirt in the second! But a fruit cleanse? Don’t like that one! :)

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Kim @ The Family Practice April 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

What a great trip! Some very cool experiences – I love hot sauce tastings, we are actually doing one this weekend. I never imagined tobasco being “aged” like whiskey. And that crab/crawdad meal looks amazing :)

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Ellen April 20, 2012 at 9:20 am

Wow! Sounds like a lot of fun. I’m going to New Orleans in May. Have you been there? Anyone have any suggestions on things I should do while I’m there? I’ve never been and I’m excited!

Mmmmm……..I love Tobasco too!

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Ellen April 20, 2012 at 9:21 am

oops, spelled tAbasco wrong. :)

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Moni Meals April 20, 2012 at 9:24 am

how cool is this trip!! I want to go there too, I LIVE ON Tabasco. :) Great pics!

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Laura @ She Eats Well April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

What an amazing and educational trip! I love spicy hot sauces! Sounds like you learned a lot and ate delicious food. That seafood looks incredible. If you DO go to New Orleans, also go to BUTCHER. It’s the best little sandwich, old-fashioned butcher shop. You will go to pork belly heaven.

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Ashley @ Perfectley Peared April 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

I love this post!!! I’ve been to New Orleans and Baton Rouge and just can’t get enough of their amazing food! :) AND I’m obsessed with Tabasco! I carry little bottles with me in my purse, always! :) Can’t wait for your sauce recipe!!

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Lea @ Healthy Coconut April 20, 2012 at 10:33 am

What a great opportunity to travel where the sauce originated. I would love to go on a tour like that. Is there a tour open to the public?

I also love that Chipotle’s (one of my fave restaurant) offers such great varieties of the Tabasco line. I wish other restaurants would do the same.

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jenna April 20, 2012 at 11:03 am

Yes! You can see more on the Tabasco website…Avery Island is gorgeous—anyone who has a chance, should really go!

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Sam @ Fit for My Fork April 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

What an awesome trip!

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Jen @ The Scrumptious Pumpkin April 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

My favorite part of traveling is always, always (what else?) – the food! Looks like an amazing trip :)

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Dana April 20, 2012 at 11:52 am

I live in New Orleans and adore Chef Alon! I met him last week and he is so nice! He cooked for a small group I belong to and then sat and ate with us. He made cooking for 20 of us look like a breeze and the food was phenomenal. So glad such a talented chef is finally getting some real recognition!

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Jen April 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Jenna, I thought you weren’t accepting gifts or trips so your blog could be unbiased? what happened to that? id imagine most dont realize tabasco likely paid for the whole trip. we are loyal readers, dont abuse that please.

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Jaime April 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

She actually mentions in the post that she was INVITED by Tabasco to come for the tour which, to me implies that they paid for it, and to be clear she states this EXACT FACT that her travel expenses were covered at the bottom of her blog post. So most of us, or at least those of us that read carefully, are aware of the fact this was a “gift”. I for one, dont feel “abused”.

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julia April 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm

i certainly don’t feel abused and I could tell from the beginning that Tobasco paid, but i just note the inconsistency in my head…a year or so ago she wrote about how she will no longer be accepting gifts/promos to do reviews. I don’t blame her though–I would certainly have gone if I were her! It’s just that in the past I thought she said that she wouldn’t do this type of thing.

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jenna April 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Tabasco did pay for this trip, as I noted at the bottom of the post, and I still do stand by what I said two years ago about not accepting any “gifts” from various companies. I’m choosing to do work with Tabasco (they are paying me for freelance), therefore this trip was more of a work trip than anything else. I choose the brands that I work with very carefully and make sure they uphold the high standards of the ELR brand, and I would never abuse that! I always work for compensation, not just brand exposure…that would never change! What I said two years ago still stands, however I’ve obviously had to change with the times in the best interest of my business. Hopefully that clears anything up.

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Lisa April 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm

This is like none of our buisness as readers, nor does it AT ALL change the quality of this blog! Seriously ridiculous that you even have to clear this up Jenna! I am apologizing for this person that felt the need to behave this way. Anyway- Your doing a great job and we love to hear about every trip!! And your new work with Tabasco! Keep it up!

Sarah April 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm

So Bloody Mary recipe coming soon? (fingers crossed)

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Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen April 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

You ladies look like you had an awesome time. Can’t wait to see the Tobasco recipe–I mean, you doesn’t like Tobasco sauce? No one. :)

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Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen April 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm

UGH. That’s supposed to read “who doesn’t like Tobasco…” I’m a sloppy typer. OKAYBYE!

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yasmine April 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm

i’ve never been to New Orleans, and this post makes me want to go! NOW! also, i’m a bit wary of hot sauce (this is terrible, i know, since i’m South Asian, and we’re supposed to BREATHE spicy stuff!) — what’s a good type of Tabasco to start off with, Jenna? do they have mild-medium-hot levels? i’m pretty sure i could handle medium spicyness!

also, those doughnuts look freakin’ amaa-ZING!

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Renee April 21, 2012 at 5:11 am

I’m not Jenna, but try the green sauce! It’s milder than the original and has an addictive vinegary quality. We love it and can go through a bottle every couple weeks.

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Regina April 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm

i JUST went to Domenica in March. it was SO good! my favorite dish was the squid ink pasta with crab. it’s the best pasta dish i’ve had outside of Venice. oh and the banana cake with butterscotch mousse and peanut brittle was amazeballs!!

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Lindsey April 20, 2012 at 9:13 pm

I live on the west coast, and somehow have never made it to Louisiana but creole cooking is the NUMBER ONE food on my wanted list to try.

ALSO. the title of this post reminds me of neutral milk hotel. it all makes sense now. I JUST SAW JEFF MANGUM THREE DAYS AGO. and from the playlists you’ve posted recently I know we are kindred souls concerning music so if you are not into them you should be!

Cheers!

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Cacmuffin April 21, 2012 at 8:29 am

Oh my gosh this sounds like a dream trip I lovvvve hot sauce!!!!

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Joanie April 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

Sounds like a wonderful trip. I’m originally from New Orleans and grew up on Tabasco sauce. Love it! I just found your blog and I’m so glad I did!!

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JMK1961 April 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm

You get to create a Tabasco recipe? Awesome! I think all I could do is probably make an extremely long list of all the foods/dishes I douse in it :)

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jenna k April 21, 2012 at 6:45 pm

that tabasco sweatshirt is AMAZING.
i love seeing your trip re-caps! :)

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Atti April 22, 2012 at 7:23 am

I had to laugh so hard at the post-taste pic. Yes, I’m cruel like that.
My friend brought me back a bottle of hot sauce from Ecuador. I tried it. And then I bawled.

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Tess April 22, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I live in New Orleans and Domenica is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. Definitely worth the trip. I’m jealous that you got to meet the chef!

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Liz @ Southern Charm April 23, 2012 at 9:33 am

I LOVE Domenica’s!! And when I say love, I mean I beg work to go there for lunch at least once a week (ah! we are walking distance). They also serve THE best bellini’s I’ve ever had. For real.

So yes, please come back and let’s dine there!

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elizabeth @ chronic venture April 25, 2012 at 6:31 am

what an incredible experience. I LOVE Tabasco. and anything spicy for that matter. so glad you had a great time.

and definitely hit up new orleans soon; it’s an amazing town!

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Megan Jones May 1, 2012 at 11:36 am

Wow, what a great adventure. My sister in law loves spicy foods and the Tabasco tour that you took sounds like an ideal vacation for her. It is so nice when you are able to connect with those you meet on your trip. It sounds like Tony really made your trip an experience!

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Sarah @ Belle on Heels May 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

This is totally my husband’s dream trip! How fun!

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Brei May 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I totally agree with Shelly on Cochon! It is my favorite in NOLA! I try to eat there and Herbsaint every chance I get. Both are owned by Donald Link. Their Mac and Cheese is too die for!
Avery Island is such a great place to visit. If you ever get a chance you should read McIlhenny’s Gold. It is all about the family history and Tabasco.

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Nealey @ Dixie Caviar May 9, 2012 at 6:54 am

Great photos! New Orleans is my favorite town in the country, and Avery Island is on my bucket list of places to go. I love their cookbook (Eula Mae’s Cajun Kitchen)β€”the recipes offer great insight into true country cooking of the region.

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abdul kaplan July 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm

i went there greaT IDEA OF FAMILY SETTELMENT….. its leav me alone this america
everybody great by himself he will do it

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Becky February 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Love this post! We’re planning a trip to Avery Island soon. Did they boil those beautiful crawfish onsite for you, or did you eat at a local restaurant? If done at McIlhenny, was that special for your trip, or do they do that daily? Thanks so much!

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