Inspiration comes in many forms. In the case of one of New Orleans’ most anticipated culinary events of the year, the combination of a beautiful Friday fall afternoon and a plate of Acadiana’s indigenous rice-stuffed sausage served as the collective muse for three of the country’s most lauded chefs. Two years ago, Emeril Lagasse was hosting a radio show from his eponymous restaurant in the Warehouse District to promote Carnivale du Vin, his annual wine-soaked charity gala and auction, when a few of his friends stopped by for a chat.
“Mario Batali and Donald Link happened to be sitting with Emeril on the radio,” recounts Kristin Shannon, Executive Director of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, “and the kitchen sent out boudin.” After a brief back and forth among the chefs about their favorite boudin recipes, Lagasse realized that the next evolution of Carnivale du Vin lay on the plate before him. On Friday, November 2, the three chefs will co-chair the second annual Boudin & Beer festival, an indoor/outdoor food and music event aiming to, as Shannon puts it, “blow your mind with sausage.”
Since its inception in 2005, Carnivale du Vin has served as the primary fundraising event for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. With Michelin-rated chefs such as Thomas Keller and Michael Chiarello offering their culinary services, wineries like Caymus and Kosta Browne donating bottles from their best vintages, and Journey’s Jonathan Cain serving as consultant for musical talent, Carnivale du Vin quickly earned the reputation as one of the best charity wine auctions in the country. The only problem was that the high-dollar ticket price and limited number of seats made for an exclusive guest list.
“We wanted the Friday night event to become accessible to a lot of locals, and it was a way for us to open up to a whole new audience,” says Shannon. Although the price of admission pales in comparison to the Saturday night festivities, Boudin & Beer delivers an equal amount of culinary oomph, with more than 50 chefs offering up their own twist on Louisiana’s artisanal sausage.
For a dish whose beginnings can be traced back to poor Cajun farmers using rice to stretch the leftover tidbits from a boucherie, last year’s inaugural Boudin & Beer saw the humble sausage reimagined through the eyes of the country’s best chefs. From boudin-stuffed tamales to classic, sanguine-soaked boudin noir, the innovation reached far beyond the crock-pot steamers of roadside gas stations in places like Mowata and Scott.
Boudin found its way onto the menu of Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman’s Hog and Hominy via a special delivery from their friend Ryan Prewitt, executive chef of the Link Restaurant Group. “Ryan would always bring us boudin from Cochon whenever he came to visit,” recalls Hudson. A few days before opening their new Memphis restaurant, the chef team was working into the wee hours of the morning to perfect their pizzas, when lightning struck with a combination of tomato sauce, scrambled eggs, fontina cheese, and nuggets of boudin — now aptly named on the menu as “The Prewitt.” Along with their charcuterie chef, Aaron Winters, the Andy-Michael duo will be making the trip down to this year’s Boudin & Beer to serve up their riff on boudin, which is made in the style of cotechino, an Italian sausage filled with ground pork skin.
After only its inaugural year, Boudin & Beer has already risen to the top of most chefs’ lists of charity events. “I do a number of these events with Mario, and this is hands down my favorite,” says Josh Laurano, sous chef at the flagship Greenwich Village restaurant, Babbo. Laurano credits the relaxed atmosphere, local musical acts, and liberally poured libations as the primary reasons why so many chefs have marked Boudin & Beer as a must-attend event on their calendars. “For most chefs, anytime that you can be outside, drink good beer, and listen to great music, it doesn’t get any better than that.”