New Orleans today is a volatile mix of anger and hope. The anger surges from the raw memories and broken promises that linger in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The hope blooms from events such as Carnivale du Vin, which raised more than $2.5 million to benefit the city’s children in a star-studded culinary event in October. ( Wine Spectator was among the event’s sponsors.)
Jimmy Debose waits tables at Brennan’s, one of the historic restaurants in the French Quarter. He retired two years ago, after serving Brennan’s customers for more than 20 years. Then Katrina destroyed his house and exiled him to Houston, where his wife died. Now he’s back in New Orleans, and working again to make ends meet.
“You never know how life will end up,” Debose mused as he flambeed bananas Foster for a table of visitors. He kept his poise, but sadness softened his warm smile.
Emeril Lagasse, whose national fame and success is built on his experience cooking in New Orleans, is determined to help life end up a little better for as many of the city’s disadvantaged young citizens as he can through his Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which benefits organizations such as America’s Second Harvest Kids’ Cafe and Covenant House’s Covenant Cafe.
“New Orleans has a glorious past, and the only way to keep it alive is to make sure the kids have a future,” Lagasse said. “This is what we can do to help.”
On Saturday, Oct. 28th, Lagasse organized the second annual Carnivale du Vin, which drew more than 600 guests to the completely-refurbished Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel for a night of food, wine and music.
The all-star roster of chefs for the banquet included Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, along with the chefs from Lagasse’s nine restaurants across the country (a 10th will open next summer at the Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport, Miss.). The highly rated wines included Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Evenstad Reserve 2003 and Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard CCS 2004, among others.
During dinner, a 22-lot live auction raised $1.8 million in a matter of minutes. The evening’s high bidder was New Orleans businessman Ray Wooldridge, who spent $320,000, including $210,000 for “the ultimate birthday celebration with Emeril Lagasse and Sammy Hagar,” the evening’s high lot. Wooldridge, a former owner of the New Orleans Hornets, opened a nightclub called Ray’s Over the Water in 2005, which was destroyed by Katrina.
The evening ended with the jubilant jazz that has been New Orleans’ signature for more than a century. Allen Toussaint, whose house was destroyed by Katrina, led a high-energy band, which backed soulful singers including Irma Thomas and Michael McDonald, and featured a special guest stint by chef Lagasse on percussion. The dance floor was jammed.
Carnivale du Vin opened on Friday night with a walk-around tasting in the French Quarter featuring food from many of New Orleans’ top restaurants. Galatoire’s, Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace were there. K-Paul’s chef Paul Prudhomme was there in a wheelchair. Octogenarian Leah Chase was there, even though her restaurant, Dooky Chase, was destroyed by Katrina and is not yet rebuilt. John Besh, chef-owner of Restaurant August, said, “So much has gone so wrong, it just makes us happy to feed people again. Tell all your friends to come down.”
by Thomas Matthews
SOURCE: Wine Spectator