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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 (among several other stand-out establishments). In 2010, he designed a Mardi Gras menu for us and we caught up with him to discuss how the holiday is really done.
Take a look back at our chat and try his incredible recipes, still just as delicious now as they were 10 years ago!
Chowhound: How do you usually celebrate Mardi Gras?
Donald Link: 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.
DL: 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.
Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana, $25.51 on Amazon
Chef Link's first cookbook is full of more great recipes.
What is a boudin ball for those who might be unfamiliar?
DL: 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?
DL: 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.
DL: 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?
DL:Abita. Mardi Gras is definitely one of those times you get into your local culture.
Abita Amber, price and availability varies on Drizly
DL: 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.
If you’ll be in town for Mardi Gras this year, pay a visit to one of Chef Link’s establishments—or feel like you’re there with his delicious New Orleans Mardi Gras recipes!
These fried meat pies are perfectly spiced and just as good cold as freshly cooked. They’re also ideal finger food, so equally versatile as party snacks, picnic nibbles, and an easy packed lunch if you have leftovers. Get the Natchitoches Meat Pies recipe.
Muddling an entire satsuma means the fragrant oils bump up the flavor of the sweet juice and you get a truly citrusy drink that pairs beautifully with spicy bites. Get the Cochon’s Satsuma Mojito recipe.