The first day of duck season is right around the corner. It holds promise and providence for any sporting chef’s table. From seared mallard breast to downhome duck gumbo one can welcome guests to a wild table sure to entice all sorts of adventurers — culinary and otherwise.
Recently I caught up with a couple of new friends from north Louisiana. Both are wonderfully and wildly talented chefs and outdoor enthusiasts. They inspired me to try a smoked duck breast and collard greens Caesar salad with cornbread crumble — check it out in the video below!
Even more entertaining, however, was hearing them speak about their passions when the aprons come off. Here’s just a bit of what they had to say:
“When you sit out on a porch at a duck camp and everyone is in muddy boots and camo, there is no social hierarchy. It’s just everyone there for the common good”, said my friend Jason Brady. Brady is a chef, restauranteur, avid outdoorsman and native son of Shreveport, Louisiana.
He continued, “Every year I hunt with two friends that were former joint chiefs of staff during the 9/11 era. Those are not people I would meet in my day-to-day life, but sitting next to them in a duck blind, we are on common ground. Friendships and relationships like that have been built over the years and they mean so much to me. It’s an incredible time that you wish more people could experience.”
“Funny how everyone’s childhood up here involved duck hunting”, said another north Louisiana native son, Chef Cory Bahr, a Food Network “Chopped” champion and Food & Wine Magazine’s 2015 People’s Best New Chef. “But my passion lies in fishing the waterways of Louisiana.”
Where did Bahr develop his affinity for finned game? “My grandfather had a camp on the Mississippi River,” he said. “From a young age — I was 3 or 4 years old maybe — I was on the Mississippi running trotlines and learning how to fish the river. As a child, a river like the Mississippi seems as big as the ocean. It’s a mysterious, dangerous and fun place to be and it’s something that still holds that attraction for me to this day.
“Within 20 minutes any direction from my home in Monroe I can be on a different body of water — reel fishing, bow fishing, you name it. That’s such an attraction up here in north Louisiana. I fish the bayous and rivers in my area on a weekly basis. Our waterways are so bountiful you don’t need a guide: the Red River, the Ouachita River, the Poverty Point Reservoir, just get out there! But, if you want to kick back and relax go online to LouisianaTravel.com/Fishing and there are always tips on when, where and how to catch a species and lists of many accommodating guides.”
It’s true. North Louisiana is a sort of promised land for outdoor recreationalists. And what else does Shreveport have? Caddo Parish is a destination for an eclectic mix of southern charm, great food and lagniappe fun. It is home to Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center, the American Rose Center and the Municipal Auditorium, the host venue of the famous Louisiana Hayride. This radio and later television show became an epicenter of country music, playing second fiddle only to Nashville in its influence upon an emerging recording and entertainment industry. Interesting note: The most prominent performer to begin his career on the stage made his performance debut Oct. 16, 1954. That is when the world was introduced to Elvis Presley.
The area has attracted the elite Bassmaster Classic and FLW Forrest Wood Cup fishing tournaments. The Red River, Caddo Lake and Lake Bistineau State Park offer opportunities for paddling and walking, and the area is home to 55 different festivals and events. Talk about laissez les bon temps rouler!
Brady agreed, “Outdoor events are a big part of our celebrations here, and it’s usually centered around food, music (like the upcoming Highland Jazz & Blues Festival), and often something a bit stronger to drink. But that all stems from our culture and the way of life in Louisiana. Whenever there is free time, it’s not just two people sitting down and eatin’ — it’s always ‘invite everyone around and feed the masses,’ a social gathering. The South has always been described as this big social culture, but I think Louisiana is that on steroids!”
It’s not much different in Monroe, according to Bahr: “When people picture Louisiana in their minds, it’s the music, the people and the food. And all of those things are our natural resources, things that are truly Louisiana. Our jazz music is truly Louisiana, our cuisine is an indigenous cuisine and our people have an energy, joy and vibrancy to them that you don’t get anywhere else.”
I tell Bahr about the time I lived in Louisiana. How for a Midwestern farm girl it felt like no other place I had ever been. “Yes, ma’am, Miss Krissie, you nailed it right there! Louisiana gives you a feeling. It’s tangible. It’s real. It stirs emotion,” he said.
Bahr explained, “But people don’t normally think of recreation when they think of Louisiana. But Louisiana is a big state that is very, very diverse. Especially when it comes to outdoor activities. Whether it’s paddling or fishing our waters, hiking or cycling our land or knocking game birds out of the sky, we are extremely diverse and I think we need to encourage people to come experience the rest of Louisiana.”
Located on Interstate 20 in northeast Louisiana along the Ouachita River, Monroe-West Monroe is a shopper’s delight and an extraordinary dining experience. In fact, Bahr (below) is in the process of launching a new eatery called Parish Restaurant.
“It’s going to focus on what we love here in Louisiana,” he said. “Our wild game, quail, venison, duck, and also the gifts from the Gulf of Mexico like the off-bottom oysters, fin fish, shrimp and crab — north Louisiana meets the Gulf.”
Ouachita Parish is also home to the Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, Biedenharn Museum and Garden, Louisiana Purchase Garden & Zoos, Monroe Symphony Orchestra, Poverty Point World Heritage Site, the Twin City Ballet, the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, the famous Flying Tigers and the Duck Commander headquarters.
“Louisiana has no shortage of culinary stars and people who are passionate about what they do,” said Bahr. “It’s a wonderful and beautiful place to be a chef, but also an incredibly difficult place to be a chef because everybody’s grandmother cooks better than you! For me, Monroe is home. It’s where I want to be. It’s the recreation, the music, the food, the people. I’ve had opportunity to be anywhere else in the world but this is where I belong.”
Brady related a similar grounding: “I was born here and raised here. My dad landed in north Louisiana because my grandad was military. We cooked everything we hunted, fished or gathered. To the point that I learned how to clean turtles for fresh turtle soup at an age younger than I would have liked! We also had plenty of squirrel, rabbit and birds. It was just part of who I was and I didn’t know any different. That connection is just so strong. Shreveport is home.”
And his lifelong passion for the outdoors? Brady (above with his son) added, “For me, I have always found peace, in my time outside. I’ve never done yoga, but I understand why people do it. Me on a tractor for nine hours planting plots is my yoga. It’s where I find the center line of life and get back to it.”
As our conversation came to a close, I asked Bahr what was next for him. “My ties to my family are everything,” he said. “In 10 years I don’t want any changes, I’m doing what I want to be doing right now. I hope to be the best chef I can be, the best representative of my state that I can be while serving food that is meaningful, honest and impactful. Food that speaks of who I am and my experiences and my region. Somebody that my town and city and state can be proud of.”
“You obviously have the special brand of Louisiana hospitality in your heart then?” I asked. To which he replied, “Yes, ma’am!”
To experience for yourself some of the delicious conversation, outdoor adventure and Southern hospitality found only in Louisiana, plan your own trip now at LouisianaTravel.com/Explore.
About the Author: Raised a Minnesota farm-girl in a hunting family, Krissie Mason (below) is an outdoorswoman, food enthusiast, and has been reconnecting with her culinary country roots and family hunting traditions of late. She is the brains and brawn behind Scratch + Holler media, and a regular contributor to several outdoor websites and print publications. Krissie fully supports a field-to-fork wild food chain, and especially enjoys expanding pantries and stretching wild game palates with her ambitious and delicious wild game recipes. Be sure to visit Krissie’s website to check out her blog and much more.
Video by Krissie Mason; photos courtesy of Jason Brady, Cory Bahr, and Louisiana Travel