The Boil Advisory, Issue #11
Pitmaster James Cruse, Hogs for the Cause, and Air You Can Wear™
Some good news: It’s June! It’s Pride! It’s gorgeous outside! Bars are open for late night/early morning cocktails again, tourists are wandering around our neighborhoods, and events are coming back (see: feature story below). Some not-so-good news: crawfish season is winding down, and humidity is ramping up. Also, the streets surrounding Plaza Tower are still blocked off because of falling debris, and we’ve officially entered hurricane season.
Three years ago today (!) I arrived in NOLA, hauling a trailer filled with the contents of my Brooklyn apartment, my grandfather’s old pirogue, and lot of emotional baggage. I’d love to get sentimental here, but as noted above, it’s really gorgeous outside, and we’ve got a barbecue competition to get to. I’ll keep it short: I love it here. NOLA is a quirky/amazing place to live, and I appreciate that this community has taught me to slow down, to say hi to my neighbors, and stay curious. (And to always keep an extra t-shirt close by during spring/summer/fall/sometimes winter.) New Orleans, The Air You Can Wear™!
Talking Hogs for the Cause with James Cruse
In 2009, Rene Louapre and Becker Hall turned a friendly pig roast on the Fly into a fundraiser for Ben Sarrat Jr., a 5-year-old who was, at the time, fighting an incurable form of brain cancer. That first event raised $7,000 for Ben and his family. Rene and Becker teamed up again the following year, eventually setting up a nonprofit which has since raised over $3.7M for hospital programs and direct grants to families battling pediatric brain cancer.
By 2019, Hogs for the Cause had grown to two days, 30,000 attendees, and 90 barbecue teams competing not only over their cooking skills, but also over how much money each could raise. That year, James Cruse reclaimed his barbecue title at as Grand Champion, adding to the honors he had previously won at Hogs in 2015 and 2016.
Originally from Arabi, James has been cooking barbecue for 24 years now, starting with his first rack of ribs on Labor Day, 1997. “From that point forward,” he tells me, “I've always been a student.” Describing his style as both traditional and eclectic, he says his “brisket leans toward Texas, pork leans toward Carolina, [and] ribs are kind of a combination of Memphis and Kansas City.” He explains that while Louisiana may not have a unique style of barbecue, we do have an extensive history of outdoor cooking: “We’ve always cooked outdoors, whether it be jambalayas, gumbos, crawfish boils, or seafood boils in general—traditionally, a lot of that was done over a live fire, not a propane burner.” And, we have a history of whole-hog cooking, known locally as cochon de lait.
James talks a lot about his team, and tells me he doesn’t really like attention, but he’s drawing plenty with his recent win at the Memphis in May World Championship. In 2018, James placed 12th at the annual competition, then in 2019 he jumped to third. This year he secured first place and was crowned Rib World Champion.
Memphis in May is one of a dozen or so events that James competes in each year, but he says those are all business. “At the end of the day, it’s just a barbecue contest.” Hogs for the Cause, on the other hand, is personal. “Cancer runs in my family—no one that I know of has had pediatric brain cancer, but cancer’s cancer, it doesn't matter.” He circles back to this later in our conversation, noting that “the winning is fun because I'm a competitive guy, but for me, the charity is more important than the competition.”
Hogs took a break last year due to the pandemic, but the event returns this weekend, this time setting up in Belle Chasse, and limiting attendance. Tickets for Saturday only are sold out, but two-day passes are still available, as are Friday only passes. James invites y’all to come out this weekend. “Come and have fun—come have some responsible fun—and help raise some money.”
What’s in the Pot?
Crawfish! Every chance I can get ‘em, until season ends—which Madison over at Rayne & Welsh says could very well be later this month. Earlier this week, a friend threw together an “emergency boil” for her grandmother, and I learned about two new fixins: pork dumplings, which quickly cooked after the crawfish came out of the pot, and canned green beans—cooked in the can. I learn something new every boil.
After a busy couple of months work-wise, I’ve finally been able to get back on the water in my kayak, so this week we’ve also eaten a lot of roasted/grilled fish. I’ve been keeping it simple and cooking them whole, stuffed with onion, herbs, olive oil, and lemon.
Peychaud’s Bar recently opened in the courtyard of Hotel Maison de Ville in the French Quarter.
Garage Pizza reopened in a new spot on St. Claude Ave.
Bub’s will start slinging smash burgers out of their new brick and mortar on June 8.
Wholistic Culinary Market—led by Gary Netter, chef and appointed Culinary Ambassador of New Orleans—is now open inside the Circle Food Market on St. Bernard Ave.
St. Bernard Parish Government is bringing back its summer seafood market on June 12.
And Southern Food & Beverage Museum is bringing back hands-on cooking classes.
The Times-Picayune recently launched a minority newsletter called The Roux.
Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society is hosting a series of seafood fundraising dinners throughout the summer—the next one is on June 11.
Major Acre Farms announced by email yesterday that the owners are moving to Santa Fe, so this will be their last growing season, and next Tuesday will be their last market.
And city hall announced it has lifted restrictions on alcohol sales after 1:00 am, second lines, and on event capacities.
In broader food news, one of the world’s largest meat suppliers was the victim of a cyber attack this week, offering a great reminder to keep supporting local farms and food producers.
A Nod to Here Today
Closing things out this week with a heartfelt thank you to everyone at Here Today, which popped up this spring in the LGD in the space previously known as Thalia, and closed down last weekend to make way for a new restaurant, led by Ana Castro. A collaboration between the Coquette team, Lucy Boone Ice Cream, and Patron Saint Wine Shop, Here Today quickly became a favorite weekend spot of ours, and re-established a community vibe that we—and many others—had really missed during the pandemic. Thanks, y’all—you helped us ease back into summer, and into feeling some sense of normalcy again.
If you missed out, there’s more to come from each of these businesses!