New Orleans, LA — The National Food & Beverage Foundation (NatFAB)recently selected Ica Crawford to be the third recipient of the Paul McIlhenny Culinary Entrepreneurism Scholarship. Among the advantages and opportunities afforded by the scholarship, Ms. Crawford will have use of the Rouse’s Culinary Innovation Center by Jennair at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) in New Orleans free of charge for one year. NatFAB/SoFAB staff will also assist her in furthering her culinary career and making the business and interpersonal connections she needs to grow professionally.
“Ica is a passionate and talented culinarian. She is also disciplined in horticulture, hydroponics, and aquaculture,” said Jyl Benson, SoFAB Culinary Programming Director. “With her skills, professionalism and boundless creativity, she is the ideal recipient of this scholarship. Assisting culinary entrepreneurs in turning their career dreams into realities is central to what we do.”
As the scholarship recipient Crawford replaces Chef Serigne Mbaye, the second McIlhenny Scholarship recipient, who is currently working to open a restaurant with celebrated international Chef Pierre Thiam in Dakar, Senegal. Both Mbaye and Dwynisha “Dee” Lavigne, the 2017 scholarship recipient, will serve as mentors to Crawford. Lavigne continues to work in baking and pastry arts within the museum's culinary entrepreneurship program.
“The McIlhenny Entrepreneurship program is one of the great things we do at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum,” continues Benson. “Creating opportunities for eager, food-centric professionals is not just a way to impact our community and celebrate local food, but a way for us to ensure that New Orleans continues to be one of the great culinary cities in the world.”
Crawford, 40, is a native of Meridian, Mississippi and the founder of GroNola, an area-wide endeavor that works with farmers to get their products to market via a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program; and the on-site Botanist for Our Garden, a community farm in New Orleans’ Carrollton neighborhood. While studying Culinary Arts at Delgado Community College Crawford apprenticed under Chefs Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, and Eric Vieny of Muriel’s. Upon graduation she entered the school’s Horticultural Sciences program. “I realized that the story of a dish did not begin and end in a kitchen, but with the local produce varieties and the farmers that produced them," Crawford said. “Oleculture (the cultivation of edible plants) became my goal – to find the heirloom varieties, the sweetest beet, the spiciest mustard green, and to cultivate these plants so that chefs would be inspired.”
She then attended the University of New Orleans to study biological sciences. After graduating, she became the Director of Horticultural Process for a hydroponic/aquaponic facility. She created GroNola so a community or member block could leverage their unity to purchase heirloom produce at a lower cost. She creates value-added products such as kimchee, jams, jellies, pickles, sauces, dried, or mixed products for distribution with CSA Shares. She has also created a catering division offering high quality, low volume custom meals with local ingredients.
The Paul McIlhenny Culinary Scholarship is endowed by a by a grant from the family of Paul McIlhenny, the late President & CEO of McIlhenny Company, the iconic Louisiana brand that makes Tabasco brand pepper sauces, condiments and products. “My father was passionate about food and his preferred stage was the kitchen, where his leadership skills could really shine,” said Rosemary McIlhenny. “It is a fine tribute to my father, one he would be proud of, to help Ms. Crawford in advancing her culinary career through our partnership with the National Food & Beverage Foundation.”
Throughout the next year Ms. Crawford will be conducting frequent open-to-the-public classes at SoFAB, the first of which, Pickle Academy, an ongoing series, launched in June with instruction on preserving the bounty of the summer garden. Pickle Academy 2.0 is scheduled for August 3, 2019 at 3:30PM. Visit southernfood.org for information on upcoming events with Ms. Crawford.
Gita Shonek / Lauren Busch
Brustman Carrino Public Relations