Off-Road, for Just a Bit

If you will indulge me for just a few moments here, I want to go off track from my usual topics, but will come back to them before we wrap up here.

It’s just that I have to say once again that you and I living in New Orleans (and I hope you do) are the luckiest people in the world (cue Streisand and strings).

What this community is now experiencing is nothing short of miraculous. Given our situation before Katrina, and certainly our situation for several years following Katrina, we are now on such a roll that it is absolutely scary. It’s also astounding and gratifying. Brand new in this old town is a can-do attitude built on top of America’s most unique culture.

I know you are feeling it. You can’t help but be moved and amazed. Just about every day we are hearing about people who have come here to find something singular, and they find it, just as they had hoped. Then they vow never to leave because they want to experience it for the rest of their lives. What we formerly took for granted was almost lost. We grabbed it and continued to make it even more real, to make it better, and others came to strengthen our grip on our culture.

Young people here are not focused on getting out. They are focused on participating. I was at an event the other day where students from NOCCA, in the culinary program, prepared outstanding and astounding dishes. High schoolers, mind you, who are learning not just what their mommas have been cooking, but what chefs Emeril, Paul, Tory, Frank, Donald, and Susan are cooking. They are all loving it.

Okay, so let’s say some of these eager young people have to leave, or want to see what else is out there. Guess what they become? Ambassadors of New Orleans. And let’s say most of these young folks stay. What do they become? Keepers of the Flame.

Friends, we are in a Golden Era of New Orleans. Finally we are finding the best of who we are, and we like what we see. Of course, there are issues. Too many of our young people are dying on our streets. Too many of our neighbors are unemployed or under-employed. Too many of us have seen too much, and lived through some bad times. Maybe we don’t recognize beauty and opportunity when it appears.

I remember visiting Budapest, Hungary not long after the Communists lost control of the country and democracy was moving in rapidly. On the faces of the older folks, you could see the beat-down, haggard looks. On the younger people, brighter eyes, eager smiles, the confidence of youth that they could make a difference.

New Orleans is at that moment. Those of us who remember “the way we were” (looks like a lot Streisand references today) are not as cognizant about what we are now seeing. Those who are younger see all the opportunity, see all the beauty, see all the new landscape. Most importantly, people are coming to us and staying. They like what we treasure here. Our music moves them. Our celebrations give them joy. Our cuisine excites them. And they embrace our culture, happy to participate and protect it and happy to revel as one of us in our style.

Here’s a bit of advice to those of you who are not quite on-board with the new New Orleans: keep those views to yourself. Work now to make this place the home you always wanted. We have never seen so much opportunity, and so many helping hands, young and old, ready to preserve New Orleans and make her grander, more delightful to the senses and more satisfying to the soul.

No other community in America has this going on as much as we do. This precious moment can certainly pass, and shame on us if we allow that to happen without achieving something significant and lasting.

Now Back to our Regularly Scheduled Program

Festivals in New Orleans have always been about great themes and over-the-top execution. Other cities, of course, have a festival or two, and most are just fun and well-supported. We, on the other hand, live up to our reputation of “Moderation to Excess.”

Add another cross-cultural, all-for-a-good-cause event to our already overflowing plate of festival riches, Boudin & Beer. The first staging will take place on Friday, November 11.

Two of our most generous celebrity chefs, Emeril Lagasse and Donald Link, will be joined by Mario Batali, and supported by Abita Brewing Co. All will be at the center of a new effort to raise money to support children’s arts and educational programs through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation (which is backing the production).

These folks will also be joined by more than 20 top chefs, mostly from here, but some coming from New York and Mississippi, as they serve boudin, sausages or pork-inspired creations. Toss in the full line-up of Abita beers, Presqu’ile Wines, Cajun music, and you have all the components of quite a good time.

This first-time kick-ass party will come just before the staging of the highly-revered and highly successful charity food and wine event, Carnivale du Vin, which will unfold for the seventh time the following evening on November 12.

Carnivale du Vin, Chef Emeril’s brainchild, over the years has raised more than $12 million dollars and has been named by Wine Spectator Magazine as “one of the Top Ten Charity Wine Auctions in America.” The proceeds benefit non-profit educational programs dedicated to young people to assist them with life-skills development, culinary training, and cultural enrichment. In New Orleans, many groups have benefitted from the event, including NOCCA, St. Michael’s Special School, The Edible Schoolyard and Café Reconcile.

Consider this fair notice to get ready to fais do do on Friday, November 11, at The Foundry in the Warehouse District. Tickets are $75 per person, and this is going to be a lot of party for that small amount of dough.

Two-step over to for all the details, and to purchase tickets. The number of tickets is limited so if you wait too long, then you might find yourself on the outside looking in. A very sad state of affairs if it comes to that.

Besides, this is the crowd you want to mingle with, all for our kids. I’ll down a few Abitas and eat boudin while listening to Cajun music any day of the week. For a good cause, of course.

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