Cochon coming to the bayou

by Mary Tutwiler

For proponents of the pig, good news on the culinary front.

Cajun-born chef Donald Link will be opening a second location of his dynamite New Orleans restaurant, Cochon, here in Lafayette.

Link, along with Stephen Stryjewski, his co-chef and partner in Cochon, have put a quietus to the rumor mill circulating around Lafayette for months by purchasing property along Bayou Vermilion in River Ranch, right next to the Camellia Street bridge. They plan to break ground in the fall on a larger restaurant than the one in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, which will include a huge outdoor deck overlooking the river and space for a garden.

Link comes from an extended German-French family centered on the Cajun prairie around Eunice. His cousin, Bubba Frey, owns the Mowata Store, a renowned boudin stop, which smokes some of the best sausage in Acadiana. Link makes extensive use of that smoking tradition in his upscale Cajun cooking.

Most dishes begin with bacon that Link cures and smokes himself. It's an astonishing elevation of commercial bacon, deeply smoky and containing none of the water that adds weight to grocery store packages. From there, Link plays with a hundred variations on Cajun cooking, serving up everything from fried rabbit livers with pepper jelly to heart-stoppingly good chicken and dumplings. His seafood dishes, like a beautiful shrimp, corn and tomato stew, concentrate the essence of summer flavors with a traditional one-pot technique.

While we wait for Cochon on the bayou to open, it's well worth buying his cookbook, Real Cajun, to try out Link's take on our homegrown cuisine. Real Cajun was this year's James Beard cookbook award winner, beating out the other New Orleans celebrity chef's contribution, My New Orleans, by John Besh. Both books are great, but Real Cajun is the one I reach for day in day out for its simplicity and adherence to local flavors. Summer's also a good time to make an eating foray to the Big Easy, to get a preview of what's coming to Lafayette, Cochon is located at 930 Tchoupitoulas St.