Chef Donald Link

REAL LIFE, REAL FLAVOR

with Chef Donald Link

Chef and owner of three award-winning restaurants in New Orleans: Herbsaint, Cochon and Cochon Butcher, and his newest endeavor, Pêche Seafood Grill

Famous for: Bringing national attention back to Cajun cooking.

Snapshot: Owner of four award- winning archetypal eating establishments in the warehouse district of New Orleans. Herbsaint, his first restaurant, carries a French bistro theme. Cochon, which he runs with his partner Stephen Stryjewski, is a bastion of true Cajun cooking. Cochon Butcher is an old-world butcher and charcuterie, and Calcasieu is a private event facility. Link and his partners have announced plans to open Pêche Seafood Grill in New Orleans this spring.

Recent accomplishments: Herbsaint earned him a James Beard Foundation Award in 2007 for Best Chef: South. In 2012, and again this year, Link was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the prestigious award of Outstanding Chef. His first cookbook, Real Cajun, won the top James Beard Foundation Award for Best American Cookbook.

Family heritage: Besides his hunting and fishing experiences as a boy, Link had 35 aunts and uncles who made their own deer and pork sausages. His cousin Dwayne built the smokehouse for Cochon Lafayette.

Inspiration: “After attending culinary school in California, I worked with Albert Tordjman at the Flying Saucer in San Francisco. He was a maniac and an amazing cook. Working with him, I realized there was a future in cooking for me.”

First experience with Louisiana Seafood: Going shrimping, crabbing and fishing with my dad and grandfather.

Loves Louisiana Seafood because: “Its diversity, depth and sweetness.”

Signature Louisiana Seafood dish: “We fry soft shell crabs, then toss them with chilies, butter and our signature hot sauce. You don’t want to fool around with them any more than that.”

Where he catches Louisiana Seafood: “The Toledo Bend Reservoir for freshwater fish, and the waters near Port Sulphur and Pointe à la Hache for redfish and drum.”

Favorite memory: “Coming back from a morning of bass fishing and smelling the bacon my mother was cooking as we drove up to the camp.”

Best cook he ever knew: “My granddad. He was the best, hands down. He made creamed corn, cornbread and smothered goose and squirrel. You didn’t mess with him. We ate whatever he cooked.”

A childhood favorite not on any of his menus: Squirrel and dumplings with cornbread and smothered greens. “Unless you go out and find a squirrel to shoot, you can’t really eat them. But you can use rabbit.”

On my day off: “I play tennis two or three times a week. Or at least I try.”

Favorite snack: Has a cup of gumbo and a couple of slices of boudin every day.

Kid stuff: “Helping my daughter catch her first ‘bull red’ on Lake Hermitage is one of my favorite moments.”

Why he’s a cook: “I love it. The first time I did it, I said, ‘I’m going to do this forever.’ I love the Zen beauty of cooking, the oneness with food.”

Grilled Louisiana Redfish on the Half Shell

Grilled Louisiana Drum “on the Half Shell”

View this recipe

Adapted from Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana, by Donald Link (Clarkson Potter, 2009)


Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 (7-ounce) Louisiana Drum fillets, skin and scales on, with pin bones removed
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Scant 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • Scant 1-1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 4 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 large lemons, halved

Method:

Rinse the fish fillets and pat them dry with paper towels. Place the fillets on a baking sheet; season with the kosher salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Top the fillets with the sliced garlic and drizzle with half of the oil. Use your fingers to distribute the oil and seasonings evenly over the fish, then set the fish aside to marinate while you heat the grill. Fire up your grill to a medium-high setting. (If you are using charcoal, the coals should be mostly white.) Place the fillets scale-side-down on the hot grill. Cover the grill and cook the fish without moving for 7 to 10 minutes, until it is just cooked through; it will flake easily when tested with a paring knife. (You can also cook the fish “on the half shell” on an oiled baking sheet in a 475ºF oven for 6 to 8 minutes.) Using a metal spatula, transfer the fillets to serving plates and top with sea salt and parsley, a little extra olive oil, and lemon juice.