Where Y'Eat: Smoking Hogs, Blowing Off Steam

Mar 27, 2014

Hogs for the Cause, a charitable cook-off and festival, has quickly established a niche in New Orleans restaurant subculture.

We have some pretty solid ways to measure the success of the events and festivals that crowd the New Orleans calendar this time of year. There’s attendance of course, and the money brought in, especially if it’s a charity event. On both accounts, this weekend’s Hogs for the Cause event in City Park is a smashing success. But then there’s also a less quantifiable metric to consider, and that’s how far we can read its influence beyond the venue and actual event days.

For instance, you can see the impact of something like Jazz Fest in the way musicians collaborate and issue albums in advance, and how music clubs go into overdrive all across town when the fest is on. Hogs for the Cause is a different case of course, one with less of a commercial edge on the line. This event is a charity cook-off themed around whole pigs and barbecue. Teams vie for awards while raising money for families dealing with pediatric brain cancer — that’s the cause behind Hogs for the Cause.

Along the way, this event also established a niche in the New Orleans restaurant subculture. Among the 90 teams booked for Hogs for the Cause this weekend, many count high-profile chefs among their members and a few are built like super groups of chefs from different restaurants banding together for the day.

New Orleans chefs participate in countless benefits and festivals through the year. But many say Hogs for the Cause has a different appeal, thanks in part to its slow-and-low barbecue format. Teams convene the night before and tend their fires until the morning, giving the preparation process a feel more akin to a buddies’ camping trip than a chef showcase.

That dials straight into something many hardworking restaurant chefs savor: namely, the chance to get together with their peers, off the clock, cooking feast-worthy food outside the realm of their normal restaurant trappings. The odd beer quaffed between serious barbecue duties does not hurt the appeal one bit. It adds up to a unique chance to blow off some steam together between the smokers.

So, what culinary luminaries will you find at Hogs for the Cause? The list is long and has grown rapidly, from the people who run dedicated barbecue joints and hot new burger spots to a clutch of chefs who are up for prestigious James Beard Awards. Very often, however, these chefs aren’t overtly advertising their restaurants at Hogs for the Cause. They’re hanging with their friends, talking trash with their competitors and trading chef whites for shrimp boots.

Still, with so many chefs in the competition now, it does bring up the issue of whether these culinary pros have an advantage in the cook-off over the charitable-minded everyday joes who participate.

Well the Hogs for the Cause organizers did float the idea of separate amateur and professional competitions. But it was a nonstarter. No one wanted to enter an amateur division. With the chance to win barbecue bragging rights over some of New Orleans most noted chefs, who can blame them? And no matter who wins, all of them can say they were part of it together, and for the cause.

Hogs for the Cause

April 1 and 2
New Orleans City Park Festival Grounds