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3-Course Interview: Bart Bell 

Chef Bart Bell on whole-hog butchery and Cajun boucheries

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Chef Bart Bell has been butchering whole hogs at Boucherie for the past year, and last fall he hit the road as part of the Lache Pas Boucherie (www.lachepasboucherie.com) team, a traveling boucherie event led by Cajun cooking enthusiast Toby Rodriguez. The group travels the country hosting events that teach participants the skills and traditions of communal whole hog butchery. Bell spoke with Gambit about Cajun boucheries.

Did you grow up with the Cajun boucherie tradition?

Bell: I'm from Breaux Bridge, but I actually didn't grow up with it. I remember going to (La Grande Boucherie) the boucherie festival in St. Martinville, but I don't really remember it being a boucherie — I had no idea what was really going on there. Boucheries and butchering and whole hog stuff, that didn't happen until I was really cooking ... and I didn't start playing with pigs until I opened Crescent Pie & Sausage Company in 2007. Even now, I'm still learning so much about it.

How is Cajun butchery different than traditional methods?

B: The butchering style might not be so different from others, but the process is a little different. We're still making a lot of the same cuts, but what we're doing with the animal is what makes it a Cajun style of butchering. It's a very different — kind of old-school — experience. You're out on the farm. It smells like a freshly killed raw animal; you can smell the blood; you can smell the farm, the hay, the outdoors. All those sensory things ideally should be happening for each person there.

  A boucherie is very much a community event, much like a cochon de lait is. The morning of the boucherie, everyone gatherers around the animal and we say good morning and welcome and introduce ourselves. We thank the farmer for letting us be on the farm, and we give thanks to everything around us and thanks to the animal. After that we say a little prayer and then shortly after that we kill the animal. That's the beginning of the boucherie. We bleed it and save that blood to make a couple of different dishes — one is, of course, boudin noir, or blood sausage. We then carry the animal to an elevated chopping block. It becomes like theater at that point. We pour scalding water over the pig, enough to where we can start shaving it, which is something that we get everyone involved in; anyone that's there, we welcome them to come up to the table and grab one of the tools. Then Toby starts butchering (the pig).

  We then divide into teams, and people get the chance to parti- cipate with other chefs to make something, including ham or headcheese, backbone stew and other things.

  For the rest of the day, people prepare their items. In a normal boucherie, you eat when your items become available, throughout the day, and people are drinking and hanging out and dancing.

  We're doing it a little different. We're doing a coursed dinner and teaming up with local farmers, chefs, wineries and breweries. So, (on the first day) we kill, slaughter, butcher, bleed and prepare some of (the pig), and then on the second day we serve the dinner.

Is the process more humane than a slaughterhouse?

B: When the animals are stres-sed out, there's a lot of testosterone that gets released and their muscles get tighter, whether it's because they're running or their heart is just beating faster. That all makes a difference in the texture of meat. We like to make the pig for our boucherie as comfortable as we can before he leaves his life and comes into ours. So if he's on his own farm where he lives, then he's already comfortable: That's an animal that is happy, that's not stressed out.

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