Donald Link Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything
With Paula Disbrowe
Photographs by Chris Granger
Clarkson Potter (New York 2014)
Link Restaurant Group, with southwest Louisiana boy Donald Link as executive chef and chief executive officer, hews close to Link’s rural Southern roots. First, there’s Pêche, a seafood grill in the news recently as the recipient of two James Beard Foundation awards, for Best Chef: South (Ryan Prewitt) and America’s Best New Restaurant. Cochon is a pig-centric, sophisticated version of a rustic southwest Louisiana joint. The flagship Herbsaint Bar and Restaurant is a Louisiana bistro with flavors hailing from Italy and France as well. Cochon Butcher, a “swine bar” and lunch counter behind Cochon, serves the cured meats and sausages introduced to south Louisiana by French and German immigrants in the 19th century. Herbsaint “proudly serves Louisiana rice,” and readers of Link’s first cookbook, Real Cajun, know that he comes from German-born Louisiana rice farmers.
Although Link has traveled extensively and incorporates many influences in the restaurants’ menus, he’s always Southern. That’s why Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything, includes not only a commentary on frog gigging in Rayne, Louisiana (home of the Frog Festival), but instructions for “finger food” at an elegant Southern cocktail party. That includes, for example, shrimp rémoulade and fancy spiced pecans, with an ode to “white taper candles and fresh flowers, paper doilies, and parsley garnishes . . . The men wore bow ties and the women smelled like Shalimar and cigarettes. There was an unabashed consumption of mayonnaise, cream cheese, and Ritz crackers.” The book is beautifully photographed by Chris Granger; we feel that we’re there at those parties in a St. Charles Avenue mansion, sipping Julia Reed’s Scotch Old-Fashioned.
There’s another chapter on “Heads, Feet, Necks and Bones,” with a recipe for Herbsaint Headcheese, and another for Crispy Lamb Neck. Of course there’s a chapter on grilling, with a commentary on Mamou Grilled Pork Steak Sandwiches, a sandwich Link first encountered at a small grocery store in north Baton Rouge. Mayonnaise, Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, white bread, and the grilled pork steaks-you’re done. The seafood recipes also hail from Link’s Gulf Coast fishing trips as a child, and later jaunts to Florida. The Crab and Spinach dumplings are a bit Pan-Asian, a bit French, but completely Gulf Coast South. Watermelon Gazpacho with Crabmeat ties in two Southern seasonal ingredients, farm-fresh watermelons with jumbo lump crabmeat fished from the Gulf.
Link dedicates this book “to everyone with whom I have raised a glass, cooked out, fished, hunted, and stayed up too late. I dedicate this book to the South.” Where Real Cajun was a bit more rustic and down-home Louisiana, Down South goes further afield, crossing the Louisiana border to venture into Alabama, Texas, Mississippi and Florida. It never gets out of the South, though, in spirit. So make your own vanilla wafers to layer in Banana Pudding with Moonshine Whipped Cream, take those pretty parfait glasses out on the patio for dessert after you’ve consumed Grilled Chicken on a Stick with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce, and be grateful Donald Link wasn’t from Vermont.