By Tara Bennett
In 2007, several Baton Rouge restaurateurs gathered one night at Gino’s Restaurant to discuss a way to bring focus on the culinary creativity in the Capitol City. On that night, Scott Callais of Juban’s Restaurant, along with Justin McDonald of Mansur’s; Kevin Kimball, formerly with the Camelot Club; wine distributor Jason Johnson; local wine expert Dori Murvin and Camelot Club’s Jimmy Ward came together and began the initial groundwork that would eventually create the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society (BRES), an organization that celebrates the restaurant industry in Baton Rouge and gives money back to the community by donating to related charities.
The non-profit celebrates eight years this year with its annual Fête Rouge, a two-day culinary festival. One of the main goals of the BRES is to highlight Baton Rouge as a culinary destination, which has been overlooked in the past when compared to that of New Orleans. Inspired by the success of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (NOWFE), the group decided to create Baton Rouge’s own premiere wine and food-tasting events. Initially, the group began with a dinner in August and a tasting in September. In 2009 they decided to combine both events and include its first competition, which challenges the chefs each year to test their culinary techniques.
“The chefs got really excited about being part of the competition and not cooking the same recipes that they cook every day in their restaurants,” said BRES Executive Director Renée Dugas-Molbert. “We don’t really have anything like this in Baton Rouge, and so the citizens of Baton Rouge responded and loved the event.”
Fête Rouge kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 21 from 6-10 p.m. and will be hosted for the first time ever at the L’Auberge Casino. Previously, Fête Rouge was hosted by the Crowne Plaza, which held over 200 people at the first event. Now, eight years later, over 1,000 people attend the event, which gave reason for a venue change. While L’Auberge Casino will give BRES the chance to host more restaurants, chefs and caterers, ticket sales will also be limited.
“Last year we had over 1,300 people,” said Dugas-Molbert. “This year we’re keeping it at 1,000 because we want all of our guests to have room, and enough food and enough wine. We’re keeping a little bit smaller this year and making it a little bit more exclusive.”
During the kickoff event, the 8th Annual Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Dinner will be presented, honoring Associated Grocers’ President and CEO J.H. ‘Jay’ Campbell. According to Dugas-Molbert, this award recognizes a person from the Baton Rouge area who has dedicated their life to servicing the Baton Rouge community. Seven local chefs will come together and cook a seven course meal with a Lebanese spin, honoring Campbell’s heritage. Some of the dishes that will be prepared include triple seared beef tenderloin, baba ghanoush, smoked crawfish tabouleh, tahini rubbed roasted black grouper and coriander braised lamb shank.
According to Dugas-Molbert, Campbell was selected because he has always believed in giving back to the community. He has continuously supported numerous local non-profit organizations, and has done countless work with the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center; the General Health Foundation; Capital Area United Way; the Association of Retarded Citizens and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
“Jay has given back tremendously,” said Dugas-Molbert. “He is highly involved within the community.”
The culinary festivities will resume on Friday, Aug. 22, during Food & Wine Fête at 7 p.m. Throughout the evening, attendees will be treated to samples of food while enjoying live entertainment, and a wine tasting of over 200 wines from around the world. A silent auction and raffle will also be held, benefitting the Cooking Matters & Greauxing Healthy Programs.
The highlight of Friday’s event will be the Fête Rouge Chefs Competition, where 40 local chefs will compete for the chance at winning the Gold Medal, People’s Choice or Best in Show. Categories include meat, seafood, dessert and “Louisiana Lagniappe,” in which 90 percent of the ingredients must be local Louisiana fare.
“There are some really interesting dishes,” said Dugas-Molbert. “Our inspiration for adding the competition was to really get the chefs out of the box, and not make the same dishes they make at every other event, and to just give them the opportunity to be creative and be excited about making something they don’t get to make every day.”
New to Fête Rouge this year is the Fête du Vin, a wine tasting event for 100 wine enthusiasts to sample wines from around the world. The tasting will be held in the VIP Lounge at L’Auberge Casino Baton Rouge on Friday, Aug. 22 from 6-8 p.m. and will feature over 40 revered and highly rated wines. Each guest will also be admitted to the Food and Wine Fête Tasting.
This year’s beneficiaries for BRES are Girls on the Run and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank’s Back Pack Program, which aids children by preparing backpacks filled with nutritious foods they can prepare themselves.
“It’s to help children that don’t necessarily have food at home, or their parents are working a lot,” said Dugas-Molbert. “We put sustainable foods that will last throughout the week that the kids can prepare themselves, so the kids can have something to eat and share with their brothers and sisters when they’re at home.”
Tickets for the awards dinner honoring Campbell are $200 a person and $1600 for a table of eight. Tickets for Food & Wine Fête are $75 per person and tickets for Fête du Vin are $200, which includes entry to Food & Wine Fête. All tickets are available by visiting www.feterougebr.com.