Call it the ultimate New Orleans gastronomic fantasy: More than 60 talented chefs serving up their best sausage-inspired creations, all in one place.
Add unlimited beer and bourbon, and the chance to give back to the city, and you have the one-of-a-kind, aptly named Boudin, Bourbon and Beer, set for Friday, Nov. 13, in Champions Square.
Now in its fifth year, this fundraiser from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation has become a hugely popular event with foodies. This year’s lineup offers a record number of chefs, mixing high-profile New Orleans names like John Besh, Frank Brigtsen, John Folse and Susan Spicer with out-of-town notables like chef Frank Stitt of Birmingham’s much lauded Highland Bar and Grill.
In addition to unlimited opportunities to sample the goods, the evening promises multiple musical acts and open bars with Abita beer and specialty cocktails from Buffalo Trace Bourbon.
Last year’s Boudin, Bourbon and Beer drew some 4,000 people. The event is part of a weekend-long fundraiser for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which holds its high-dollar wine auction Carnivale du Vin the following night (Nov. 14) at the Hyatt Regency. Between the two events last year, the foundation pulled in more than $2.25 million, which it uses to help fund programs aimed at young people.
NOCCA is a major beneficiary, receiving a $1.5 million grant earlier this year, while others include Café Reconcile, Youth Empowerment Project and St. Michael Special School.
In 2013, Lagasse’s exceptional fundraising efforts were honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation.
An Insider Look
For those who participate in the event, getting to the fundraising goal is a lot of fun. MoPho chef Michael Gulotta said that the event draws “great talents from all over the South,” and gives chefs who work long hours a rare chance to get out of their own restaurants and mingle, build camaraderie and gain inspiration from their peers around the industry. That’s why he’s returning for his fourth Boudin Bourbon and Beer this year.
Chef Nathanial Zimet of Boucherie echoed Gulotta’s thoughts about creative interaction, describing the event as an edible party.
Like Gulotta and Zimet, Daniel Causgrove, executive chef of the Windsor Court, sees the evening as a unique opportunity for cross-pollination.
“As chefs, we’re always looking to find new ideas and inspiration in the food we eat on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Boudin, Bourbon and Beer gives us the chance to build upon the accumulated knowledge of the home cooks, farmers, and chefs who made Cajun and Creole unique and delicious, and try to add something to it.”
But chefs are just as quick to point out that the event is special because they can use their talents here to help their city.
“The city lives off of tourism,” Gulotta said. “We live off the system too, so it’s good to give back to those who sometimes get lost or overlooked in the system.”
For Zimet, the chance to show gratitude to the city is highly personal. In 2011, the award-winning chef nearly died from multiple gunshot wounds that left him unable to work for months. Boucherie patrons rallied with fundraisers and loyal patronage that kept the restaurant afloat while Zimet was away from the kitchen.
“It was amazingly humbling to experience the support that New Orleans gave me when I was hurting,” Zimet said. “Any chance I get, I try to return the favor.”
Beyond Boudin: Three Sneak Peaks
If you’re thinking that 60-plus chefs making boudin could get monotonous, think again.
While many chefs will use boudin in their dishes, the sausage isn’t a requirement so much as a muse or starting point. In fact, many dishes don’t incorporate boudin at all, at least not conventional boudin.
Rather, the event encourages chefs to break from the set pieces of their menus, take risks and experiment with flavors from multiple cuisines. And with so many chefs in the house, attendees can bet the peer pressure will be on to turn out unexpected combinations.
For instance, consider these contenders:
Gulotta, who worked as a chef in a hotel in the Black Forest of Germany, is drawing from both German blood sausage traditions and the Asian flavors of his restaurant MoPho to create a variation on the traditional Thai larb salad. For Gulotta, varied textures are key. He’ll be serving the sausage with a spicy herb salad, crushed peanuts and toasted rice over a crunchy shrimp cracker.
Zimet, on the other hand, is staying Southern and playing to one of Boucherie’s strengths: curing and smoking pork. Zimet has gathered his five-man “BBQ Hogs Team” to create a classic backbone stew.
The secret ingredient? Pig blood.
Meanwhile, Causgrove’s sizzling sisig boudin balls take their inspiration not only from Cajun fare but from the talented Filipino cooks in his Windsor Court kitchen and their own traditions of casual, beer-friendly, finger foods known as pulutan. Like Southerners, Filipinos value using the whole hog.
Causgrove’s bold rendition of the Cajun classic will use local pork head, liver, rice, chilies, lemongrass, soy sauce, garlic, spring onion and fruit juices. The fried balls will be topped with cracklin’ and accompanied by a bitter orange aioli.