On Saturday in New Orleans, revelers in masks and feathers, Mardi Gras Indians in hand-beaded suits, and ladies in rococo and gothic Victorian ball gowns paraded down a red carpet as the sounds of zydeco and a marching band wafted through the warm January air. It is now officially Carnival season, and the fifth-annual Bal Masqué was in full swing at an 18th-century sugar mill in the Warehouse District.
For years, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who began his career at the Creole restaurant Commander’s Palace in 1982, has been contributing to this fundraiser to empower and educate New Orleans’s youth. Lagasse is a longtime friend of chef Donald Link, whose charity, the Link Stryjewski Foundation, throws the masquerade.
“In order to understand the food in New Orleans, you need to understand the culture and the people,” Lagasse tells Architectural Digest. “When I came to New Orleans, I spent a lot of time learning the culture, fishing with the local fishermen, and meeting the local farmers. Food and cooking not only adds to the sense of community in New Orleans, it connects people to their local purveyors, farmers, fisherman, and oyster farmers, and gives them a better sense of appreciation for the food and the culture of the cuisine.”
The former Essence of Emeril host's love of the city is what makes him want to give back. “Mentoring children is very important in any community and is essential in New Orleans where there is a lack of quality education and opportunity for the youth," he says. "The Link Stryjewski Foundation has certainly made and continues to make a positive impact in New Orleans.” Founded by James Beard award-winning chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski in 2013, the charity provides gap funding to multiple organizations working to end the cycle of violence and poverty for young people in New Orleans, including the Youth Empowerment Project and Son of a Saint, which mentors young boys whose fathers have been incarcerated for murder and opens up their worldview by taking them on international trips.
This year was a record-breaking one for the Link Stryjewski Foundation's fundraising—and Lagasse donated a highly unique experience to the Bal Masqué’s extensive silent auction, one which well surpassed its starting bid of $20,000.
“I donated a package for sunset cocktails and dinner for six guests in my home in Miramar Beach, Florida, where I’ll cook with chefs Donald and Stephen,” Lagasse says. “The next day, following dinner, we will all go fishing on my boat, Aldente.” The 14-time cookbook author and his wife, Alden Lagasse, have sold dinners at their home in charity auctions before. Winners should expect to dine and imbibe in the Lagasses' formal dining room, which, like much of the rest of the house, is decorated in tones of cream and sand, with a style that incorporates both Palm Beach design and old-world antiques.
Of course, it is the promised meal which made a visit to Lagasse's house such a hot ticket among the generous, discerning palates of the crowd at the Bal Masqué. During the event, 600 foodies sipped colorful libations and local beers in the renovated mill and feasted on small, innovative plates provided by 16 chefs across the United States. Colombian Afro-Caribbean music and a Creole zydeco band played, paying homage to the rich heritage of the Big Easy. Food has always brought the community together in New Orleans, one of the most fascinating food scenes in America.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest