Residents of Lafayette are very discerning when it comes to judging what is, and what is not authentic Cajun cuisine served at restaurants in south Louisiana. They have always been a tough crowd to impress.
Most families in the area have at least one phenomenal cook (if not several), and many of these beloved, humble cooks can put the top award-winning New Orleans chefs to shame when it comes to making the real, “old-time” Cajun food that I adored while growing up in Acadiana.
As a food writer and editor covering chefs and fine dining in the Big Easy for the past 25 years, I have found that there are still only a handful of New Orleans chefs, in my opinion, who can prepare authentic Cajun cuisine in this culinary-rich city that I call home.
Many New Orleans entrepreneurs and chefs who have branched out to open restaurants in Acadiana featuring “Cajun” cuisine (like Copeland’s) fall way short of replicating the true regional fare. Now, an acclaimed New Orleans chef has come to town, and he has gotten it right. What’s more, he has elevated the authentic Cajun dining experience in Lafayette to a new, more refined level, while offering creative interpretations of the classics. You won’t find the typical fried shrimp, crawfish etouffée, dinner salad, and house Chablis here.
The hit parade of old favorites at the new Cochon Lafayette includes chicken and andouille gumbo, eggplant and shrimp dressing, catfish courtbouillon, stewed rabbit, and grilled sausage with grits. But you can also enjoy dishes that have been kicked up a notch such as alligator served with a zesty chili-garlic aioli, braised pork cheeks with spoon bread and crushed herbs, crispy duck legs with dirty rice, smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickles, and charred hush puppies flecked with spring onions and dished up with pickled chili mayo.
The oyster and bacon sandwich is remarkable, and you can’t find much better boudin anywhere. That is saying a heck of a lot in this neck of the woods, where even gas stations offer excellent boudin. Very meaty, spicy, and made in-house, Chef Donald Link’s famous boudin comes with pickled peppers and will leave you longing for several more links.
Chef Link (recipient of a James Beard award) opened the long-awaited Cochon Lafayette in September. He grew up around Lafayette, and learned how to cook from his grandparents as a wee boy.
Unlike most casual Cajun restaurants in the area, Cochon’s down-home, rustic food is complemented with fine wines by the glass, boutique beers, and an extensive array of specialty cocktails.
Situated in a new section of River Ranch called The Banks, Cochon Lafayette is a spin-off of Chef Link’s original Cochon, which is located in the fashionable Warehouse District of New Orleans (ranked by the New York Times in 2008 as the third best new American restaurant outside of New York).
The new Cochon is surrounded by trees and overlooks the Vermilion River that runs through the center of Lafayette. The handsome, contemporary structure is larger than the original restaurant in New Orleans and features a 2000-square-foot deck, a bar that seats up to 50 (where you can also dine), and a terrace adorned with citrus trees where guests can relax with cocktails or order from the full menu and the bar menu. Inside the spacious dining room, there is an open kitchen, and you can watch the chefs go to work at the wood-burning hearth, which is always fun to observe.
The September opening of Cochon Lafayette has elicited a phenomenal response among residents. Link’s partner in the venture is another James Beard award-winning chef, Stephen Stryjewski, who also co-owns the original Cochon in New Orleans. Their chef-de-cuisine in Lafayette is Kyle Waters, who has worked with the Link restaurant group for eight years. Other restaurants in Link’s expanding culinary empire include Cochon Butcher, Calcasieu, and Herbsaint, his first.
In New Orleans, Chef Link is known for his inspired Cajun cooking and especially for his amazing house-made meats and sausages served at Cochon Butcher that include his famous boudin in addition to delicious deer sausage, duck pastrami, andouille, and hogs head cheese served with chow chow. Known as the “boudin king” of New Orleans, Chef Link says that boudin is his “favorite food in the whole world.” In November, he was featured as the boudin “expert” at Chef Emeril Lagasse’s “Boudin and Beer” fundraising gala.
True to his Cajun roots, Chef Link loves to fish, hunt, orchestrate a boucherie, and dance at festivals. But he especially loves to cook. To get a taste of his Cajun cuisine, stop by Cochon Lafayette for some smothered chicken, turkey neck stew, or a delicious grilled shrimp salad for lunch; or watch the sun going down on the terrace while sipping a Trotter Jennings cocktail and nibbling on fried chicken livers with pepper jelly toast or a batch of marinated crab claws. The new restaurant is located at 921 Camellia Blvd.