Each year we scour Acadiana in search of chefs who offer something new or are masters of regional classics. The 5 chefs for 2018 are all that — and in some cases, both.
Perhaps it is divine payback for the miseries the French Acadians endured at the hands of the British during Le Grand Dérangement when they were forced from their homes in Nova Scotia under threat to pledge allegiance to the English king or face death.
Many of those who fled resettled in 22 parishes throughout southwestern Louisiana. They started again, often with nothing but the black pots they had carried on their long journey. They remained largely isolated and lived off of the land until Interstate 10 was cut through their part of the state beginning in the late 1960s. Centuries after their arrival Louisiana's Acadians are in possession of an enviable culture undeniably rich in language, art and —especially — music and gastronomy.
While most world cuisines are based on the bounty of either the land or the sea, the Acadian pantry is based on both: game, fowl and domestic meat — mostly pork — pour in from the prairies along with vegetables and spices, and both finfish and shellfish are hauled in by the bushels from the rivers, lakes and bayous.
When it comes to eating and living well the Acadians have it all. What follows are the riches of Acadian chefs and cooks who best reflect the area's current culinary culture. The result is as diverse as the culture itself: men and women of different ethnicities and life experiences sharing in, and sharing of, the bounty of Louisiana's swamp floor pantry.
Anthony Goldsmith was born into Cajun culinary royalty, a distinction bestowed upon him by his maternal great grandmother, Alzina Toups, the legendary cook behind the eponymous operation that still has her in the kitchen three nights a week at age 91, and his grandfather, Anthony Toups, who was the proprietor of Toupsie’s, Galliano’s only five star restaurant until the family sold it in 2009.
Culinary school was unnecessary for Goldsmith, 28. Instead he absorbed his craft organically through large Sunday dinners and endless extended family gatherings.
“Food and family are the basis of our culture,” he says. “Our culture down here is one outsiders don’t realize or really understand. It always comes as a surprise to them.”
Those in the family who do not cook for a living earn their way plying the area waters for the shrimp, oysters, crabs, and finfish, all of which Goldsmith serves at Kajun Twist.
Located just blocks from the neighborhood where Goldsmith grew up and his extended family still resides, Kajun Twist is a casual place that grew out of a gas station founded in 1986. Checkered linoleum floors, walls sheeted in galvanized metal, and unclothed, red-topped tables form a festive backdrop for a menu that ranges from excellent fried chicken, chicken fricassee made with a rich, dark roux, smothered meat, strips of duck breast with a dipping sauce, and hefty poor boys stuffed with deliciousness like friend, salty Gulf oysters and shrimp boulettes.
Duck Tenderloin Strips
You don't see duck tenderloin strips offered very often. Try them here breaded, fried and served with a zesty dipping sauce.
It's not on the menu so you will have to ask for the seafood platter. It arrives heaped with expertly friend catfish, shrimp and oysters that were surely on the boat no more than a couple of hours before you ordered. Goldsmith has major family connections.
Country Fried Steak
On Mondays the daily special is country fried steak served with mashed potatoes, the ultimate comfort meal.
"Food and family are the basis of our culture. Our culture down here is one outsiders don’t realize or really understand. It always comes as a surprise to them."
Classically-trained chef and native of Saint Germain-en-Laye, located about 20 miles outside of Paris, Jacqueline Salser is a fascinating woman of 60-something years. In 1989 she visited tiny Breaux Bridge on a whim following a divorce from a Texan and stuck around to open a Chinese restaurant, which she operated for 11 years before moving down the block to open Chez Jacqueline, where she executes her native culinary genre with a Cajun flair.
The atmosphere here is as charming and eclectic as Salser herself. There’s a player piano that’s been for sale (with 55 scrolls) for “$3,500 OBO” for at least 10 years, seemingly random collections of family photographs, oil paintings by noted Breaux Bridge artist P.G. “Demo” Demorelle, silk flower arrangements, stuffed toy animals, and a curious spaceship-like light fixture. A paper mache likeness of the Eiffel Tower rises from the corner bar, which is encircled by an armrest clad in red pleather under a glittering sign that reads “Top Chef.” The sign looks just like the backdrop seen on the Food Network show by the same name but, in reality, it was part of a headdress Salser wore when she served as a dignitary for the Royal Order of the Unicorn, a local Mardi Gras krewe.
Juxtapose all of this with bisque bobbing with stuffed crawfish heads, coquille St. Jacques thick with cheese and cream, escargot swimming in a classic French garlic butter kissed with parsley, and Parisian-style stuffed eggs topped with lump crabmeat and a memorable experience is certain to ensue. Come for the food, but stay for the gracious hospitality served up by Salser and her daughter, Flo.
Coquille St. Jacques
For the Coquille St. Jacques a large scallop shell arrives brimming with shrimp and small scallops that are heavily cloaked in a rich cream sauce and topped with cheese before it toasts up under the broiler.
Large Sautéed Shrimp and Golden Peaches Seafood Ceviche
Though Jacqueline already has an extensive menu she adds on as the desire strikes. A recently visit was a delight with large, fresh shrimp served in a simple sauté and a golden ceviche brimming with fresh seafood.
Get an order of the Parisian-style stuffed eggs for the table. Rich and decadent, they arrived topped in a heap of lump crabmeat bound with homemade mayonnaise.
I drove up and down Johnston Street a half dozen times, my GPS insisting Avec Bacon was right there until I finally broke down and just called the place.
“Look for the Baskin Robbins,” Paul Ayo said. “We’re right behind it.”
So then I was obliged to drive up and down a half dozen times until I finally spotted the faded sign, obscured by a palm tree in one direction. There, behind a noodle joint at the end of the parking lot, Avec Bacon finally came into view.
While the exterior of the small restaurant is pure strip mall the interior is straight up juke joint with tin and weathered wood surfaces, folksy art and a menu scratched out on a blackboard behind the counter.
Ayo, 43, bald, lavishly bearded and sporting a full colorful sleeve tattoos, positively thrums with high-strung energy as he takes orders, cooks, runs the cashier and deals with the line, which is close to flowing out the door.
It takes a while to find the place and you will wait— first in line then at the table—your stomach growling.
It’s worth the wait.
Ayo’s route to the place he opened earlier this year was a circuitous one. A child of south Louisiana, he started cooking at an early age, unpredictably favoring a stainless wok over a cast-iron Dutch oven as his vessel of choice. Then be became a dog trainer. Then he spent 10 years managing a motorcycle and ATV dealership. Then he opened an upscale kitchenware shop in River Ranch. Finally he started Avec Bacon. At first it existed as delivery, exclusively via Waitr. However, demand for Ayo’s unique bacon forced him into a brick and mortar location in just a few short months.
The secret to the toothsome, chewy bacon starts with center-cut pork belly that is rubbed with unrefined raw sugar, sea salt, black pepper and a bit of curing salt. The meat cures for three days before the rub is washed off and the belly is smoked overnight over maple wood.
Ayo then sells the bacon — his muse — au naturel from a cooler as well as worked into sandwiches (the LGBT combines spring mix, gouda cheese, bacon, tomato and spicy mustard on multi-grain bread from Poupart’s Bakery), entrée salads, cinnamon rolls(!) and two different incarnations of bread pudding — white chocolate with bacon and bark bread with bacon caramel.
It’s all good.
Buy a slab of house-made bacon from the counter, bring it home and use it in everything. The toothsome, chewy bacon starts with center-cut pork belly rubbed with unrefined raw sugar, sea salt, black pepper and curing salt. The meat cures for three days before it is smoked overnight over maple wood.
Avec Bacon BLT
That insanely good bacon is layered with spring mix, sliced of ripe tomato, and spicy mayo then served on multi-grain bread from Poupart's Bakery. Add melted Gouda cheese for a LGBT.
Available in two varieties; white chocolate with hunks of bacon; and a dark bread variety topped with rich with bacon caramel.
Anthony Bourdain hit Madonna Broussard with a double-edged sword this year. First, he immortalized her, most deservedly, on his hit show CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” when he visited the region to cover the Courir de Mardi Gras (Cajun Mardi Gras). Then, news of Bourdain’s death by suicide broke on June 8, as Broussard was planning a viewing party for the episode set to air June 17.
First Broussard, 49, hosted a vigil for Bourdain. Then, in the same week, she hosted the posthumous viewing party.
“It was a thrill and a shock, happy and sad, all at once,” Broussard said.
Bourdain’s fondness for the food and culture of Acadiana was well documented as he returned again and again seeking content for his TV shows. During his February visit to Laura’s II he raved about the succulent turkey wings for which the restaurant is famous. Like her mother and her grandmother before her, Broussard uses the same recipe: Every afternoon she first marinates, then stuffs about 80 meaty skin-on turkey wings with garlic, trinity (onion, celery, bell pepper), and spices before she nestles them closely together into aluminum steam table pans. She then bakes them, uncovered, to achieve a texture that stays crisp on top while the meat on the bottom becomes tender to the bone, melting down to make rich brown gravy that soaks the rice in the bottom of the pan.
Laura’s was founded 40 years ago under very humble circumstances in Broussard's grandmother’s home. Broussard says it was the first Afro-Creole restaurant in Lafayette and, after her grandmother’s house burned down, the restaurant operated out of a trailer for a while before settling into its current location and garnering the moniker Laura’s II.
Since that time the only real change is the availability of those sought-after turkey wings. First, they were available once a week. Thirty years ago you could find them twice weekly on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now they are available every day during the four or five hours when Laura’s II is open.
Today Broussard hints at a possibility of expanding into another city to capitalize on her hard work and newfound fame.
Stuffed Pork Roast
Head in on a Sunday for the stuffed pork roast that comes with rice dressing and two sides. The creamy potato salad and smothered green beans are particularly good with it.
Stuffed Baked Turkey Wings
The meaty wings are stuffed with trinity and spices, then baked slowly to form their own gravy that sinks into the rice underneath. You get two side with it. Gild the lily with creamy macaroni and cheese, and mustard greens studded with porky goodness.
The fried chicken is coated in a thick, shaggy, greaseless batter and it is served every day.
"It was a thrill and a shock, happy and sad, all at once."
Like so many chefs and cooks in Acadiana Chef Kevin Templet was born into the world of Cajun cookery. His professional training started at his uncle’s meat market and grocery store when he was a teenager then advanced to the white tablecloth Flanagan’s where he ultimately worked his way up to executive chef before he left in 2006 to assume the top spot at the elegant, historic Fremin’s in downtown Thibodeaux.
With a hearty personality that quickly transforms strangers into friends, Templet is a natural in the arena of cooking competitions, the first of which he experienced in grade school.
“My mom was with the 4H Club and I started competing when I was very young,” Templet said. Years later in 2012, he took second place in the highly competitive Louisiana Seafood cook-off.
Templet’s role as mentor is important to him and he frequently employs students from the nearby Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University to work the kitchen with him at Fremin’s.
The chef’s focus is on regional favorites like charbroiled oysters sizzling in rich garlic butter and reinterpretations of Cajun classics like lumps of backfin crab meat in cream sauce under a crisp crackle of Italian breadcrumbs and melted cheeses; smoked duck and andouille gumbo; fillets of fresh flounder rolled into roulades around butter seafood dressing and topped with sautéed jumbo shrimp, tomatoes and mushrooms; and fried soft shell crabs crowned with lumps of yet more crab and a brandy and mushroom cream reduction sauce.
He uses his days off to fish, work a vegetable and herb garden, cook and plan menu specials. Recent features included diver scallops wrapped in crisp bacon, set atop a puree of sweet potatoes and finished with pecan dust, and cakes of local boudin topped with medallions of filet mignon and sauced with Madeira demi-glace.
Crabmeat St. James
Start your meal with Crabmeat St. James - hunks of jumbo lump backfin crabmeat in a zesty cream reduction topped with Italian breadcrumbs, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses. It brown up under the broiler before it's served with garlic toast points. This rich one is for sharing.
Crawfish Tortellini Carbonara
The Crawfish Tortellini Carbonara combines fat, sautéed Atchafalaya Basin crawfish tails in a cream reduction sauce with Parmesan, bits of fresh tomato, bacon and tasso cream served over plump, cheese-filled tortellini.
For Fremin's signature Flounder Roulades fresh fillets are rolled into roulades around a buttery seafood dressing and topped with sautéed jumbo shrimp, tomatoes and mushrooms.
"My mom was with the 4H Club and I started competing when I was very young."