Hogs for the Cause

00:00 March 05, 2012
By: David Vicari
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
A Bacon Lombardi Trophy from last year's HFC festival.

A diagnosis of a pediatric brain tumor —the deadliest form of childhood cancer—taffects nearly 28,000 children in the United States. This fatal disease slowly robs children of their motor functions and cognitive abilities, along with the little joys of life. Since a cure has not yet been found, funding for pediatric brain tumor research remains critical. You can help these children and their families by supporting Hogs for the Cause, a premier funding source for pediatric brain cancer outreach services in the United States.

Simply stop by City Park on March 24, where a pork BBQ cook-off between some of the city's top chefs, live music, cold beer and sunny spring weather awaits you. Through creative and finger lickin' fundraising efforts, the organization provides financial relief to the families affected by pediatric brain cancer. Hogs for the Cause, which was founded in 2009 by childhood friends, Becker Hall and Rene Louapre, is a 501(c) (3) non-profit charity that puts on a festival, rather than a festival with an affiliated charity.

Although it began as an excuse for these guys to gather friends for a pig roast at the Fly, their plan quickly changed when they met the adorable Ben Sarrat, Jr. In 2008, this smiling four-year-old was diagnosed with a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an incurable killer. After hearing his story and witnessing his amazing courage, Hall and Louapre decided to use the pig roast as a way to raise money for Ben and his family.

"With a lot of people's help, we stumbled onto a great idea," says Louapre. The first successful event welcomed 250 people whose contributions totaled $7,000.

Tragically, little Ben lost his battle nearly a year later. But Hall and Louapre became even more determined to help the families struggling with the financial burdens associated with pediatric brain cancer, while honoring their pint-sized hero. And their mission received an outpouring of support.

For the second event, held in 2010, an endless line of cars en route to Hogs for the Cause snaked around Audubon Park. Thousands of people were eager to contribute to The Cause while sampling delicious pork dishes from the cook-off. Hall and Louapre realized that they were ready for a bigger venue, so they moved the event to City Park - cleverly coined, City "Pork." In 2011, 7,000 people walked through their gates and listened to live music from Anders Osborne and Amanda Shaw, along with other popular acts. Forty-five teams competed in the Ben Sarrat Jr. High on the Hog Pork Cookoff.

During this lively competition, each team creates an inspired pork dish, in a number of categories, which is distributed among attendees. The team that fills their piggy bank with the most donations wins Fundraising Champion, while the team with highest average score, in three of the four judged food categories, becomes the Grand Champion. As a result of last year's competition, $100,000 was raised.

Hall and Louapre predict an even bigger crowd for 2012. "We're definitely growing," says Hall. "And the bigger we get, the more people we can help."

Local chefs include Stephen Stryjewski and Ryan Prewitt of the Cochon group, along with Aaron Burgau of Patois, Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery, Slade Rushing of MiLa, Shane Pritchett of Fat Hen Grocery, Adam Biderman of The Company Burger, Chef Drew Dzejak of The Grill Room at the Windsor Court, Rob Bechtold of Smokin Buddha BBQieux, Squeal, and Mark Falgoust of Grand Isle, among others.

For this year's Ben Sarrat Jr. High on the Hog Cookoff, teams will compete in such categories as Whole Hog, Porkpourri, Ribs and Shoulder.

"Porkpourri is probably the most sought-after title, since it allows for the most creative and artistic interpretation of what one can do with pork," explains Hall. Last year, Team Company Burger won the Porkpourri category with their coveted Corn Hawg dish, while Team Swine Krewe was honored as the Grand Champion.

"Everyone does a great job, but there are some cooks that are just head and shoulders above every else," says Louapre.

The fourth annual event will also introduce the Fan Favorite category, giving fest-goers a chance to vote for their favorite team through a smart phone app. Hall believes that this is "a good way to let the fans show who they really like that is not graded by our judges or by a fundraising tally."

But gourmet BBQ is only ONE of the many reasons to attend Hogs for the Cause. Music also plays a primary role. Such talented groups as the Mississippi Rail Company, The Gourds - popular for their cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin n Juice" - the Stooges Brass Band, Marcia Ball, and Voice of the Wetland Allstars —featuring Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne, and finally Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue—will take center stage.

Though the mission of Hogs for the Cause remains true to its altruistic purpose, the festival appeals to a wide demographic, which makes it easier to acquire the much-needed funds for families in need.
"We try to create a very open feel and a vibe of a really good backyard party," says Louapre. The fest welcomes folks of all ages, and even pets. Hall calls it "a family jam."

Besides drawing the attention from droves of locals, Hogs for the Cause attracts people from all over the country. "We want to change the misnomer that New Orleans is a not a BBQ town," says Hall.

It may be heralded for its unique and diverse cuisine, but not many people think of it as a mecca for exceptional BBQ. By attending Hogs for the Cause, locals and visitors alike can sample some of the best BBQ in the city. "There is some really good talent out there," Hall asserts.

The price for pigging out on scrumptious fare, soul-shakin' music and fun times amounts to a mere $10. A Market Hog and Boss Hog ticket option is also available. A Market Hog ticket costs $100, pre-sale, and provides the patron with unlimited Nola Brew Draft and cuisine from each competitor. "There is no more worrying about pesky tickets and deciding which team's food to try," exclaims Hall. "Try them all!" The $250 ($150 counts as a tax deductible receipt) Boss Hog offers the same amenities as the Market Hog, plus the Boss Hog Tent. This allows guests to judge a food category, while accessing such perks in the VIP area as catered food, wine and a chance to meet the bands. Children younger than 12 receive free admission.

Due to rapid ticket sales, Hall and Louapre expect a record-breaking crowd. They attribute the overwhelming support to their not-so-traditional marketing strategies.

Rather than relying strictly on advertising and public relations campaigns, The Hogs email a monthly newsletter, which includes updates on the grants given to families, recipes for pork dishes from local chefs, "Hog Tails" (because cocktails are for chickens), wine pairings ("Pork 'n Cork"), recommendations of songs from underground indie groups and inspiration for finding a pediatric brain cancer cure. You can sign up for the newsletter at the Hogs website: www.hogsforthecause.org.

"We profile the grants that we're giving out because we want our supporters to see where our money is going," says Hall. They also generate buzz through social networking. Besides posting pork-related witticisms, competitors use Twitter as a forum to playfully bust each other's chops.
Because of their outreach efforts, the number of Hogs for the Cause advocates continues to increase with each passing day.

This of course means that Hall and Louapre confront new roadblocks, such as establishing relationships with sponsors. "We are more than happy to support and promote those who have supported us," says Louapre. "It feels like we've put together a small family."

At the end of the day, when they realize how much money they have raised, the challenges pay off. "We're ready to get back to the drawing board," Louapre exclaims. "Helping these families is a powerful feeling.
"We've developed an ethos," Hall concludes. "Together we can do something great. We need everyone's help to help everyone else."

Hogtail (Cocktails are for Chickens)
This recipe comes from Cure owner/bartender Neal Bodenheimer.

Upperline Gimlet

  • 2 oz Tanqueray Gin
  • .75 oz fresh squeezed and strained lime juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar:water ratio. Incorporated at room temperature and chilled)
  • 5 mint leaves

Add all ingredients to shaking tin and shake hard 15 times. Spray Herbsaint Absinthe 4 times into a chilled cocktail glass. Double strain shaker into the absinthe-sprayed glass. Garnish with slapped mint leaf and one spray of Herbsaint Absinthe.

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