Then (last week)

Hard to imagine something so big and important occurring in our village for six years and yet still having such a low profile. Particularly when the cast of characters, and the main character, present such high profiles.

Chef and culinary entrepreneur Emeril Lagasse is deeply committed to the betterment of the lives of young people. His foundation raises a significant sum of money every year which is distributed throughout our community and others, with programs that teach youths about nutrition, food preparation, the importance of hospitality and life lessons that will remain with them forever. It’s not a stretch to observe that Emeril and his high-powered friends are literally changing the young face of our city.

Yet who knew? He does not take a loud path to communicating this work. Quite remarkable for a guy whose signature line is “Bam!!”

For the past seven years, Emeril has staged Carnivale du Vin, a $1,000-a-plate black-tie evening, complete with silent auction and live auction components. A few of the years, Carnivale was staged at his Las Vegas restaurant base. He wanted to be here in New Orleans but, truthfully, we were not in the best of shape for a couple of years. Katrina hangover, you know.

This past year, just last week to be exact, he added another night, Friday, to the festivities, Boudin and Beer. That party at The Foundry spilled out into a tented area set up on St. Joseph Street, complete with 35 chefs featuring pork-based, South Louisiana creations, every flavor of Abita Beer made, Presqu’ile wines from California’s Central Coast, and all manner of spirits and cocktails.

More than 1,000 guests paid $75 each, a real bargain price, to rub shoulders with chefs Mario Batali, Dean Fearing, Michael Chiarello, Jacques Torres, and Mark Ladner. The great chefs of New Orleans were not outdone. Frank Brigtsen, Tory MacPhail, Donald Link, Susan Spicer, Adolfo Garcia, Aaron Burgau, Darin Nesbitt, Horst Pfeiffer, Sue Zemanick, Slade Rushing and Alison Vines-Rushing, Paul Prudhomme, Michelle McRainey and Bart Bell were overly generous, as always, delivering not only their recipes but also their presence. All on a Friday night when their respective restaurants were operating at full steam.

As if this all-star cast of restaurateurs from every corner of New Orleans and America was not enough, top-flight winemakers came to town to share and show support for the effort and for our community. Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Bob Cabral (Williams-Selyum), Dan Kosta (Kosta-Brown), Robert Levy and Martha McClellan (Levy & McClellan), Jenny and Dick Dorè (Foxen) and Ramona Nicholson (Nicholson Ranch) have all bought into Emeril’s vision and projects for New Orleans and the region’s youth.

Saturday’s decidedly more formal affair was a stunning follow-up to the casual, Cajun-inspired evening the night before. The monies raised go to NOCCA, Edible Schoolyard, St. Michael Special School and Café Reconcile, as well as to similar efforts in Las Vegas and along the Gulf Coast. Just this year, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Culinary Arts Studio was dedicated at NOCCA, and is operating in conjunction with the revered Johnson & Wales University culinary programs.

Over the course of the previous six years, through Carnivale du Vin, more than $12 million has been raised by the Foundation for these amazing and worthwhile endeavors. Last week, $1.8 million more was added to that total. Think about that: In seven years, the foundation has raised almost $14 million to assist young residents of this community and other areas in the country. That’s putting money directly where it will do a great deal of good.

What an incredible difference one guy and his pals can make in places that want to improve the lives of young people. Chef Emeril, thank you. New Orleans, stand up and be proud.


Then (Last Week) and Now (Now)

Now (Now)

For an agriculture-based, time-sensitive product, it’s odd that there are not more calendar dates defining wine. Grapes begin their lives in the spring, continue to mature in the summer, and then undergo harvest in the fall. In the vineyards of the southern hemisphere, the timing is the opposite, with harvest occurring in their fall, which is our spring.

Anyway, you’d think that such cycles of life would define more specific dates for celebrating. But, alas, there is only one specific date in the entire calendar that celebrates wine. And it is today.

Beaujolais Nouveau, in accordance with French law, cannot be released until 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of November. That is the date when this wine is ready for consumption, not always because of quality but always because of law. Only 7 weeks ago, this year's nouveau’s gamay grapes were still hanging on the vine in the French wine-producing area of Beaujolais. Today the wine, just vinified, awaits your palate’s verdict.

I’ve had the wine (purely for scholarly purposes, of course) and the 2011 vintage is one of the best examples of this wine I have ever enjoyed. The wine is fresh, as you would expect. This year there is structure, acid and a medium-finish. Some years none of those qualities are present. 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau is worthy of your attention.

DuBoeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau is pretty inexpensive, usually less than $10 a bottle, and it is the perfect accompaniment to Holiday fare, pairing favorably with the traditional dishes on a Thanksgiving table. You may want to put just a slight chill on the wine to assist its development but no more than 10-15 minutes in your refrigerator, never in the freezer.

If you really want to enjoy the wine in a fun setting, join the French-American Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana chapter, on Saturday evening, November 19, for their annual celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau and other wines from this friendly region.

Tickets are only $60 for non-members, purchased in advance. They can also be obtained at the door for $65. The event will be at the J.W.Marriott on Canal Street, starting at 7 p.m. More than 20 New Orleans restaurants will be on hand serving excellent cuisine, the wine will flow and the music will play. Don’t tell me you have anything more important than that on Saturday night!