The quest for the best boudin has inspired countless roadtrips to butchershops across Cajun country, where the pork and rice sausage is a celebrated staple. On Friday, however, some 50 chefs from around the U.S. will converge in one central, festive venue to share their own boudin-based creations, working from the traditional to highly contemporary interpretations, and to support a foundation dedicated to local causes.
Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, the annual benefit and food bash from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, returns on Friday, Nov. 7, this time at Champions Square. It’s part of a weekend of fundraising events from the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s charitable group that continues on Saturday with its black-tie gala and wine auction, Carnivale du Vin. Brian Kish, the new president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, said the events reflect Lagasse’s passion for philanthropy.
“It’s not just talking about how he can make a difference now, but it’s about how he can leave a legacy for generations to come,” said Kish.
Lagasse has held Carnivale du Vin since 2005. In 2011, he added Boudin, Bourbon & Beer to the weekend’s line up, and he now co-chairs the Friday event with chef Donald Link, the chef behind the New Orleans restaurants Herbsaint, Cochon, Butcher and Peche Seafood Grill. During the event, the two co-hosts are joined by premiere chefs from around the country, who each present their own spin on boudin and other artisanal sausages. Nationally-acclaimed chefs including Hugh Acheson of Atlanta, Ed Lee of Louisville, Kentucky, Frank Stitt of Birmingham, Alabama, and Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, are a few of the notable chefs on the roster, along with a veritable who’s-who of New Orleans chefs, including Susan Spicer, John Besh and Justin Devillier.
“I’m excited to be around these incredible chefs and winemakers. They come in on their own time and have a lot of fun, and it’s because they support Emeril in what he’s trying to accomplish,” Kish said. “Every dollar we raise, and every ticket we sell, is impacting someone else.”
For his part, chef Donald Link said he looks forward to the event each year as a chance to see his colleagues in the culinary world. With the busy schedules these chefs keep, Boudin, Bourbon & Beer is a rare opportunity for them to get together socially, while supporting a cause.
“It’s a good way to keep in touch,” Link said. “It’s a great fun party, but there are a lot of causes that are helped out by this event. I really want to make that a highlight this year.”
While the all-star line up of American chefs handle the boudin part of the event, libations come courtesy of Abita Brewing, which will serve a wide selection of brews, including a few special, limited-edition beers, and Buffalo Trace supplies the key ingredient for innovative bourbon cocktails. The event even includes a cigar tasting station from the Nat Sherman brand.
There’s a tremendous variety of food and drink to sample, and also a chance to dance some of it off with performances from Grace Potter, The Lone Bellow, and two Louisiana favorites – the Pine Leaf Boys and Sweet Crude. Some competitive bidding on auction packages provided by chefs and other supporters adds to the evening’s activities.
Boudin, Bourbon & Beer has grown each year, so this time organizers moved their event to Champions Square for more elbow room and easier access for guests.
On Saturday, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s fundraising weekend moves indoors for an elegant gala. The 10th anniversary of Carnivale du Vin, at Hyatt Regency, features guest chefs and “Honorary Bacchus” winemakers who have supported the chef’s foundation through the years. Chefs will prepare signature four-course wine pairings, while patrons bid on one-of-a-kind auction packages, many revolving around wine.
The foundation uses money raised at both events to support children’s educational programs, life skills development initiatives, and culinary training (see sidebar).
Beneficiaries include Café Reconcile, Liberty’s Kitchen, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Edible Schoolyard NOLA and St. Michael Special School.
“The three words that I always hear (Emeril) talk about are: enabling, inspiring and mentoring,” said Kish. “Emeril had a lot of great mentors, whether it was his mother, or other great chefs, helping him out. He attributes some of his success to them.”
The chef’s foundation has found a way to mentor young chefs during the actual fundraising weekend. Students will be paired with a chef, or a team of chefs, and assist in preparing dishes and serving patrons.
“During the planning stages, we said: ‘This is all about the kids, so let’s make them a bigger part of what we’re doing,’” said chef Chris Wilson, the director of culinary operations for Emeril’s restaurants.
During Carnivale du Vin, the kitchen staff must quickly assemble a flawless four-course meal for around 700 people, Wilson said, so the environment can be intense. But once the students get into the swing of things, their enthusiasm shines.
“It makes you want to do more when you see their attitude,” said Wilson. “They just want to learn, grow, work and make something of themselves. To see the excitement that they have is refreshing.”