Boudin, bacon and beer are constant themes in the new cookbook from acclaimed New Orleans Chef Donald Link. Link wrote the book, Real Cajun: Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana, to honor his family's favorite recipes, which have trickled down to the menus at his operations, Herbsaint, Cochon and Cochon Butcher. Link's grandfather inspired him to take up cooking at a young age; eventually he studied at the California Culinary Academy, then alternated between stints at Jardiniere and Elite Cafe in San Francisco and a sous chef spot at Bayona back home. Link eventually circled back to New Orleans, opening Herbsaint in 2000. In 2006, shortly after Hurricane Katrina tore through the city, he launched Cochon. He has piled up the honors, including Best Chef: South from the James Beard Foundation, Chef of the Year from New Orleans Magazine and a mention on the country's top 10 restaurants list from the New York Times. The 39-year-old and his wife, Amanda, have a daughter and son who are nine and two, respectvely.
So….boudin, bacon and beer? Who could ask for anything more?
Those are definitely some of my favorite things. The boudin and beer were part of the culture of growing up in South Louisiana, and bacon was in almost everything my grandfather ever cooked. Every day, I still eat a cup of gumbo from Herbsaint and at least a couple of slices of boudin from Cochon Butcher (a butcher shop that sells sandwiches, small plates and wine).
Does your cookbook include grandpa's squirrel recipes and preparation tips as well?
No, but there's one for rabbit dumplings, and you can substitute squirrel meat for the rabbit.
In case squirrels are out of season.
Unless you go out and find a squirrel to shoot, you can't really eat them.
Do you stick to your Cajun roots at home?
We do whole roast chicken a lot — it's pretty simple, it's easy to make, doesn't mess up the kitchen and is something you can't get when you go out. And it makes a great pan sauce that's easy to pair with things you have around the house, such as rice, potatoes, couscous or things from the garden. Eggs with hot sauce is a pretty common breakfast for us. When my wife and I go out, we like Lilette (French/Italian); with the kids, we get sushi. Nobody argues when we go for sushi.
I see you have quite the stash of hot sauces there.
I like different hot sauces for different reasons. Our Cochon private label hot sauce is well rounded, not too spicy; I have a reserve Tabasco; sriracha; and hot garlic paste.
Three restaurants and a young family must keep you running. Where do you find room for tennis?
I try to fit it in before work two or three days a week, sometimes with a pro, sometimes with people in the restaurant business.
Do you find time to take off?
Sure. This year we are sharing a house in the South of France with one of the GMs from the restaurants. Part of the fun is renting a house with a great kitchen in an area that has a lot of farmer's markets. We also have side trips planned to Barcelona and some wine tastings.