Watch as Mackensy Lunsford stuffs pig stomachs to make chaudin with Tres Hundertmack at Bouchon. 8/25/14. Robert Bradley (email@example.com)
On Tuesday morning, chefs gathered in Bouchon’s dining room with executive chef Tres Hudertmark for a sewing circle. This wasn’t your traditional knitting session, however. The chefs were stuffing pig stomachs with vegetable-studded sausage mixture to make a traditional Cajun dish called chaudin, in preparation for this weekend’s BaconFest.
“Chaudin is basically a pork meatloaf with sweet potatoes and lots of vegetables. You stuff it in a pig stomach, and then you steam it,” he said. “The stomach becomes a steaming vessel for the meatloaf.”
Though some may wince at the description, Hundertmark says that the dish is a classic one that borrows from lost traditions that predate plastic-wrapped, sterile trays of meat in the grocery store. The sewing circle itself borrows from a time when it took a community to stock a pantry, he said.
“It takes a community effort to do these types of things,” said Hundertmark. “Down in Louisiana, they have what they call a boucherie, which is what we would call a pig pickin’ in the Carolinas,” he said. “Except here in the Carolinas, when you go to a pig pickin’, everybody just eats a bunch of pork.”
In contrast, at a boucherie, there’s some eating, but the event is primarily about stuffing sausages and making other charcuterie, “It’s really more of a food prep party,” said Hundertmark.
Hundertmark said that he used to own a coffee house, which hosted a knitting circle. “So when I found myself needing 50 of these done for a special event this weekend, I decided to just ask my friend to help us out,” he said.
“It’s not every day that you get the call to sew pig stomachs,” said Hundertmark’s friend, Broc Fountain, a former 23 Page chef who was busily sewing at an adjacent table. After the sewing circle, he planned to go to yoga. “I’ve got to straighten out my karma,” he quipped.
The chaudin marks the first time that Hundertmark will serve food in public as the chef of Lafayette. Though he oversees the kitchen at Bouchon and the Creperie Bouchon, he’s also busily developing the menu for the upcoming restaurants from the owners of Bouchon, Lexington Avenue’s longtime French comfort food restaurant.
Bouchon’s owner, Michel Baudouin, is busy in the planning stages of what he’s calling Asheville’s French Quarter, which will bring two new businesses and a taste of France, as viewed through the lens of Lousiana culture, to Lexington Avenue. The new ventures are to be called Lafayette, which will be a Cajun and Creole restaurant, and Rendezvous, an event space overlooking Bouchon’s courtyard.
Hundertmark said that it will be months before the first hammer hits. In the meantime, he’s busy clearing up a number of misconceptions about Cajun and Creole food, even the notion that French food is fussy. The evidence is quite clearly on the table, in the form of the chaudin, which he’s entering in BaconFest’s competitive category of Most Outrageous Use of Bacon.
“It’s hard to come into Asheville and do something different with a pig anymore,” he said. “Back in the day, it was sort of easy, but to come into this town now and do something somebody else isn’t doing with swine is … well, you have to stuff pig stomachs to be original.”
Dishes at past BaconFest events have included bacon ice cream, bacon beer and bacon-topped doughnuts. Last year, the forthcoming South Slope doughnut shop, Vortex Doughnuts, won the Most Outrageous category at the festival with its “Hole Hog on a Spit.” The dessert featured a cake doughnut hole sprinkled with “baconized sugar” and served with Squeal Sauce, an aleppo pepper-and-apricot mixture. The dish was then garnished with crumbled bacon from The Chop Shop Butchery and served on a stick, as though spit-roasted.
Comparatively, Hundertmark’s creation is tame, though many still blanch at the idea of stomach. The chaudin, with its roots in classic French cuisine, thumbs it nose at the idea of French food as fussy or at all highfalutin.
“I think a lot of French cuisine is based off of family farming techniques, and the ides is to use as much of the product as you can and nothing goes to waste,” said Hundertmark. “This is part of that tradition of, you’ve got a stomach and that’s a perfectly legitimate casing. Why wouldn’t you use that up?” he asked.
Certainly, there’s a strong and vocal foodie contingent who thinks nose-to-tail dining is not only the hip but right and moral way to eat. But the majority of the general public still finds eating “strange” foods to be in the purview of daring diners and television chefs known for eating insects. But Hundertmark thinks that’s unfortunate.
“It’s unfortunate that people are that out of touch with where their food comes from and what it is,” he said. “I think if more people had an idea of where their food comes from and what goes on in providing that protein and bringing that to the table or bringing that to the store, they would probably be more thoughtful about the amount they consume and what types they consume.”
Hundertmark doesn’t necessarily advise starting with stomach — though that chaudin is certainly worth a try. Still, he said, “I think it’s good for people to know where their food comes from, and far too few people want to think about it.
For now, Hundertmark will debut future Lafayette menu items at Bouchon on Thursdays; the restaurant is inviting feedback.
Pig stomachs are hard to come by. Here’s a recipe that leaves out the stomach but has a similar flavor.
1 pound ground pork
1 cup long grain rice, cooked
½ cup raw oatmeal
1 egg, well beaten
2 teaspoons Creole seasonings
1 teaspoon mustard
¼ cup Italian dressing
10 strips bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix beef, rice, oatmeal egg, seasonings, mustard and Italian dressing; set aside. Spread bacon on two sheets of waxed paper. Place ground meat over bacon and pat to flatten in a rectangular shape. Thoroughly mix onions, bell peppers and garlic. Spread over meat mixture. Roll up mixture like a jelly roll. Bake in greased covered pan for 1 hour 15 minutes or until brown.
IF YOU GO
What: BaconFest celebrates all things bacon-centric, with plenty of porky food from a number of restaurants, including The Barleycorn, Bouchon, King James Public House and the Lexington Avenue Brewery. The eateries will compete for Most Outrageous dish, Best BBQ and Best “Sweet Swine.” Highland will have a bacon-infused beer on tap for the occasion. There’s also a climbing wall, kids’ games and music from former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle and his band.
Where: Highland Brewing, 12 Old Charlotte Highway, Asheville.
When: 1-4 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: General admission $15; VIP packages, with entry at noon, $25. Children ages 9 and younger free, but ticket required. Attendance is limited to 2,000, and last year’s festival sold out. Visit www.1059theMountain.com.