Ann Tuennerman, the founder of Tales of the Cocktail, is truly a mad genius, singlehandedly figuring out how to bring tens of thousands of people to New Orleans in the sweltering heat of summer for the past decade. And those people always have a good time, thanks in part to a lot of great libations and food. With TOTC officially starting today, now in it's 11th year, the fashionable Mrs. Tuennerman talks to Eater about how she keeps her schedule straight, what events she's most excited about, and the economic impact her spirits conference has had on the city.
What events do you go to and how do you find time?
I try to go to as many as humanly possible. I bounce around to everything, but the toughest decision Paul [her husband] and I make is which Spirited Dinner to attend. I take a group of people each year. This year it's SoBou. That's always a tough decision.
What seminars are you looking forward to?
We're happy to see new presenters that are leading seminars, from around the world. There is one on the pineapple as the symbol of hospitality. Camper English is doing an interesting seminar on water and spirits. There were 300 submissions this year for 59 slots. They go through a committee, who grade them, so it's tough to get on the schedule.
How do you keep the events straight?
Download the app. It's the greatest thing. One, you can read your own schedule. You can also scroll by day, so it's an easy way to keep up with things. The app is also free. We do printed programs as well, because people like to save their programs. But one of the features of the app is being able to search. If I wanted to see what Wayne Curtis is doing, I can see that.
What is Wayne Curtis Doing?
He's doing a good seminar on Global Warming. He has a great panel, a female distiller from Zacapa Rum. There's a lot of discussion about that in the agave world.
One of the most popular aspects of Tales for budding bartenders is Cocktail Apprentice Program.
We have 70 cocktail apprentices this year. 40 are new. The senior apprentices each have a team they manage. Part is the seniors still want to do it, but we want the program to evolve so everybody learns. We have special classes and a Finishing School, just for those apprentices to learn about media training, and stuff that's not related to cocktail execution, but still need to keep moving up in their career. When you look at the alumni, they're truly the leaders. Leo Robitschek [of Eleven Madison Park in NYC], Neal Kopplin started Imbue Vermouth. They're really the top movers and shakers.
Can you talk a little bit about who all attends Tales, and the economic impact they have on the city?
For people in the industry to take advantage of Tales, it's huge. Last year was the first year I felt like everyone knew who we were. You can feel Tales presence now, and see it..Authors come to town, bartenders come. We're really proud of a $14.43 million impact last year. It makes me so excited to pull into a garage and they scream Tales of the Cocktail. Our people are good to them because they're in industry. They live on tips take good care of the people. If you're a banquette waiter or bar back in New Orleans, if you have any inkling you want to learn more about the industry come to one seminar, one event and take advantage of the people we're bringing to town. Take advantage of these events, these people being in your town. Where can you taste all these spirits in one place? I'm public school educated, grew up in New Orleans East, and I want to give them value, and give local hospitality a chance to attend.
Do you actually move into the Hotel Monteleone every year?
Our whole staff does the weekend before Tales. We move into the Monteleone, the whole team from me, staff, interns, seasonal people, we all move in. We have to. We set up an office, an epicenter. Everybody has roommates and that's one of the fun things.
It seems like the parties get bigger and more outrageous every year, with burlesque dancers, and one year a cow was being milked for raw Ramos Gin Fizzes in front of the WWII museum. Any rumors on what to expect this year?
They're creative. It's not about the money for these brands, it's about making it interesting. the Welcome Reception, I've heard rumors of a parakeet and monkey. So yes, i think, they bring their A-game to Tales of the Cocktail, and they definitely do some very creative things at parties and at tastings too.
Any other suggestions for people heading to Tales this year?
Go to local bars and restaurants. there's so much great stuff within a close radius: Kingfish, Restaurant Revolution, The French 75, Killer Po Boys, go do that in addition to the seminars? Cane and Table, Coop's, there's so much.
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