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“It’s just a great time,” says chef Donald Link as we talked about the upcoming Boudin, Bourbon and Beer festival in New Orleans, which the Link Restaurant Group organizes in tandem with the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. Link is a Louisiana native who has been working in the restaurant industry since age 15. He attended the California Culinary Academy before spending two years as sous chef at Susan Spicer’s Bayona. He then moved back to California to work with Loretta Keller at Bizou and to help open Jardiniere with Traci Des Jardin. Link eventually came back to New Orleans when his wife was accepted to graduate school here. He soon opened his first venture, Herbsaint. Today, the Link Restaurant Group also owns and manages Cochon, Butcher, Peche, and private dining venue Calcasieu.
Right now, Link is looking forward to Boudin, Bourbon and Beer coming up this weekend. He reminisced a bit about the festival’s beginnings. “That first year, we were going to do a block party at Cochon,” he says. “Emeril was interested in getting together to do a festival, and we thought we could do a festival better together than apart.”
In the years since it began, Boudin, Bourbon and Beer has grown quickly, moving to Champions Square to accommodate ever-increasing interest.
Though the event hones in on classic boudin dishes, Link’s excitement about more creative interpretations is palpable. Previously, for example, chef Kristen Essig prepared a shrimp boudin Vietnamese plate that had him intrigued. “I’ve had a lot pork boudin in my life, and I’m excited to try something different.”
Boudin, Bourbon & Beer happens Friday, Nov. 4 — get your tickets here for this all-inclusive event featuring food, booze, and live music. In the meantime, make sure to stop by Butcher to taste some of Link’s traditional Cajun boudin. (He recommends pairing it with a beer, either Abita Amber or Bayou Teche Brewing’s LA-31.)
20 Questions with Donald Link
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
This is a difficult one. I have to go with Mitch Landrieu. I think that [Landrieu] brought a good positive energy to the city. He’s a good family guy. I think he’s one of the best things I’ve seen happen to this city in a while.
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
When I was at LSU in Baton Rouge, I used to come here and play around. I moved to San Francisco for a while, but then my wife got accepted to grad school here. At the time, I didn’t want to come back to Louisiana. I was really happy in California. When I came back here, I realized that New Orleans was not the place that I thought it was. It’s not just Bourbon Street and drinking and partying. It’s a beautiful city, with a great food culture and a fascinating history as being the northern part of the Caribbean. But the best thing about this city is the community. It’s like being in a small town with really cool people: really open-minded, progressive, fun to be around people.
3. In your opinion – what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
The Warehouse District — it’s close, but not too close, to the French Quarter. Great art galleries, great museums, amazing location in the city between all parts of town.
4. City Park or Audubon Park?
Audubon. It’s a few blocks from my house. Great path, golf course, and zoo.
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans?
My best meal in New Orleans was cooked by Rebecca Wilcomb at Herbsaint, and yes, I’m biased.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
7. What’s your favorite po-boy? Where do you go to get it?
Guy’s on Magazine. They have the best seafood.
8. You’ve got friends visiting and it’s their first time in New Orleans – where are you taking them?
Outside of my places? R & O’s in Bucktown for the R&O special po-boy.
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail and where do you go to get it?
A Sazerac at Herbsaint.
11. Snowball or Daiquiri?
I don’t really do either. They’re too sweet.
12. Best spot to see live music?
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
14. Favorite New Orleans Festival?
Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, of course!
15. Favorite Mardi Gras parade?
I ride in Thoth, and if I’m watching, I love Muses.
16. Where do you shop in New Orleans?
I usually go up and down Magazine Street. I try to avoid the mall at all costs. I like St. James Cheese Company, Aidan Gill, Marion Cage, Scriptura, Wilkerson Row … and I really like the Magazine Street Antique Mall. That place has got some really interesting stuff. I pretty much go there every Christmas. That’s where that big mirror in Peche is from!
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
My house or the Dome. I have season tickets.
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans and why?
At nighttime, the city has this mist in the air. The oak trees are so thick and luscious. The lights are kind of dim. There’s something sultry about it.
All photos provided by Link Restaurant Group