Few cuisines evoke a sense of place and hospitality as much as Louisiana's. And few dishes are as closely associated with Louisiana cuisine as boudin - a white sausage made with pork, stuffed into pork casings.
"Boudin is a tradition in Louisiana and is about as Cajun as it gets," Emeril Lagasse, celebrity chef, restaurateur, and pioneer of the "New New Orleans" style of Creole and Cajun cooking, told Successful Meetings
. "Louisianans will eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner."
He was speaking ahead of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation's Boudin, Bourbon & Beer
festival, held at the beginning of November. The gathering provided an opportunity for individuals and corporate groups to help raise money for a good cause, for a prominent NOLA property to show off its event-planning chops, and for dozens of chefs and thousands of visitors to gather and celebrate Big Easy cuisine.
Held in New Orleans' Champions Square, in the shadow of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Hyatt Regency New Orleans
(whose external catering and logistics arm managed the event), Boudin, Bourbon & Beer brought together bourbon mixologists, live blues and rock bands, and more than 60 chefs offering up their own interpretations of this classic dish. Local chefs were well represented among the seemingly endless booths: Chris Montero of the historic Napoleon House cooked up lamb boudin with creole tzatziki; Nina Compton of the Caribbean-meets-NOLA restaurant Compére Lapin, prepared boudin noir (boudin with blood) risotto.
"In Louisiana, going local and showcasing all the ingredients we are fortunate enough to have creates some amazing dishes," says Lagasse.
But there were plenty of non-Louisiana chefs in attendance, too, creating boudin with duck confit, chicken, alligator, and even stuffed squid. Overseeing it all was 1718, a separate arm of Hyatt Regency New Orleans which manages catering and F&B services for events held on and off property.
"It handles catering and logistics, and is also a DMC," explains Darryl Canon, director of sales and marketing for the property. The organization has created uniquely NOLA events for corporate groups of just a few people to thousands, and it pulled out all the stops for Boudin, Bourbon & Beer. All proceeds went to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which mentors and inspires young people through culinary, nutrition, and arts education.
But the boudin fest was just part of the organization's fund-raising taking place that weekend. The following night, it hosted the Carnivale du Vin, a black-tie gala held in the Hyatt Regency's 25,000-square-foot Empire Ballroom. Lagasse and his nationwide team of chefs de cuisine prepared a five-course tasting menu (paired with celebrated wines and finished by dessert provided from famed chocolatier Jacques Torres), with support from the Hyatt's on-property culinary team, for the almost 700 people in attendance.
Beyond a hefty per-plate price tag, a silent as well as a live auction gave attendees the opportunity to bid on exclusive wines, vacations, and unique experiences. But even in these luxurious surroundings, a sense of home and familiarity pervaded the proceedings. It's an attitude that's consistent with New Orleans' approach to dining more generally.
"New Orleans food is about authenticity, family, and passing the recipes through the generations," says Hyatt Regency New Orleans Executive Chef Eric Damidot. Originally hailing from France, Damidot sees parallels between this NOLA approach and Europe's, particularly when compared to the city where he spent the last leg of his career, Las Vegas.
"In Las Vegas, it's about flash, luxury, once-in-a-lifetime culinary experiences," he says. "Here it's about home; you go to August, it's in a house," he adds, describing Restaurant August
, one of the city's finest restaurants, set in the comforting setting of an historic townhouse (which includes a private dining room on the upper floor that can accommodate 120). Historic Connection
The Hyatt Regency New Orleans shares a deep connection with the city. Originally opened in 1976, it served as one of the main pillars around which New Orleans' vibrant sports and entertainment district grew. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, the Hyatt Regency was irreparably damaged as well. When the worst of the disaster subsided, as with so many of the city's buildings, there was little left to do but gut the property.
"We had to build an inclusive environment, a whole new destination," says Canon.
Like so much about the city, the Hyatt Regency became a story of persistence and rebirth. Just as the Superdome was completely renovated and has since been rebranded as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the hotel reinvented itself from the ground up. Over a six-year effort, it expanded to 1,193 guest rooms, with 200,000 square feet of meeting space (including the Empire Ballroom, as well as a 50,000-square-foot exhibition hall), and 22 breakout rooms.
"We've got eight different restaurants, with a touch of New Orleans in each, whether that's gumbo or red beans and rice on the menu or some other twist to the traditional food," says James Kratofil, food and beverage director for the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. Among these are 8 Block Kitchen & Bar
, serving gourmet breakfast and lunch, and Vitascope Hall
, a high-end sports bar where diners can try Damidot's twists on NOLA favorites such as pistolette and étouffée. A group visiting the hotel could have all of its needs met without ever having to leave the property - but of course, when visiting NOLA, attendees are going to want to see the city.
Combined, Boudin, Bourbon & Beer and Carnivale du Vin raised $3 million for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. It's a remarkable sum, and the kind of generous gesture that comes about when an event combines a hometown hero, a distinguished property with a terrific culinary team, and, of course, amazing local food.