Oh how cool! I'm from New Orleans (and I think that, by default, makes me food-crazy!) and have decided to make this my last winter here. But to work for Rick Bayless...I can TOTALLY understand moving here. That's just awesome.
As far as long rides go around town, I often just default to the lakefront Trail or head out for the more pastoral retreat of the North Branch Trail. What part of town are you in? It's only about 7.5 miles from my neighborhood (Edgewater) to the beginning of the North Branch Trail.
And I never rode with any groups while in Austin, but commuted from my place in Hyde park to Riverside, and basically scooted all up and down the city on my bike. I went on many midnight rides that left from Ozone on Guadalupe, and that was basically the extent of my "organized" riding there!