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Boudin, Bourbon & Beer: An Interview With ELF President Brian Kish

The new president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, Brian Kish, talks about making the best possible Boudin, Bourbon & Beer event for its guests, along with his food-obsessed road to New Orleans

Self professed food and celebrity chef fanboy Brian Kish has lucked into the perfect job as president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation that combines his considerable fundraising experience with his love of food, music, wine, beer, cocktails, and New Orleans. Read on to find out what he's looking forward to the most at Friday's event, and to discover his hidden beer geekiness.

What are your expectations and goals for this year's BBB?

One of the things I'm most focused on is the customer service side of it. And that's just something that's ingrained for everybody associated with Emeril. That's his number one priority. So we want to be focused and ensure that our guests are having a wonderful experience. That they feel that they're getting good value for the dollars that they're spending. And that's part of the reason why we moved to Champion Square, because we heard from folks that access, getting in, eating, was a challenge last year. So that's one change, and the second one is working with Ticketmaster, so that we know it's going to be a lot easier getting in, with scanning tickets - you'll be right in. It should be no problem.

And that's important, that everyone know that we've made those changes. It's ensuring that people are having a great time. That's what I want to make sure of, number one, And two, while we want to make sure everyone's having a good time and this is a celebration, it's also a fundraiser. We want to make sure we can raise as much money as possible for the foundation, for the efforts for everything we're trying to accomplish. The more tickets sold, the more money that's going to kids in this community. Every silent auction item that someone bids on, it's more money generated. Even our retail, we make a small return on that, to generate revenue for what we're trying to accomplish. I want us to have fun and have a good time and enjoy it, but I want us to raise as much money as we can.

What inspired you to shift from higher education resource development to food- and culinary-focused youth fundraising?

It is a different world - I've spent 18 years in fundraising, predominantly in higher education and hospitals, but mostly higher education. But I'm a foodie at heart. I love food, I love beverage, I love gardening, I love understanding where my food comes from... that's what I watch, that's what I read, that's what I love to talk about. And I always have. And one of my food idols was Emeril Lagasse. My first apron said "Bam!" on it. The first set of real pots and pans my wife and I bought together when we got married are Emerilware. So this was my food idol, and someone that I really respected as well. And the opportunity to marry my professional skills of fundraising with my personal interest in food and wine is a dream come true. And to do that and to impact children? I really couldn't imagine three things coming together more perfectly in my life at the right time.

How are you enjoying living in New Orleans?

I'm loving it. Again, for someone who loves food... and another thing my whole family loves is music... there's no city better in the world for food, beverage, or music than here. Here, it just emanates from the streets, from the air. So to be around that every day is just... it's unbelieveable. Unbelievable. We're loving it.

What's been your favorite boudin since moving here?

That's a good question. Two of my favorites - and I know, it just sounds like I'm plugging the event, but it's true - was, well, the first time I was exposed to it was at Cochon. And this was about three or four years ago, when my wife and I first visited New Orleans together. And that was my first exposure to it. And then Emeril's Delmonico does a new and old world sausage dish, and the boudin on there was really good as well. But I'm really looking forward to all the funky twists that people are going to play on it. I think there's going to be some very loose interpretations that the chefs will be making, and it's going to be a ball. As a food guy, three of my favorite things are sausage, beer, and bourbon. So here we are with Louisiana style sausage, great bourbon with Buffalo Trace, which I've always enjoyed, and Abita, which is awesome beer.

What are you looking forward to the most at the BBB event?

One, to meet all the chefs. To a foodie like me, meeting all the incredible chefs there that are from here in town, and then the chefs who are coming in from other cities - I'm really jazzed about it. I'm really excited to meet Ed Lee, as an out of towner. Of course, locally, there are just so many stars. So I'm personally, selfishly, just excited to meet the chefs.

The other day I met Donald Link. What a kind, generous person. And to my mind, he's a culinary superstar, on so many levels, and here's this guy who's just wonderful, and passionate about his food, and loving the city, and graciously co-chairs this event with Emeril. I know he and Emeril have very high mutual respect for each other.

What are some other food-related fundraisers held here through the year that benefit the ELF?

The only other one is the one that's the next night, the Carnivale du Vin. And this will be the 10th year of the Carnivale du Vin. This is a little bit different of an event. It's smaller - only about 700 people - the ticket price is very different, it's a thousand dollars. But when you talk about world class wine auctions, it's rated as one of the best, the top ten wine auctions by Wine Spectator Magazine. The people in attendance - the winemakers, the chefs who come in, along with the packages put together for auction, are literally second to none in the world. They're food and wine experiences that I'd like to say money can't buy, but... it can, if you come to the event and bid on something. So that's the event that's been around, the revenue driver, the main marquee event. But we wanted to provide something that was more accessible to everybody and that would raise more awareness about what Emeril's trying to do, and so that's why we created the Boudin, Bourbon & Beer event.

What beer are you enjoying these days?

It's funny, a long time ago I fell in love with Brooklyn Lager, and I haven't really seen it for a long time in other cities. And now that I'm here, I see it everywhere. And I like it, it's a nice standby beer for me to grab. That, and I've been drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It's just good any time. What I've found myself doing is going to Rouses, and they have that Pick 6 option. And what it ends up usually is two Abitas, two Brooklyn Lagers, and two Sierra Nevada Pale Ales.

And the other day - I'd forgotten how good it was, I grabbed an Anchor Steam. That's a great beer! For a while, when I was living in Tucson, I was trying all this crazy funky stuff, but now, I just want to clean my palate. For a while everything was IPAs, and I still like them, but I had to step away from them a little bit.

What's your favorite Abita beer?

RIght now, I like the Oktoberfest that's out. And the other day, I was meeting with the Abita folks and I tried the Pecan Harvest Ale, which was really interesting. I liked it.

Boudin, Bourbon, or Beer. Pick the one you couldn't live without.

In the end, probably... I don't know! It's always changing, but... maybe beer? Just because it's always the go-to.