Let me start my recap of this year's Carnivale du Vin weekend, Emeril Lagasse's gala affair in New Orleans, by saying that on Saturday, I ended up walking back to my hotel in my socks, having auctioned off my beloved Crocs. If I had been anywhere else in the world, I might be thinking I had a pretty lousy weekend. But since I was in NOLA with some of my best friends in the biz, and raising money for children's charity, walking back in my socks was a small price to pay ... hell, it was actually really fun! But I'll get back to that a bit later.
One of my first stops in NOLA was lunch with Del Posto's Mark Ladner, whose help I enlisted for the weekend. It was his birthday and he's had a big year, so we had a lot to celebrate. We headed to Emeril's and started off with a Sazerac (when in Rome!), some steamed mussels, and heavenly Louisiana crawfish in Creole cream. Then on to some gumbo and Gulf shrimp, and we finished off with just a few bites of Emeril's famous banana cream pie. Ridiculously good.
On to the big night.
As a philanthropist and a chef, Emeril constantly impresses me. Over 725 guests, including actress Blythe Danner and New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, showed up at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, including Emeril's "Krewe du Vin" chefs, the group cooking for the evening, which consisted of Gale Gand, Norman Van Aken, Kevin Rathbun, Emeril, and me.
For the dinner, Emeril and us "Krewe du Vin" chefs and vintners served a five-course tasting dinner paired with remarkable wines. The menu included...
• Kevin Rathbun's Parsnip Bisque and Citrus Bacon Gastrique paired with G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge
• My Cavatelli with Homemade Red Wattle Sausage and Pesto di Rapini paired with Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo "Punta Esclamativa" Estate Grown Santa Maria Valley 2003
• Norman Van Aken's Louisiana Drum paired with Rubicon Estate CASK Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
• Emeril Lagasse's Salt Roasted, Dry-Aged Ribeye with Black Truffles paired with Grace Family Vineyards Blank Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
• Gale Gand's Chocolate Pot de Crème with Salt and Pepper paired with Quinta do Crasto Unfiltered Late Bottle Vintage Port
I'm not just being biased but Emeril's ribeye was out of this world—definitely one of my favorite dishes of the night!
One detail I loved was that each guest wore a commemorative shrimp lapel pin in a tribute to Louisiana's resilient fishing community and seafood industry. A portion of the proceeds from the Carnivale du Vin live auction will assist children of fishing families in South Louisiana as the region continues to recover from the Gulf Coast oil spill.
That Emeril—he's one good guy and exceptional philanthropist. Here's a short list of a FEW of the projects that the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and Carnivale du Vin help make possible in and around the city of New Orleans:
• New Orleans College Prep—a leading charter elementary school with an innovative school lunch model that serves nutritious meals to 550 students per day
• Liberty's Kitchen—a local social-justice entrepreneurship program providing employment skills training to at-risk youth through hospitality service
• Edible Schoolyard New Orleans—a charter K-6 elementary school with an outdoor classroom, gardens, and fresh foods cafeteria and teaching
• New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts—a four-year culinary arts track for high school students with first-of-its-kind master-apprentice curriculum and a commercial teaching kitchen
At the reception before the dinner, a 50-foot-long carved ice bar served as the centerpiece, with shrimp, oysters, crab, and other fresh seafood put out by Lagasse and the chefs from his restaurants as a special tribute to the Gulf bounty. One thing you should know about me is that aside from Italian food, a raw bar is one of absolute faves, so I was pretty happy.
Last year I was the honoree at the event, which was a big privilege for me. This year, winemaker Jim Clendenen was the honoree. Jim's such a great guy and very deserving of this title, but in passing the torch along, I had to have fun with him. So during Lagasse's big speech, I immortalized Clendenen by donning a blonde wig in his likeness, offering a rousing tribute to our friendship. Hey, the wig was later auctioned off for $3,000, so it worked out well for everyone.
Which brings me to the auction itself, which the auctioneer Jack Williams kicked off by asking me to donate the clogs on my feet. I feigned hesitation, but it was a no-brainer—an easy $6K to get the crowd excited. Nice! Later on, "A Few Bites of the Big Apple," (which Emeril and I drummed up for CDV) was being auctioned off. This auction prize pairs Emeril and me for a progressive tasting dinner and personal tour of Eataly, which just so happens to be one of Emeril's new fave spots. This went for $110K. Wow! I can't wait for those folks to come to the store!
After the auction, disco-soul icons Kool & The Gang kept the crowds dancing until after midnight. They were joined on stage by Emeril, who rocked out on the drums to close out the night with "Celebration." A fitting song for such a great night.
After the big party, Ladner, Lagasse, the rest of the Krewe, and the Emeril team headed to Emeril's to grab some late-night drinks and snacks. We soon found out the event raised an eye-popping $1.8 million! We toasted to that and as the night (err, morning) came to, it was time to head back for our flight. I boarded shoeless. Hey, one less thing to have to take off for security.