Knowing your food – where it comes from and how it got to you – is a mantra of the modern culinary ethos. A traditional boucherie gets right to the heart of it, starting with a hog that’s walking around at the start of the day and turned into a Cajun feast before the end of it.
This Saturday (Sept. 26), local food advocacy group Slow Food New Orleans will host a boucherie at Docville Farm in St. Bernard Parish with the leading practitioner and proponent of the craft. Toby Rodriguez and his crew with Lâche Pas Boucherie will slaughter the hog on site, while a group of New Orleans chefs will prepare its many parts for a spread of traditional foods.
It’s a definitive farm-to-table process that hides nothing, and for Rodriguez that’s part of the purpose.
“People come expecting a party, and it is that, but I think they also come away from it with more,” he said. “There’s always emotion. Every time, it lays something heavy on your heart, and it should. We should be emotionally attached to our food.”
If the prospect of actually watching as your sausage is made sounds gruesome, to Rodriguez it’s a necessary reality check in an age of industrialized food.
“People leave here changed,” he said. “They don’t look at packaged meat in the grocery store the same way, and that’s part of what we’re doing. I’m a butcher and a chef and I grew up on a farm, but I think we eat way too much meat. We over-indulge in protein and we ought to know what that really means.”
A roots revival
The Lâche Pas name can translate as “hold on” or “don’t let go,” which Rodriguez ties to efforts to preserve Cajun heritage, and a boucherie draws on the strong German and French roots in Louisiana.
It was once a seasonal part of farm life, a communal event for neighboring families to share the labor and rewards of slaughtering a hog. The collective approach made the most of perishable meat, and the fastidious use of the entire animal led to boudin, cracklin’ and headcheese prepared alongside the hams and chops.
While those delicacies are popular today, the boucherie itself fell out of practice as modern agriculture and food distribution rolled on. But Rodriguez is a revivalist of the tradition.
A contractor by trade, he and some like-minded enthusiasts started hosting boucherie events about eight years ago around Acadiana. After food TV star Anthony Bourdain came calling for an episode of his “No Reservations” show in 2011, interest in the work of Lâche Pas skyrocketed. Now Rodriguez conducts boucheries and runs classes for chefs and butchers around the country.
The upcoming boucherie is in partnership with Slow Food, which will source the hog from George Family Farms, a small producer in central Alabama. And to prepare the traditional dishes, Slow Food has recruited New Orleans chefs Ryan Hughes and David Harrower of Purloo, Alex Harrell of Angeline and Martha Wiggins of Sylvain, as well as Vance Vaucresson of Vaucresson’s Sausage Co.
While the modern boucherie has a festive air, Rodriguez said it often has a profound impact on those who do the cooking.
“Everyone’s ego goes out the door,” he said. “An animal just died. That protein that gets into the chefs’ hands becomes so much more valuable to them. They go back to their restaurants feeling reinvigorated.”
The event is from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 26., and food will be served as various components are readied. There will be drinks available and music through the day. The venue, Docville Farm, is a working farm and venue for community events near the riverfront in Violet, at 5124 E. St. Bernard Hwy.
Tickets are all-inclusive and cost $75 in advance, or $100 at the event. Get them at slowfoodneworleans.com.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.