The Emeril Lagasse Foundation supports Edible Schoolyard New Orleans — Photo courtesy of Cheryl Gerber
It’s no surprise that the king of bam! can throw one heck of a party.
Emeril Lagasse, the celebrity chef known for his zesty take on traditional Creole cuisine, his big television personality, line of culinary products, cookbooks and 13 restaurants, is throwing quite the weekend shindig in New Orleans Nov. 7 and 8. The annual fundraiser for his Emeril Lagasse Foundation offers two very different food and drink experiences along with the chance to hobnob with Lagasse and a slew of foodie glitterati.
The two-day event kicks off with Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Boudin, Bourbon & Beer Friday night, a $99 per head music, food and craft beer and bourbon fest at Champions Square, ground zero for the Who Dat nation adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Headlined by music dynamo Grace Potter, the outdoor fete features 50 chefs, including James Beard Award winnerand co-chair Donald Link, Ashley Christensen from Raleigh, Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson and chef/restauranteur John Besh.
Then Saturday night, the 10th annual Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Carnivale du Vin commands $1000 a head for a swank wine auction and black tie gala dinner called one of the Top Ten U.S. Charity Wine Auctions by Wine Spectator magazine. Chef Emeril oversees the four course wine-centric feast, with guest chefs including Jimmy Bannos, Jr., Jimmy Bannos, Sr., Michelle Bernstein, Roy Choi, and Jacques Torres. Michael Cavenaugh, star of the Broadway Musical Movin’ Out, will entertain the crowd.
Inspired by the philanthropic work of his friend Andre Agassi, who champions public education for underserved youth, and spirits mogul Larry Ruvo, founder of the Keep Memory Alive foundation and the The Lou Ruvo Brain Institute for Alzheimer’s research, Lagasse and his wife Alden started their own charity in 2002. And for Emeril, it’s always been about the kids.
“I’ve always loved working with kids,” said the father of four who succeeded Paul Prudhomme in the kitchen at the iconic Commander’s Palace restaurant in 1982. The chef’s restaurant company is based in New Orleans, where he opened his first three restaurants, Emeril’s, Emeril’s Delmonico and Nola.
In thinking about where he wanted to make a difference, Lagasse originally focused on supporting programs in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, where the foundation has distributed more than $5.7 million in grants for children’s education and non-profit organizations with culinary, nutrition, garden, arts and life skills programs.
The Foundation underwrites the education for students like Arieanna McKnight, a 17-year-old high school senior in the culinary arts program at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). To McKnight, whose family relocated for a time in Indianapolis after Katrina, watching chef Emeril on TV gave her a dose of home. “He’s very homey, a cool person to look up to,” said the New Orleans East native.
McKnight plans to expand her culinary knowledge in college with a focus on food science and urban foodways. “Going to NOCCA has allowed me to find my passion,” said the keen student, whose all time favorite comfort food is New Orleans gumbo. “I’ve learned to try everything, even if I don’t like doing it or I’m not good at it. I still need those skills under my belt.”
"My philosophy has always been that in my industry, you have to give back so you can evolve,” said the chef, who was honored as the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year in 2013. “Sometimes it’s just about downright feeding kids,” said Lagasse. “The foundation has provided more than 500,000 meals for kids in summer programs. Let's face it, kids can’t thrive if they don’t eat.”