Partying with Donald Link

Donald Link is one of New Orleans' best chefs, known for his down-home Cajun cuisine at Cochon and his Frenchified Southern food at Herbsaint. His most recent project, the Cochon Butcher shop, is a holy trinity of deli, sWINE bar (that's a pork-focused wine bar), and butcher counter, where Link is serving muffulettas and Cuban sandwiches and selling fresh cuts of meat as well as house-cured salumi. At the bar, you can get a glass of wine and bar snacks such as wings with sweet potato hot sauce and pimento cheese sliders.

Chef Link designed a Mardi Gras menu for us (spiced candied nuts, boudin balls, chile-roasted shrimp, artichokes and pickled shrimp, meat pies, and a satsuma Mojito—delicious!). We caught up with him to discuss how the holiday is really done.

How do you usually celebrate Mardi Gras?

My restaurant [Herbsaint] is on St. Charles Avenue, so usually I work. We used to know these people with a house about a block off St. Charles; we'd go every Friday, and there'd be a big spread in the kitchen. We'd just walk back and forth [from the parade], and leave the house open. If you needed to go to the bathroom or get a snack, you could just walk back, and then grab another beer. That's my preferred way to do it. If you live here, it's the best way to see Mardi Gras, if you know someone. It's a lot better to have a friend's house to camp out at.

How did you design the Mardi Gras menu for CHOW.com?

Everyone is in and out during Mardi Gras. You set up a base camp, and depending on where you live—I've always lived near a parade route—you just want stuff to put out and leave there, that people can grab on the go, snack, then leave. Food that goes well with drinking. Fun regional food.

What is a boudin ball for those who might be unfamiliar?

Boudin is a sausage, and the idea of frying them [in ball form] is that they keep really well when you fry them. Even if they sit a while they will still be great an hour after cooking them, and at room temperature. It's a cleaner way to eat it without a fork and knife, and your hands don't get messy. You just pick it up, a couple of bites, and it's gone.

What else have you done for the holiday?

Last year I rode on a float. It's a fascinating experience as you go through the different neighborhoods. It's a huge local event until you get to the French Quarter. It's also a very family-oriented event. I have a 10-year-old and 3-year-old, and they've been to every parade. I'm sure to the outside world it's scary, but it's not. The French Quarter is for the tourists, but uptown is where we take our kids. Most of the people that ride have kids—we look for them in the crowd [to throw toys to]. It's really for them. Somebody always knows somebody on the parade route. Whoever's closest ends up hosting. A lot of times it's a potluck thing. Hopefully this year everyone will come buy stuff from the butcher shop.

How is the Cochon Butcher shop going?

This is only the second year we've had it. It's a butcher shop, deli, and full bar all combined into one. We make all our own salamis, hams, sausages, boudin. We do sandwiches; we have a bar food menu. We make probably six to eight different plates of sausages, four to six salamis, and all your smoked turkey, hams, pastrami, mortadella. And we have some traditional sandwiches.

What's the best Mardi Gras beer?

Abita. Mardi Gras is definitely one of those times you get into your local culture.

How is the city doing?

New Orleans has been doing well for quite some time now; some neighborhoods still need some work. Everyone is very behind the recovery—everyone has solidified their love for the city. The vibe and energy is even better than it was before Katrina.

Image source: Link Restaurant Group

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