A Common Link
Though a native of Washington State, Dr. Bob Carriker of UL’s History Dept. has lent his culinary two cents and left a tasty mark on his adopted home.
So come on, Bob Carriker – critic of meat-stuffed casings, creator of our latest guilty pleasure, and curator of UL’s History Department – admit it: all these links are pretty much the same. If you’ve had one you’ve had them all. Pork. Rice. Some spices. Cook it up. Boudin is boudin, right?
Photo by Romero & Romero
“NO!” he yells emphatically through a laugh, thus disturbing the Sunday morning tranquility. “No, not even close! I swear, they’re all different – the way they cook the rice, whether they use long-grain or medium-grain, whether they grind the pork up or leave it in chunks, the amount of fat, whether it’s dry, wet, spicy, mild. It defies logic that there could be this much variance when the core ingredients are simple, but that’s what makes it unique.”
For more than a delicious decade, Carriker has showcased that pork-infused passion to print (well, digital print, technically) as the webmaster of boudinlink.com, a living, always-expanding bible of boudin. Brandishing an extensive library of reviews, Carriker’s quest for the perfect “snap” has taken him from Carencro to California, from super-ritzy supermarkets to one-pump gas stations on rural routes GPS struggles to find.
A bit of a spatula-wielding mad scientist, Carriker also isn’t shy to chip-in his own contributions to the Cajun culinary scene. The 9-to-5 history professor created the Johnson’s Boucaniere Parrain Special, a brown-bagger’s dream sandwich consisting on smashed boudin balls, melted cheese and barbecue sauce. Then, this past Carnival season, Carriker unleashed his greatest delectable hybrid – the boudin king cake. Demand for the boudin-infused sweet Mardi Gras staple far exceeded the supply Carriker could pump out on his own, so he teamed with Twins Burgers and Sweets of Lafayette to increase production.
Asked if any of his boudin mash-ups bombed or tasted terrible, Carriker pauses for a second before replying, “No, not really” – a confident retort from someone whose left an authentic fingerprint on this eclectic region despite migrating from the Pacific Northwest.
“I much prefer to be a part of what’s going as opposed to an observer of what’s going on,” Carriker says. “That’s just always been a part of who I am. Moving here, I didn’t want to be on the outside looking in. I wanted to be a part of it – embrace the community completely, which was easy because the community was so open and accepting of us.”
The genesis of Bob’s metamorphosis into “Dr. Boudin,” happened shortly after accepting a faculty position at UL in 1997. Accustomed to co-workers bringing doughnuts, bagels or cupcakes into the office on special occasions, Carriker marveled when a peer plopped down a steaming tray of boudin instead. As he embraced the Cajun custom with a full mouth, he kept his ears open (while chewing) to those around him. Local loyalty dominated the conversation. The woman from New Iberia bragged on the boudin from the shop down the street while the guy from Cecilia dismissed that notion, arguing the links around his neck of the woods topped every other.
Without a dog in the hunt, Carriker set out to find who (if anyone) was telling the truth.
“As a guy who was looking to learn more about where he lived, and as a guy with a soft spot for regional foods, I would go out and find those places so I could join the conversation next time,” Carriker says. “And I realized quickly that they’ve never tried the other places, so I found myself adding more to the conversation.
“Basically all my websites start with a crazy idea and you go, ‘Oh, that should be a website,’” Carriker says. “It’s gotten to the point where I’ll invite some friends over and say I’m making Philly Cheesesteaks and they’ll joke, ‘Oh, are you making a website about those, too?’ Honestly, I didn’t know this website would have the legs its grown, and honestly I didn’t anticipate having the voice I do.”
Yeah, about that voice. To put it nicely, Carriker doesn’t mince words.
In one review, he referred the owners of an establishment as “posers.” While that seems a bit harsh, that place got off easy compared to a shop in Texas, the only place to ever get a failing grade. Their uncooked (yes, uncooked) boudin provided the awful inspiration of this line from Carriker: “OK, it is an abomination to call this boudin.” Of course, such criticism sometimes elicits a response. For instance, one shop owner whose business received a mediocre mark from the website actually showed up to the place of employment of the guy who co-created boudinlink.com with Carriker.
But it’s not like Carriker is purposely looking for reasons to shred establishments like so much succulent pork. Quite the contrary. Over the years, boudinlink.com has handed out 15 perfect A+ grades. Thirteen of those stores reside in the unofficial boundaries of Acadiana: Rascal’s Cajun Express in Duson; Kartchner’s Grocery in Krotz Springs; Billeaud’s in Broussard; Billy’s Boudin in Opelousas; Bourque’s Super Store in Port Barre; Don’s Specialty Meats in Carencro and Scott; Cormier’s Specialty Meats in Jennings; Johnson’s Boucaniere in Lafayette; Market Basket in Lake Charles; Redlich’s City Cash in Basile; Sausage Link in Sulphur; Sonnier’s in Lake Charles; and T-boy’s Slaughter House in Mamou.
“I’m not saying my palate is the palate, but you do get one person’s consistent analysis across the board,” Carriker says. “But trust me, critics have there own critics. I used to get a lot of, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘You’re a Yankee!’ They were so funny. I took it seriously, but I never took it personally. I understood these people’s passion.
“But when you get to review, 60, 70, 90 links of boudin, it gets harder to criticize,” Carriker continues. “When you reach those numbers, you’re not really an outsider anymore.”