Shaken And Stirred
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How Martinis Help Acadiana HealBy Scott Brazda
James Bond likes them “…shaken, not stirred…” George Burns once said, “I never go jogging; it makes me spill my martini.”
But, when is a martini more than just a martini? Or better put, when does a martini become less of about the cocktail and more about positively impacting lives? It’s when shaking and stirring (sorry, Mr. Bond) and maybe just a bit of flavor-infusing become vital elements in building a better house. A Healing House.
Year 13 has arrived for Lafayette’s ABSOLUT Best Martinis Tour, a fundraiser for Healing House, Hope for Grieving Children. “The Martini Tour is essentially eight weeks of eight local restaurants creating specialty ABSOLUT martinis,” explains Healing House Executive Director Jenee Broussard. “Supporters can then vote for their favorite martinis at $1 a vote, and all of those dollars go to Healing House as a donation.”
There’s a joke in there somewhere – one with philanthropic and political slants – about being able to vote again and again and again; however, in the case of Lafayette’s ABSOLUT Best Martinis Tour, making a mockery of the rules of voting just plain works. Because repeat votes means Healing House can continue to repeat the care they provide for children.
A little Healing House 101: In a nutshell, Healing House is all about helping children who have lost a loved one—parents, siblings, close friends – deal with that loss. People handle grief in a variety of ways, and Healing House gives every child a way to process and express that grief in the way that best suits them: Laughter. Anger. Quiet play. Artistic expression. Contemplation.
The Martinis event has been a bonafide success for well over a decade; in fact, the proceeds of both the Tour and the climactic gala on August 19th cover approximately half of Healing House’s annual budget.
“At the gala, we have all of our restaurants there, and they’re all serving their competition martini,” says Broussard. “Plus, there’s live music by Sold Out, an incredible silent auction and this year we’re adding a VIP Hour for our table guests, where they’ll have special access to a few selected live auction items.”
Still…. All of this fuss about a few simple martinis? You can’t argue with the numbers: the 2016 ABSOLUT Tour and Gala raised over $100,000.
Eight restaurants seem to be the working number for the fundraiser, but why? Why do these restaurants, who are in the business of making money, devote so much time to giving money away? “Healing House has been our charity since we opened in 2016,” says Chuy’s General Manager Joel Docking. “We wanted something local, something that impacted the people in Lafayette, and Healing House seemed like the perfect fit.”
That feeling and more is echoed by Fezzo’s Office Administrator Emilee Gauthreaux. In fact, Gauthreaux says Fezzo’s has more in common with Healing House than just collective admiration. “We have people in the Fezzo’s family who have sent family members there. They know the women who run Healing House and are great believers.”
Fezzo’s. Chuy’s. Bon Temps Grill. Ruffino’s on the River. Walk On’s. Bonefish Grill. Zea’s. Tsunami.
For the restaurants listed above, the rules are quite simple: Be creative. Have fun. And use ABSOLUT vodka. Other than that, the restaurants’ mixologists are left to their own devices, and over the years we’ve seen martinis that tasted like baseball card bubblegum, bananas foster and watermelon. This year?
“We actually tested 15-20 martinis,” adds Gauthreaux, “and that was the way that we settled on the martini we are entering into the competition.” And Fezzo’s has a special, tasty partner. “So Swamp Pop’s wonderful Ponchatoula Red Swamp Pop product was put to great use. That led to our creation of something summery, light and for people with a sweet tooth.”
It’s Fezzo’s first year in the competition, and its entry, the ‘Berry Rouge Martini,’ also has sugar, fresh mint, strawberries and blueberries. “It’s a lot of things for a lot of people,” Gauthreaux laughs. “It’s for people who don’t really want to drink a martini.” And the timing of the Martinis Tour couldn’t’ be better: Fezzo’s has a new restaurant in Broussard and is trying to show that, not only is it a great place to eat, but it’s also a prime location to just hang out and visit. Thus, the Tour creates ‘win-win’ opportunities for both the non-profit and for-profit.
Chuy’s finished second in 2016’s Fan Favorite category. “It was a pretty standard Mexican martini, in which we infused tequila with green chilies and added raspberry. It had a little kick and bite to it,” smiles Docking. And this year, the popular Tex-Mex eatery is going in the other direction: less bite, more sweet. “We toyed around with it, taking ABSOLUT vanilla, pineapple juice and la pina colada,” begins Docking. But don’t forget the finishing touches. “Caramel on the rim, a bit of coconut. We call it La Coco Loca, and it’s gotten rave reviews.”
The annual Lafayette’s ABSOLUT Best Martinis Tour wouldn’t be what it is without a little ‘bling’, a memorable item for participants to take home and admire. A martini has to have a place to call home, don’t you think?
“A martini glass is something that holds a spirit, right?” rhetorically asks Dana Manly, the artist of the 2017 Martinis Tour glass. “So it was important for me to paint something that was healing on the outside.” Manly, a counselor herself, knew that water, which she refers to as an internally healing element, had to be a part of her colorful design, as were other ingredients. “The piano keys represent music, a transcendent language to which we all turn when things aren’t going right in our lives. And then there’s a touch of lipstick, the lighter side of life, the whimsy; it’s the counterbalance to the pain and the grief that life might offer you.”
And what has Manly named her 2017 Martinis glass? “That’s a good one. Hmm. The ‘Spirit of Healing’?” It fits, it fits.
The People’s Choice Award (determined by the number of $1 votes) and the Judges’ Award winners are yet to be decided, but what we do know is a winning event for a winning organization is set for the third week of August. The waiting list to become one of the eight competing restaurants continues to grow, says Broussard. “But it has to be just the right fit, and the restaurant has to have a staff that is excited about supporting Healing House, excited about making a difference in the community. This year seems to be a pretty magical combination of restaurants.”
And a martini or two shall lead the way.
Contact Healing House at www.healing-house.org for more information.