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Cookin’ Up a Storm for Those In Need

New Orleans 'chefs' raise $46,000 in 'Red Beans, Rice and Relief' fund-raiser.

What do you call it when three lawyers get together, combine their culinary talents and produce a Sunday afternoon benefit?

“Red Beans, Rice and Relief,” is the moniker Mark Menezes, Bill Geary and Bill Conway attached to the party they gave last Sunday at the latter’s Potomac home.

All three “chefs” are from New Orleans, all three grew up on cajun cooking, and all three have families and friends displaced by hurricane Katrina’s violent attack on their native city.

“MY BROTHER, Cove, arrived there today and found 20 inches of water and mold six feet high in our parent’s home,” Geary said, while spooning out “Crawfish Etouffee” (smothered crawfish) for guests. His contribution also included “Shrimp Sauce Piquant,” guaranteed to clear the sinuses.

Geary, patent counsel for Samsung Electronics, said his parents were safe in North Carolina and are now on extended vacation. “We hope to get them back in New Orleans by Thanksgiving for a 50th wedding anniversary party we have planned.”

“I started cooking yesterday,” said host Mark Menezes. His “Alligator and Chicken Gumbo” and “Sausage and Chicken Gumbo” were only a portion of his contribution to the party menu. He said he cranked up the New Orleans music and went to work.

“My wife, (attorney Elizabeth Megginson) helped with the pralines,” he said, while emphasizing the pronunciation of the dessert cookie as if it were spelled, prAWlines.

Born in New Orleans, Menezes said he was thankful “all my family are back in their homes.”

They would no doubt have loved a large bowl of his delectable red beans and rice. It put Popeye’s to shame.

The ending to Bill Cody’s story was not as happy. Cody left New Orleans only three months ago for a D.C. job on The Hill. His wife, Meredith, stayed with expectations to sell their house. “Our house is/was on Gen. Haig Street, about a mile from 17th Street Canal. Reportedly, there is at least eight feet of water in it. They won’t let me in to see it,” he said.

Fortunately his wife escaped with her parents and grandparents and drove to Houston, albeit the last day they could get out. “They were going to ride it out when it was a category three on Saturday. When things worsened, they left the next day,” he said.

The normal six-hour drive to Houston, where they were able to rent an apartment, took 16 hours. The apartment rental is secure until Sept. 30. Asked, “What then,?” Cody shrugged his shoulders. “I just don’t know,” he said.

Reluctant to leave their New Orleans home, Tom Hassenboehler’s 85-year-old grandparents and great aunt, were evacuated to Houston where they stayed for a week. “It was so crowded we flew them here. I am helping to care for them in Fair Oaks (Va.). They are doing better day-by-day,” he said, adding he hopes they will be able to return to New Orleans in another month.

Similar stories were repeated frequently by other guests who knew people or family members, all in dire or stressful situations. It was what brought together this crowd of more than 50 friends, all asked to contribute $1,000 per couple payable to Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation Inc., or an organization of their choosing to benefit Katrina relief.

“WE ARE VERY grateful, and, some donated more than we requested,” said host Bill Conway when checks totaled $46,000.

While the bourbon sauce simmered for his bread pudding, Conway and his wife, Diana, moved through the gathering making sure everyone was well fed, including her father and his wife, Jon and Rachel Edensword, Elie and Ted Cain, and Gay and Tony Barkley — she just home from Montana where she hunted astride with packs of Beagle and Bassett hounds, chasing Jack Rabbits. “We hunted in the mornings and fished in the afternoons,” Gay said.

The 1-4 p.m. party was so much fun it wasn’t until hours later that the last guest departed. “We forgot the grilled alligator and venison sausage until most people were gone,” said Conway, an attorney with the international firm, Skadden, Arps. In addition to the sausage, gumbos and the red beans, “Longnecks” were listed on the menu.

One Marylander, asking where the clams were, was promptly educated to the fact that “Longnecks,” refer to beer. “We are fond of drinking out of long neck bottles. It tastes better,” a smiling Conway instructed.