Fun events have a way of snowballing in New Orleans, and the local penchant for participatory partying helps many grow each year. Still, Hogs for the Cause skyrocketed from a charitable cook-off among friends in 2009 to a veritable kickoff to the spring festival season today.
The cause is to support families coping with a child's pediatric brain cancer. To raise funds, Hogs for the Cause organizers tapped into the potent draw of outdoor pig cookery, the stuff of grand tailgates, regional pride and a little gonzo gastronomic gusto as teams of friends try to outdo one another.
The result is one of the great eating events in New Orleans, which this year is Saturday at New Orleans City Park's new festival grounds. Nearly 80 teams will be spread across its acreage at small encampments, and throughout the day they serve their contest entries to judges and sell their creations to festival goers, while bands perform on two stages and drinks flow, including NOLA Brewing beers and a special vodka "hogtail" devised by Neal Bodenheimer of the cocktail lounge Cure. Last year's event drew about 12,000 people.
"The bigger it gets, the more money we can generate and the more we can give," says Rene Louapre, the New Orleans attorney and food blogger at Blackened-Out.com, who founded Hogs for the Cause with his friend Becker Hall.
One major addition to the program this year is the Southern Asado Dinner, a local rendition of a traditional Argentine barbecue prepared outdoors and served family-style at the Festival Grounds on Friday beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Link Restaurant Group, including Herbsaint, Cochon and Butcher, is coordinating the dinner, which is the laidback equivalent of a benefit gala with music, a silent auction and wine and drinks included in the $300 ticket.
The competition at Saturday's main event pits accomplished restaurant chefs from around the region against each other and against backyard barbecue fanatics, with obvious payoffs for attendees who arrive hungry and ready to sample.
"The teams are highly secretive," Louapre says. "But once you're out there, it's amazing how fast word spreads about what someone's serving. My advice is to come in and start talking with people on the grounds about what they've had."
Patrons can get an informal preview of what's to come at the Friday Night Tailgate Experience, another new addition to the schedule. From 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, $5 admission gets access to the grounds to mingle with teams as they prepare for a night of cooking, and drinks, including more "hogtails," will be for sale.
Gates open at 11 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are $15 in advance/$20 at the gate, and there's a "boss hog" ticket for $250, $300 at the gate, which includes food, drinks and other perks. Children 12 and under are admitted free. For details and tickets, visit www.hogsforthecause.org.