The porchetta made a point: When restaurant people are cooking for a crowd of other restaurant people, expect greatness. This particular porchetta, a bubble-crusted, fat-oozing, lip-smacking rendition of the traditional Italian pork roast, was prepared by Domenica for Beasts & Brass, the July fundraiser to benefit Nathanial Zimet, the chef/owner of Boucherie who was shot during a robbery outside his home this spring.
Porchetta, a labor-intensive tour de force of pork, is not normally on Domenica's menu but its appearance at the benefit was representative of the quality dozens of participating restaurants brought to this event. It was a benefit organized by restaurant people to help one of their own, and it was a powerful demonstration of the way the New Orleans restaurant industry can respond once mobilized for a mission.
Our community asks a lot of our restaurants, and we ask often. Event organizers know that good food is reliable bait to get New Orleanians out for a cause and our restaurateurs ceaselessly step up, putting their time, talent and money into countless benefits and fundraisers.
Lately, many of these events have been organized for causes close to home for the restaurant industry. As they did for Beasts & Brass, a wide range of local restaurants came together in May to support Michael Bordelon, the co-owner of Liuzza's Restaurant in Mid-City, who was struck by a drunk driver earlier this year. That event, dubbed Liuzza Palooza, started with the idea for a simple block party and garnered such interest that it ballooned into a full-fledged festival on the sprawling lot across from Liuzza's.
Other causes might not have such a clear-cut connection but are still intrinsically tied to the industry and its interests. One example is coming Thursday, Aug. 11, when the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation revives Fight Crime with a Fork, a restaurant-based benefit that's been on hiatus for the past few years.
The mechanics of the event are simple: Dine out at any of 20 participating restaurants on Thursday and those restaurants donate a portion of proceeds to the foundation. This nonprofit supports local law enforcement, though it's not restricted to support for the New Orleans Police Department. It helps the department with officer recruiting and retention, but executive director Carole Berke says the foundation also is working closely with the Department of Justice to help implement reforms the feds say the police force needs.
Effective law enforcement is important for everyone, but restaurateurs may have a keener appreciation for the foundation's mission than most. Wendy Waren, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Restaurant Association (a partner in Thursday's event), points out that fear of crime hits restaurants especially hard if fewer tourists visit or locals hunker down rather than go out to dine.
The foundation has rounded up an impressive array of choices for Fight Crime with a Fork, from casual places like Acme Oyster House and the Praline Connection to big guns like Commander's Palace (see the list at www.fightcrimewithafork.com). And even though his own restaurant, Boucherie, is closed in August for its annual summer break, Zimet got personally involved by helping to recruit participants. As a recent victim of violent crime, he has a new appreciation for the foundation's work, he says, and as the recent beneficiary of restaurant industry support, he knows firsthand now the difference its involvement can make.