LAFAYETTE – Riding their envie for cookery, creative cuisine and farm-to-table inclinations, a pair of Louisiana chefs traversed the United States like gastronomy nomads with a cause.
But as fate would have it, it was this passion for the south Louisiana food they were raised on that has brought Toby Rodriguez and Jean Pierre Guidry back home.
Now their flavorsome enthusiasm is dished out for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday at the Acadian Superette, 600 Lamar St., in the Freetown area of downtown Lafayette.
Rodriguez gained plenty of exposure with his Lache Pas Boucherie et Cuisine, a traveling Cajun butchering experience primarily for fellow chefs. With Robert Autin’s backing, the team has partnered up to bring Freetown what will become a multifaceted grocery store.
“There’s a lot of rural Cajun grocery stores in the surrounding area,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there’s another one like this left in this area. This location makes complete sense: the epitome of a Cajun grocery store in Lafayette.”
“When looking at opening up in a smaller town,” he said, “I very quickly realized that my market, my target audience, is in Lafayette.”
Change is coming to the Acadian Superette, but not in a Sherman’s march to the sea sort of way. After all, former owner and current employee, Lynn Derenthal, built up a nice following in 28 years.
“We’ll continue what she’s doing,” Rodriguez said. “We won't really alter the menu, just ingredients used within those dishes.”
After all, it’s a matter of business sense, “and out of respect of the business that came before us that we should continue to do what she is doing to not lose any of the faithful clientele,” he said.
Burgers and plate lunches will remain, albeit enhanced and seasoned a la farm-to-table, as will be groceries and other products coming to the shelves.
Freshly made boudin and a butcher shop are in the offing, as is a non-pretentious wine operation. A jukebox-driven bar in the back and wooden floors will support occasional live music and après festivals experiences.
“We want this to become a full-service market, with produce, a butcher shop, and some baked goods,” Rodriguez said. “That’s where farm-to-table is really going to become prominent here once we have it as a full-service market.”
All this sits fine with Guidry, whose charge will be the meals.
Guidry spent 20 years in kitchens, including some in Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado and New York. Along with his Culinary Institute of America cred, he was a private chef in New Orleans, as well as sous chef at Commanders Palace. He then ran his own restaurant, Bacobar, in Covington.
“And now I’m cooking rice-and-gravy in Lafayette,” Guidry said smiling.
It’s a different life from the one he set out to do.
“Yeah, I guess it all comes full circle,” Guidry said. “I learned all these things that really didn’t make sense. The hospitality, to me, you lose sight of it when you’re in these three-star Michelin restaurants. When really what you’re doing is trying to please people because, I mean, we grew up in the South; it’s what we did."
To Guidry, the most important things are simplicity and being "approachable, affordable and nostalgic," he said. His fine dining experience was "too pretentious" for what he wanted to do.
“This is coming back to my roots, something more realistic,” Guidry said.
Home is where the roots are for Rodriguez, too.
“I’ve done some fine dining and I’ve cooked for some famous people,” Rodriguez said. “But, at the end of the day, you tend to kind of come back to what you came up with. What we’re doing right now, what I’m doing every day, I’m cooking my grandmother’s food. I couldn’t be happier. That’s enough for me.
“If there’s another television program that I never get put on, or I never get another award, I’m completely fine with that,” he said. “I’ve found my destination. This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do.”